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George Washington Carver was a prominent African-American scientist and inventor. Carver is best known for the many uses he devised for the peanut.
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A short biography of George Washington Carver who was offered a horticultural position by Booker T. Washington at the Tuskegee Institute and went on to discovering countless uses for the peanut and other important crops.
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Booker T. Washington, the principal of the African-American Tuskegee Institute, hired Carver to run the school’s agricultural department in 1896. Washington lured the promising young botanist to the institute with a hefty salary and the promise of two rooms on campus, while most faculty members lived with a roommate. Carver’s special status stemmed from his accomplishments and reputation,
as well as his degree from a prominent institution not normally open to black students.
Tuskegee’s agricultural department achieved national renown under Carver’s leadership, with a curriculum and a faculty that he helped to shape. Areas of research and training included methods of crop rotation and the development of alternative cash crops for farmers in areas heavily planted with cotton. This work helped struggling sharecroppers in the South, many of them former slaves now faced with necessary cultivation under harsh conditions, including the devastation of the boll weevil in 1892. The development of new crops and diversification of crop use helped to stabilize the livelihoods of these people who had backgrounds not unlike Carver’s own. The education of African-American students at Tuskegee contributed directly to the effort of economic stabilization among blacks. In addition to formal education in a traditional classroom setting, Carver pioneered a mobile classroom to bring his lessons to farmers. The classroom was known as a “Jesup wagon,” after New York financier and Tuskegee donor Morris Ketchum Jesup.
Carver’s work at Tuskegee included groundbreaking research on plant biology that brought him to national prominence. Many of these early experiments focused on the development of new uses for crops such as peanuts, sweet potatoes, soybeans and pecans. The hundreds of products he invented included plastics, paints, dyes and even a kind of gasoline. In 1920, Carver delivered a speech before the Peanut Growers Association, attesting to the wide potential of peanuts. The following year, he testified before Congress in support of a tariff on imported peanuts. With the help of Carver’s testimony, the proponents of the tariff were able to institute it in 1922.
Carver’s prominence as a scientific expert made him one of the most famous African-Americans of his time, and one of the best-known African-American intellectuals up to that point. By the time of his testimony, however, Carver had already achieved international fame in political and professional circles. President Theodore Roosevelt admired his work and sought his advice on agricultural matters in the United States. Carver was also recognized abroad for his scientific expertise. In 1916, he was made a member of the British Royal Society of Arts—a rare honor for an American. Carver also advised Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi on matters of agriculture and nutrition.
George Washington Carver used his celebrity to promote scientific causes for the remainder of his life. He wrote a syndicated newspaper column and toured the nation, speaking on the importance of agricultural innovation, the achievements and example of Tuskegee, and the possibilities for racial harmony in the United States.
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