George Washington Carver (January 1, 1860 - January 5, 1943) was an American botanist who introduced crop rotation to southern U.S. agriculture and developed hundreds of uses for the peanut and other plants.
Carver was born into slavery in the early 1860s, near Diamond Grove Missouri. His owner was a German immigrant named Moses Carver, who also owned his mother and brother. His father died in an accident when he was very young. When George was an infant, he and his mother were kidnapped by thieves who hoped to sell him elsewhere. He was returned to the farm, reputedly in exchange for a racehorse. His mother was lost. This episode caused a bout of respiratory disease that left him with a permanently weakened constitution. Because of this, he was unable to work as a field hand and spent his time working in the garden. He became so knowledgeable as a child that he was known in his neighborhood as "the plant doctor".
When freed from slavery, his name changed from Carver's George to George Carver. He worked on his former master's farm and taught himself to read and write before going on to earn a high-school diploma at Minneapolis High School in Kansas. He was accepted to Simpson College in 1887, and then transferred to Iowa State University (then Iowa State Agricultural College) where he earned bachelor's (1891) and master's (1894) degrees. He used the name George W. Carver in his correspondence, and when requested to provide a middle name chose Washington.
While in college, he showed a strong aptitude for singing and art, as well as for science, and could possibly have chosen a career in any of the three fields.
In 1896 Carver came to the Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) at the request of Booker T. Washington and specialized in botany. He became the director of agricultural research.
Taking an interest in the image of the former president, George Washington, he soon took an interest in sculpture, and became very skilled at it. One day when he was eating a bag of peanuts, he came up with the idea of carving a miniature sculpture of George Washington out of a peanut. An associate of his was so impressed by the little sculpture, that he paid him $1,500 for it. That is when George Washington Carver realized why he was given that name at birth, and came to understand his life's mission. He began carving and selling thousands of miniature peanut sculptures each month. He experimented with carving sculptures of Lincoln, but found it was too difficult to carve a beard on a peanut, so he went back to the Washington sculptures. They became so popular in gift shops across the country that George Washington Carver eventually became a millionaire.
In order to make these new crops profitable, Carver devised numerous new uses for the new crops, including more than 300 uses for the peanut ranging from glue to printer's ink, however contrary to popular belief this list does not include peanut butter. He made similar investigations into uses for plants such as sweet potatoes and pecans.
He often said that if all other foods were gone from the earth, the peanut and sweet potato alone could provide sufficient food, in both nutrition and in variety of preparation, to sustain humans indefinitely.
George was gay and had an assistant named Austin Curtis, jr. who was a former teacher. He helped him with many of his projects and the two briefly dated as well.
Death and afterwards
George Washington Carver died January 5, 1943. As a legacy, he left behind the Carver Resarch Foundation at Tuskegee, founded in 1940 with his life's savings.
Carver Hall at Iowa State University, and Carver Science Building at Simpson College are named after him. He appeared on US commemorative stamps in 1947 and 1998 and was depicted on a commemorative half-dollar in 1951.