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George Washington Carver

THE LIFE AND WORK OF GEORGE WASHINGTON CARVER

By Elinor Burks, Facilitator
Science for Kids Ministries
3201 Avenue F
Birmingham, AL 35218
(205) 786-3731 (205) 515-9462

George Washington Carver (1864-1943) was not only a leading agricultural scientist and inventor, but a premier educator, a community activist and passionate environmentalist.

Born enslaved in Diamond, Missouri, Carver never experienced life as a slave since the formal institution was abolished when he was an infant. A sickly baby, Carver and his mother were kidnapped by outlaws, but he was returned because of the intervention of their owner, Moses Carver. George never saw his mother again and was raised "with good home training" by Susan and Moses Carver. He was sensitive to music and drawing. During childhood he was given the nickname, "the plant doctor" because he could cure ailing plants.

By his eleventh year, he left home and worked as a farmhand to pay for room and board at the colored school in a nearby town. Craving more education, he moved west to Kansas to attend Highland University, but was rejected when they saw that the young person they had accepted by mail was black. He bumped around doing farming, laundry and cooking. Finally in 1887, he was accepted at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, then transferred in 1891 to Iowa Agricultural College, which is now Iowa State University. When he graduated with a bachelors in 1894 and a masters degree in 1896, he was a hot commodity. So few blacks were as well educated. Booker T. Washington invited him to join the faculty at the fledgling Tuskegee Institute in Alabama as Director of Agriculture. He remained there for the rest of his life as a popular and caring educator.

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Professor Carver knew what it was to reduce, reuse and recycle before this was a clever catch phrase for being green. His first year, he and his students scrounged the dump for mason jars and other usables for the lab. To supplement classroom study, he had the students outdoors in an experimental station.

Carver in Laboratory
Carver in laboratory.

He recognized that the south had major agricultural problems. First, the soil became depleted because the constant planting of cotton, a dependable source of income, extracted nutrients. Secondly, a punishing boll weevil infestation swept the South, bringing a death knell to cotton as a dependable income. As part of the solution, Carver encouraged farmers to rotate cotton with peanuts and sweet potatoes to return nitrogen to the soil. He also applied the Sabbath concept of Leviticus 25 to soil management and suggested letting the soil rest.

Before long he felt compelled to take his accumulated knowledge to local farmers, first traveling by wagon and later by motor vehicle. With this democratic outreach project, he pioneered the work that county extension agents now offer rural citizens, providing personalized advice and relevant literature about their concerns, from seeds to fungus.

When people hear Carver's name they often remember that he produced more than 300 products in "God's Little Workshop". He often described a conversation he had with "the Great Creator" asking what the universe was made for and what the peanut was for. He was told to take the peanuts in the lab and break them apart and then put the parts together with variations, applying laws of chemistry and physics. The result was "The List." The list is amazing. It's not that he invented everything that appears there. It includes peanut butter, peanut brittle, milk, glycerin, vinegar, soap, hand lotion, medicines and stock feed. Many items on the list were things people made already, some for hundreds of years. He contributed many original innovations for paints, stains and imitation wood to the mix.

Carver completes a painting
Carver completes a painting.

His list was purposely compiled to demonstrate that the peanut could be used for multiple purposes. Today, science takes it for granted that soybeans, corn, and even cotton seed and wood scraps can be used to make food and non-food products. But during the late 1800s, peanuts were an undervalued product. They were hog feed, not people food. To give farmers incentive to stop wearing out the soil, they needed to be certain that peanut crops could be a source of income and of value to industry.

In 1918, Carver was asked by the Peanut Growers Association to testify at a session of the Ways and Means Committee in Washington DC. The original 10 minutes they gave him turned into more than one hour of dialog and demonstration, closing with a hearty round of applause. One legislator asked him where he acquired such knowledge. Carver replied: "I found it in a book," meaning the Bible and his favorite promise, Genesis 1:29 ("I have given you every herb seed …to you it shall be for meat").

His expertise was sought outside of Alabama and the United States as well. He was called to work with Rudolph Diesel to develop a peanut extracted diesel fuel, and by Henry Ford to make plastics made from plant based sources. Thomas Edison dangled before him a salary of $100,000 to join the think tank at his New Jersey lab, with the hint that Carver should realize what such status could do for his people. In his refusal, Carver replied that with a salary like that "I might forget my people."

SOURCES CLICK HERE
  • Carver and Henry Ford
    Carver and Henry Ford
  • Fanciful Boyhood Sculpture, Carver National Monument
    Fanciful Boyhood Sculpture, Carver National Monument
Elinor Burks doing Carver lecture in Birmingham, Alabama.
Elinor Burks doing Carver lecture in Birmingham, Alabama.

REFERENCES:

"GWC – Forgotten Environmentalist," by Elinor Burks, Wild South Magazine, Issue #30, Fall 2007-Winter 2008.

"Invent: An African American Inventors Curriculum," 1999, Ohio State University Extension.

"Carver & Mr. Creator", (www.godcreatedthat.com).

