George Carver was born enslaved sometime in 1861 (his exact birth date is unknown). As a very young child, he was kidnapped with his mother to be sold to another enslaver. His original enslaver, Moses Carver, tracked him down and brought him back to his home, but they were never able to locate his mother. He was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and he and his older brother continued to live with his former enslavers until he left to go to school at age eleven. While in school, he lived with an African-American couple and helped with the chores in exchange for room and board. There he learned herbalism from the wife, who was a midwife.
George graduated from high school and went to what is now Iowa State University for his Bachelors and Masters degrees. He was the first African-American to earn a Bachelor’s of Science degree at his university.
After graduation, he accepted a position as the Director of Department of Agriculture at Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute. It was after working with Tuskegee’s President, Booker T. Washington, that Carver added Washington to his name.
At Tuskegee, Carver led research projects specifically studying the principles of regenerative agriculture. His primary focus was to educate poor Black sharecroppers in healing the soil (repeated cotton crops had left the soil depleted) and improving their crops by practicing crop rotation and planting nitrogen-rich foods like peanuts and sweet potatoes.
Though he is generally associated with peanut butter, Carver’s inventions with peanuts and sweet potatoes were mostly to find other uses for the sudden influx in those crops as many farmers were growing them to heal their soil. He developed products like oil, rubber, glue, and writing ink, but never patented them.
Forever dedicated to education, Carver created the Jesup Wagon, an agriculture education on wheels, which he used to travel to farmers to educate them on crop rotation and soil biodiversity. A version of the Jesup Wagon is still used today.
George Washington Carver died on January 5, 1943. His birthplace in Diamond, Missouri, was designated as a National Monument in 1943 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
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