George Washington Carver
Born in 1860 in Diamond Grove, Missouri
Died January 5, 1943
George was born a slave. As an infant he and his mother were kidnapped from the farm where his mother worked, but George was too young to be worth any money and so he was left behind. George had a brother, James, who had escaped from the kidnappers. The Carvers who owned the farm, the masters of Georgeís family, were upset that George and his mother had been stolen. They searched for them and found George alone.
The Carvers treated George and his brother James much like they were their own sons. George even took the Carverís last name as his own. Although George and James still had work to do, George was aloud to attend school in Neosho, Missouri at the age of twelve. It was necessary for George to earn money for room and board and books. He worked odd jobs and slept in barns much of the time. George had always been interested in plants and often worked for people tending their garden.
At the age of 16, George Carver moved to Fort Scott, Kansas to continue his education. Carver managed to find work long enough to pay for his books. He traveled as he searched for work and stayed in Minneapolis, Kansas. In this town there was another man with the name George Carver. To keep people from being confused, Carver added a W. to his name. Later when he was asked what the W stood for, Carver told people it was for Washington, because he greatly admired President George Washington.
Carver graduated from high school and searched for a school to continue his education. He was accepted at Simpson College at Indianola, Iowa. He enrolled as an art student and did well. Carver eventually gave up his painting though. He felt that he should do something to help other African Americans, so he decided to study agriculture.
He attended the Iowa State College of Agriculture at Ames, Iowa. Carver graduated from this college with honors and eventually became their first black faculty member. He became well known for his work in breeding and grafting plants and for his work in mycology. Carver was then invited to become a staff member at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, founded by Booker T. Washington. It was a school specifically built to educate African Americans.
In the south Carver educated people about the problems of growing just one crop, such as cotton was being grown in the south. He taught people to rotate crops and helped to cultivate other crops for the area, such as peanuts and sweet potatoes. Carver experimented with these crops. As he worked he discovered many products such as shampoo, soaps, dyes, instant coffee, buttermilk, and sauces. He discovered hundreds of products which could be derived from peanuts alone.
Carver continued his work in agriculture. He often lectured and once spoke before the Ways and Means Committee for Congress to consider a tariff on imported peanuts. Before his death on January 5, 1943, George Washington Carver had won many honors, including the Roosevelt medal for distinguished service in science in 1939.
The activity Examining Plant Parts should shed some light on what Mr. Carver's day would be like as he worked with plants.
Books for Children
- George Washington Carver, by Robert Hogrogian - An interesting biography for children age 8 and older. This book may be out of print, but you might find it at your local library.
- The Story of George Washington Carver, by Eva Moore - A biography appropriate for children ages 8-12. (amazon.com has it)
- A short biography of George Washington Carver by the Inventor's Hall of Fame