What Were George Washington Carver's Agricultural Discoveries?

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African American researcher George Washington Carver (1860?–1943) is remembered as the person who popularized of the peanut, but he made other contributions to agriculture, as both an inventor and teacher. After earning a degree in agriculture from Iowa State College in 1891, Carver took a position at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, which had been founded by Booker T. Washington (1856–1915). Tuskegee was one of the best-known colleges that offered teacher training and vocational education for African Americans, and Carver wanted to improve conditions for his fellow blacks. Although his laboratory was not so well equipped as those at other colleges, Carver devoted himself to improving agriculture through science. Believing that many southern farmers were poor because they depended too heavily on a single crop (cotton), Carver experimented to find other crops that might grow well in the American South. Carver discovered that cowpeas (also called black-eyed peas), peanuts, and sweet potatoes all could grow well in hot weather and poor soil. He also believed that they could supply a cash crop and give farmers (many of whom were malnourished) better nutrition.

Carver also experimented with ways to make more products from these crops. Using printed bulletins and traveling displays, he urged farmers to use such methods as crop rotation and composting to make organic fertilizer, instead of buying the expensive chemical fertilizers that were popular at the time. The moveable schools, with displays explained by "demonstration agents," became a successful way to reach farmers. Carver became known as the "peanut man" because he invented so many ways to use peanuts. Although he received several patents (exclusive rights to make, use, and sell an invention) for his products, he was not interested in making a profit. He lived modestly, using his life savings to found a museum about his work and a foundation to support the efforts of African American scientists.

Further Information: "Carver: Missouri's Man for All Seasons." Newsweek. May 18, 1998, p. 16; Epstein, Sam. George Washington Carver, Agricultural Scientist. New York: Dell, 1990; Iowa State University. The Legacy of George Washington Carver. [Online] Available http://www.lib.iastate.edu/spcl/gwc/home.html, November 8, 2000; National Park Service. George Washington Carver National Monument. [Online] Available http://www.nps.gov/gwca/, November 8, 2000; Rogers, Teresa. George Washington Carver: Nature's Trailblazer. Frederick, Md.: Twenty-First Century Books, 1992; Rennert, Richard, ed. Pioneers of Discovery. New York: Chelsea House, 1994; Yount, Lisa. American Profiles: Black Scientists. New York: Facts On File, 1991, pp. 14–27.

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