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George Washington Carver

George Washington Carver

African American scientist, educator, 1864-1943

One of the world's most important scientists, George Washington Carver, spent his formative years in Kansas.

He went on to Iowa State University where he received his master's degree in 1896 in the area of agricultural science. Carver soon joined the faculty of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama where he invented new uses for various crops including making soybeans into plastic, sweet potatoes into cereal, and from peanuts creating more than three hundred by-products such as milk, coffee, and shaving cream. Although George Washington Carver received many awards for his work, he refused to accept any royalties from the sale of his products.

Born the son of slaves on or around July 12, 1864, in Diamond Grove, Missouri, Carver and his mother were purchased by a Missouri farm couple named Carver. George, one of his sisters, and his mother were kidnapped by Confederate raiders. Only George was found and returned to the Carver family. He continued to live with the Carvers after slavery was abolished.

Around the age of 13 George moved to Fort Scott, Kansas, attending school while supporting himself doing laundry at a local hotel. He moved several more times as a teenager. While living in Olathe, Carver became acquainted with ex-slaves Ben and Lucy Seymour. There he attended school, worked in a local barbershop, and helped Lucy with her laundry business. He eventually moved to Minneapolis, Kansas, with the Seymours in the summer of 1880 and finished high school.

Carver was accepted into Highland Presbyterian College in northeastern Kansas. However, he was rejected upon his arrival at the school when officials discovered he was African American. Discouraged, Carver then homesteaded in western Ness County near the town of Beeler. He farmed there for a couple of years, observing and making sketches of the local flora and fauna.

Friends began to refer to him as the "Plant Doctor." He moved on to railroading and ranching jobs, living in several small southeastern Kansas towns as well as New Mexico for a brief time. Interested in many aspects of nature, Carver examined and sketched plants and animals in all the places he lived, including the Kansas towns of Paola, Olathe, and Spring Hill.

By 1888 Carver's desires to attended an institution of higher learning took him outside Kansas. He enrolled at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa. He later transferred to the state agricultural college, Iowa State University, at Ames, where he later became the first African American on faculty.

Carver was working in the botany department at Iowa State when Booker T. Washington asked him to sign on at Tuskegee Institute. Carver moved to Alabama in 1896 to lead the African American college's agriculture department. For almost 50 years he remained at Tuskegee, teaching and pursuing his scientific studies. His work included finding over 300 uses for the peanut. Among Carver's many inventions were a way of turning soybeans into plastic, wood shavings into synthetic marble, and cotton into paving blocks. He also disseminated his extensive agricultural research to farmers through conferences and demonstrations.

When he died on January 5, 1943, Carver was widely recognized for his intelligence, humility, and inventiveness. President Franklin D. Roosevelt called him one of the world's most significant scientists.

Entry: Carver, George Washington

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: June 2003

Date Modified: February 2012

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.