GMIH-022 George Washington Carver

George Washington Carver

 

I love peanut butter sandwiches and all kinds of peanuts. Did you know that every time you eat a spoonful of peanut butter there is one man to thank? I bet you can guess that this man has a great mustache because this is Great Mustaches in History.

This man with the great mustache that we are talking about is George Washington Carver.

Early Life

George Washington Carver was born in 1864 on a small farm in Diamond Grove, Missouri. George’s mother was named Mary. She was a slave owned by Moses and Susan Carver. One night something terrible happened. There were people who would steal slaves back then and these bad guys stole George and his mother Mary from the Carvers. Moses Carver looked for George and his mother but he only found George. Poor George was just left by the side of the road.

Back in Episode 11 of this podcast we talked about Frederick Douglass. You may remember from that episode that it was the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery. Well, slavery was abolished and the Carvers did not have any children so they took care of George and his brother James just like the boys were their own sons. The Carvers did something great. They taught the boys to read and write.

George Washington Carver was very smart and he loved to learn about new things. He loved to read the Bible. He also was extra interested in animals and plants.

Going to School

Peanut specimen collected by George Washington Carver

Peanut specimen collected by George Washington Carver

The Carvers wanted him to be able to learn as much as he could. They wanted him to be able to go to school and learn all he could. This was not fair, but back then black children could not go to school with white children. It was stupid but that’s how things were.

Unfortunately, there were no schools for black children that George could go to, at least none close to the Carver’s home. George had to go all over the Midwest just to go to school. It was hard for him but did graduate from high school in Minneapolis, Kansas.

His favorite subjects were art and science. At first George thought he might be an artist. He even took some art classes in Iowa at Simpson College. One of the things he like to draw was plants. He was lucky because he had a teacher who told him he could combine his love for science, art, and plants if he became a a scientist that studied plants. This kind of scientist is called a botanist.

George went to Iowa State so he could study botany. George Washington Carver was the first African-American student to attend Iowa State. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in science. But he wanted to learn even more so stayed in school and earned his Master’s degree as well.

George did so much learning and did so much research that he soon was recognized as an expert in botany.

Professor Carver

George Washington Carver (front row, center) poses with fellow faculty of Tuskegee Institute in this c. 1902 photograph taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston.

George Washington Carver (front row, center) poses with fellow faculty of Tuskegee Institute in this c. 1902 photograph taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston.

Soon George became a professor at Iowa State. He was the first African-American professor at the college. But, in 1896 George  had a great opportunity. A famous man named Booker T. Washington had opened an all-black college in Tuskegee, Alabama. Booker T. Washington wanted George to come teach at the new college. George became the head of the Agricultural Department. This worked out so well that George stayed and taught there for the rest of his life.

Carver Changes Agriculture

George Washington Carver not only taught people about agriculture, he also kept researching and made many new discoveries and had great ideas. We are going to talk about two of the most important ones.

Crop Rotation

George Washington Carver at work in his laboratory

George Washington Carver at work in his laboratory

Cotton was one of the most important crops in the South. But if farmers grew just one crop year after year the soil looses important nutrients. After the nutrients are depleted from the soil by growing cotton year after year the cotton crop does not do very well.

George Washington Carver figured out that if you grow a different crop each year it helps the crops. This is called crop rotation. He taught his students about crop rotation and soon farmers learned to rotate their crops. Farmers would grow cotton some years but they would grow other crops like sweet potatoes and soybeans.

Farmers in the South rotated their crops so they were able to have better crops. Crop rotation also helped the economy of the South as it recovered from the Civil War. By rotating the crops the South could sell more than cotton. Selling a bunch of crops instead of just cotton helped the economy in the South.

The Peanut

One of the worst things for cotton crops is the boll weevil. George Washington Carver did research and found out that boll weevils will not eat peanuts. Peanuts would be a great crop for the South.

However, even if farmers could grow peanut easily it would not do any good unless the farmers could sell the peanuts. There needed to be a good use for peanuts that would make money.

George Washington Carver started looking for ways to use peanuts. He came up with great new ways to use peanuts such as cooking oil, dyes for clothing, plastics, fuel for cars, and peanut butter.

Other Crops

Carver knew that other crops would be valuable if he could think of other uses for them as well. He found ways to use soybeans and sweet potatoes. Because other crops were valuable like cotton, farmers could afford to rotate their crops. Carver helped make it profitable to rotate crops because they could sell the products and the soil would be enriched.

Carver’s Fame Grows

George Washington Carver got more and more famous. Remember back in Episode 9 of this podcast we talked about President Theodore Roosevelt, well Carver consulted with President Roosevelt and the U.S. Congress on matters of agriculture.

Legacy

George Washington Carver had a nickname in the South, it was “farmer’s best friend”. Because of things like crop rotation and making more crops profitable Carver helped farmers make more money and stay in business. Carver helped a lot of people because he was interested in science. He did not worry about getting rich, he just wanted to help people. He thought his ideas were a gift from God and so he decided his good ideas should be free to others. He did not even patent most of his inventions and ideas.

George Washington Carver died on January 5, 1943. That is why the U.S. Congress made January 5th, George Washington Carver Day in his honor.

Interesting Facts about George Washington Carver

  • Since he was a slave when he was born George was called Carver’s George because he belonged to the Carves. Later, when he went to school they changed it to George Carver. Even later he decided he needed a middle name and decided that he would be George Washington Carver.
  • People in the south at the time called peanuts “goobers”.
  • Even when he was a teacher, Carver would go out to farms with his whole class so he could let his students learn about real farms and they all could work with the farmers to improve his crops.
  • Later in life was people called Carver the “Wizard of Tuskegee”.
  • It takes over 500 peanuts to make one 12-ounce jar of peanut butter.
  • When George Washington Carver died he left his life savings to the Tuskegee Institute. 

Great Mustaches in History

George Washington Carver had very kind looking eyes and a great looking mustache, but what really sets him apart as a great mustache in history is how much he helped people without thinking of himself.

 


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