When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world. ― George Washington Carver
True to his words, George Washington Carver―'the Peanut Man'―did do a lot of common things in 'uncommon' ways. A famous agricultural chemist of the 20th century, Carver is known for his contribution to the field of agriculture. In fact, his contributions earned him several accolades all throughout his life. He was undoubtedly one of the most prominent scientists in the world, who achieved everything in times when racism was an important attribute of our society.
Interesting Facts About George Washington Carver
Though many people know that January 5 is observed as the George Washington Carver Day, very few people out there are aware of his contributions to the field of agriculture. Given below are some facts which shed light on these very contributions for which Carver deserves due respect.
George was born in a slave family in the Diamond Grove, Newton County, Missouri, somewhere in 1864 or 1865. His parents were slaves at a German American immigrant, Moses Carver's house. In his childhood, George―along with some of his family members―was kidnapped by night raiders. Eventually though, Moses Carver was able to find George and bring him back in lieu of a horse. Eventually, when slavery was abolished, Moses decided to raise George as his own child.
Though slavery was over, racial segregation still prevailed in the United States. When George heard about a school for blacks in Neosho, he decided to go there for studies. Some sources suggest that it was here that he was named George Carver by Mariah Watkins when he introduced himself as Carver's George to her. At the age of 13, George moved to Fort Scott, Kansas, to attend the academy there. Owing to various problems that he faced, he was forced to leave one school after the other. Eventually, he earned his diploma from the Minneapolis High School in Kansas.
Conservatory of Plants and Flowers
Over the course of next five years, he tried to get admission to various colleges to no avail. In fact, his application at the Highland College in Kansas was accepted, only to be rejected eventually as he was an African-American. Carver went ahead and maintained a small conservatory of plants and flowers in western Ness County after availing the federal facility of Homestead Act in August 1886. In 1888, he obtained a loan amounting to $300 from the Bank of Ness City to continue his education.
He joined the Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, in 1890, wherein his art teacher, Etta Budd advised him to pursue botany at the Iowa State Agricultural College in Ames. When George Carver joined it in 1891, he became the first black student at the college. He eventually became the first black faculty member there. It is believed that it was here that Carver took the name 'George Washington Carver' to avoid being confused with another George Carver in the class.
Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute
Whilst completing his graduation, Carver performed research at the Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station between 1894 and 1896. During this period, he worked on plant pathology and mycology, which eventually earned him recognition at the national level. In 1896, he was offered the position of the head of the Agriculture Department at the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (which was eventually renamed as the Tuskegee University) by the founder of Tuskegee University, Booker T. Washington himself.
Crop Rotation Method
Interestingly, most of Carver's contributions to the field of agriculture are traced to his practice at the Tuskegee University. It was here that he introduced the crop rotation method, which required alternating between nitrate producing legumes with cotton in order to ensure that the nutrients lost while growing cotton are replenished. He convinced the farmers from the southern region to go for this method and alternate between peanuts and cotton, which worked wonders for them.
Inventions from Peanuts and Sweet Potato
While the plan was initially successful, the tables turned when the peanut produce increased by a significant extent with the farmers having no idea as to what to do with the extra produce. In a bid to tackle this problem, Carver experimented and came up with more than a dozen products which could be prepared from peanuts. In fact, the list of his inventions includes more than 300 products, including ink and soap, which can be prepared from peanuts. The next crop on his list was sweet potato. After spending days experimenting on the same, Carver developed more than 100 products from sweet potatoes, including synthetic rubber and flour. Many of Carver's inventions were eventually used by the United States Army during the World War I.
Bulletins and Fame
Carver also published his official work in the form of bulletins for the southern farmers. How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways of Preparing it for Human Consumption―published in 1916―was one of Carver's most famous bulletin. In 1916, he was also honored with the membership of the Royal Society of Arts in England, which made him one of the very few Americans to get this honor. Even though he faced several problems at Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, as a result of which he submitted his resignation at least on five different occasions between 1904 and 1914, Washington made sure that things didn't go out of hand. By 1921, the news of Carver's achievements in the field of agriculture had reached Washington DC, with many people―including President Theodore Roosevelt―taking a note of the same.
With several patents to his credit, Carver was showered with accolades in course of time. In 1923, he got the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's (NAACP) Spingarn Medal for Distinguished Service to Science. In 1928, Simpson College―from where Carver had completed Master's in Agriculture―honored him with honorary doctorate. A museum named the George Washington Carver Museum was established at the Tuskegee Institute in 1938. In 1939, he was awarded the Theodore Roosevelt Medal for Outstanding Contribution to Southern Agriculture. In 1941 and 1942, he was honored with honorary degree from the University of Rochester and the Selma University in Alabama respectively.
Carver succumbed to anemia at the age of 78 on January 5, 1943, and therefore, this day is observed as the George Washington Carver Day. He left all his life savings, which amounted to $60,000, for the George Washington Carver Museum and George Washington Carver Foundation. On July 14, 1943, his birthplace was declared the George Washington Carver National Monument in honor of the great scientist that he was.