"Carver Peanut Products List", (www.tuskegee.edu).

"Tuskegee Carver Museum", "GWC National Monument Missouri" (www.nps.gov/gwca)

LIST OF PRODUCTS MADE FROM PEANUT BY GEORGE WASHINGTON CARVER

  • Foods

    Salted Peanuts
    Peanut Butter, regular (3)
    Breakfast Food #1
    Butter from Peanut Milk
    Breakfast Food #2
    Pancake Flour
    Breakfast Food #3
    Peanut Flour (11)
    Breakfast Food #4
    Peanut Surprise
    Breakfast Food #5
    Malted Peanuts
    Bisque Powder
    Peanut Meal, brown
    Peanut Meal #1 and #2
    Meat Substitutes
    Chocolate Coated Peanuts
    Chili Sauce
    Peanut Cake #1 and #2
    Peanut Brittle
    Dry Coffee
    Cream Candy
    Instant Coffee
    Peanut Flakes (2)
    Peanut Hearts
    Chop Suey Sauce
    Mock Oysters
    Mayonnaise
    Worcestershire Sauce
    Peanut Meat Loaf
    Peanut Food #1
    Shredded Peanuts
    Peanut Sprouts
    Peanut Bisque Powder
    Peanut Tofu Sauce
    Cooking Oil
    Cream for Milk
    Salad Oil
    Buttermilk
    Mock Meat
    Mock Goose
    Mock Duck
    Mock Chicken
    Mock Veal Cut
    Milks (32)
    Curds
    Vinegar
    Crystallized Peanuts
    Peanut Relish #1
    Peanut Sausage
    Peanut Relish #2
    Flavoring Paste
    Peanut Chocolate Fudge
    Oleomargarine
    Peanut and Pop Corn Bars
    Dehydrated Milk Flakes
    Peanut Bar #1
    Caramel
    Peanut Tutti Frutti Bars
    Butterscotch
    Lard Compound
    Evaporated Milk
    Sweet Pickle
    Golden Nuts
    Cheese Cream
    Substitute Asparagus
    Cheese Pimento
    Cheese Nut Sage
    Cheese Tutti Frutti
    Cheese Sandwich
    White Pepper, from Vines
    Pickle, Plain
    Cocoa
    Peanut Dainties
    Peanut Kisses
    Bar Candy
    Peanut Wafers
  • Stock Foods

    Peanut Stock Food #1,#2, and #3
    Peanut Hull Meal
    Peanut Hull Stock Food
    Molasses Feed
    Peanut Hull Bran
    Peanut Hay Meal
    Hen Food for laying (peanut hearts)
    Peanut Meal (3)

    Household Products

    Laundry Soap
    Sweeping Compound
    Beverages
    Peanut Orange Punch #1
    Peanut Lemon Punch
    Peanut Koumiss Beverage
    Peanut Punch #2
    Normal Peanut Beverage
    Beverage for Ice Cream
    Peanut Beverage Flakes
    Blackberry Punch
    Plum Punch
    Evaporated Peanut Beverage
    Cherry Punch
    Pineapple Punch

    Medicines

    Rubbing Oil
    Iron Tonic
    Tannic Acid
    Medicine similar to Castor Oil
    Emulsion for Bronchitis
    Castor Substitute
    Goiter Treatment
    Oils, Emulsified w/mercury for Venereal Disease (2)
    Quinine
    Laxatives

    Cosmetics

    Hand Lotion
    Face Lotion
    Face Cream
    Vanishing Cream
    Face Bleach and Tan Remover
    Baby Massage Cream
    Shampoo
    Oil for Hair and Scalp
    Shaving Cream
    Pomade for Scalp
    Face Ointment
    Glycerin
    Face Powder
    All Purpose Cream
    Fat Producing Cream
    Tetter and Dandruff Cure
    Toilet Soap
    Antiseptic Soap
    Pomade for Skin
    Peanut Oil Shampoo
  • Dyes, Paints and Stains

    Dyes for Leather
    Dyes for Cloth (30)
    Wood Stains (17)
    Paints
    Special Peanut Dye

    General

    Fuel Bricketts
    Paper (white) from vines
    Paper (colored) from vines
    Paper (kraft from hulls)
    Paper (newsprint) from vines
    Paper (coarse) from skins
    Insecticide
    Glue
    Gasoline
    Gas
    Wood Filler
    Metal Polish
    Plastics
    Axel Grease
    Lubricating Oil
    Illuminating Oil
    Diesel Fuel
    Printers Ink
    Writing Ink
    Rubber
    Coke (from hulls)
    Washing Powder
    Cleanser for hands
    Linoleum
    Wall Boards (from hulls) (11)
    Insulating Board (18)
    Sizing for Walls
    Charcoal from shells
    Nitroglycerine
    Soil Conditioner
    Soap Stock
    Shoe and Leather Blacking
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Note: All of our products are manufactured in the U.S.A. and comply with Consumer Product Safety Act of 2008 (CPSIA 2008) and all other applicable laws of which we are aware.