George Washington Carver


One of the world's most important scientists, George Washington Carver, spent his formative years in Kansas. Born the son of slaves around 1864, Carver and his mother were purchased by a Missouri farm couple named Carver. Opposed to slavery, the Carvers gave Mary her freedom and allowed her to take their last name. While George was still a baby, his mother was kidnapped by Confederate raiders and never seen again.

After living with the Carvers for many years, George came to Kansas around the age of 13, attending school in Fort Scott while supporting himself doing laundry at a local hotel. Three years later he moved on to railroading and ranching jobs, living in several small southeastern Kansas towns as well as New Mexico for a brief time. Interested in many aspects of nature, Carver examined and sketched plants and animals in all the places he lived, including the Kansas towns of Paola, Olathe and Spring Hill.

While living in Olathe, Carver became acquainted with ex-slaves Ben and Lucy Seymour. He attended school, worked in a local barbershop, and helped Lucy with her laundry business. Carver came to Minneapolis, Kansas, with the Seymours when they moved there in the summer of 1880. He was 16 years old.

Carver attended high school in Minneapolis and was accepted into Highland Presbyterian College in northeastern Kansas. He was rejected upon his arrival at the school when officials discovered he was black. Discouraged, Carver then homesteaded in western Ness County near the town of Beeler. He farmed there for a couple of years, observing and making sketches of the local flora and fauna. Friends began to refer to him as the "Plant Doctor."

By 1888 Carver's desires to attend an institution of higher learning took him outside Kansas. He enrolled at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, and later transferred to the state agricultural college (Iowa State University) at Ames. He became the first African American on the faculty at that institution.

Carver was working in the botany department at Iowa State when Booker T. Washington asked him to sign on at Tuskegee Institute. Carver moved to Alabama in 1896 to lead the Black college's agriculture department. For almost 50 years he remained at Tuskegee, teaching and pursuing his scientific studies. His work included finding over 300 uses for the peanut. Among Carver's many inventions were a way of turning soybeans into plastic, wood shavings into synthetic marble, and cotton into paving blocks. He also disseminated his extensive agricultural research to farmers through conferences and demonstrations.

When he died on Jan. 5, 1943, Carver was widely recognized for his intelligence, humility, and inventiveness. President Franklin D. Roosevelt called him one of the world's most significant scientists.


     Peanuts were known to exist as early as 950 BCE (Before Common Era) and originated in South America.  When Portuguese explorers discovered peanuts they took them back to Europe and from there the peanut found its way to Africa.  Also known as the Pindar or goober, the peanut was used a great deal as a staple food in Africa.  It was brought to America by way of the slave trade. It provided food for the slaves aboard ships bound for the American South.  African American slaves used the peanut in a variety of dishes and today it has become a common product in North America.

The man that made the peanut what it is today is George Washington Carver.  Born around 1864 in Diamond Grove, Missouri, Carver and his mother were kidnapped by slave raiders and taken to Arkansas.  He was rescued and returned to the farm of this birth where Moses and Susan Carver raised him as their own.  Carver earned the nickname “The Plant Doctor” because of his interest and skill in working with plants and his love of agriculture.  He started school at the age of 12 and went on to become the first African American to attend Simpson College.  He then transferred to Iowa Agricultural College and earned a Bachelor of Science degree and a Master of Science degree.  He was the first African American to become a faculty member of Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanics.  In 1897, he went to Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute for Negroes.  It was there that George Washington Carver went on to do his seminal research on the peanut and developed 325 products from the peanut!

George Washington Carver left an incredible legacy for many to follow.  His agricultural techniques, skills and knowledge virtually changed the agricultural techniques, skills and knowledge in the American South.  It is because of him that the farming economy of the South changed from cotton based to one that is more diversified with farms now growing peanuts, sweet potatoes and many other products.  He too taught farmers the benefits of crop rotation, and how to employ techniques that introduced nutrients back into the soil after tobacco and cotton crops depleted the land.

We owe a great deal to George Washington Carver and to the African slaves who introduced the peanut to North America.

A Listing of Products Developed from the Peanut by Dr. Carver:

Foods: salted peanuts, breakfast foods #1-5, bisque powder, peanut meal # 1-2, chocolate coated peanuts, peanut cake #1-2, dry coffee, instant coffee, peanut hearts, mock oysters, Worcestershire sauce, peanut food #1, peanut sprouts, peanut tofu sauce, cream from milk, buttermilk, milks (numbering 32), curds, vinegar, crystallized peanuts, peanut relish #1-2, peanut chocolate fudge, peanut and popcorn bars, peanut bar #1, peanut tutti-frutti bars, lard compound, sweet pickle, cheese cream, cheese pimento, cheese tutti-frutti, white pepper (from the vines), cocoa, peanut kisses, peanut wafers, peanut butter (numbering 3), butter from peanut milk, pancake flour (numbering 11), peanut surprise, malted peanuts, peanut meal, meat substitute, chili sauce, peanut brittle, cream candy, peanut flakes (numbering 2), chop suey sauce, mayonnaise, peanut meat loaf, shredded peanuts, cooking oil, salad oil, mock meat, mock veal cutlet, mock chicken, mock duct, mock goose, peanut sausage, flavoring paste, oleomargarine dehydrated milk flakes, caramel, butterscotch, evaporated milk, golden nuts, substitute asparagus, cheese nut sage, cheese sandwich plain pickle, peanut dainties, bar candy.

Stock Foods: peanut stock foods #1-3, peanut hull stock food, peanut hull bran, hen food, peanut hull meal. Molasses feed, peanut hay meal, peanut meal (numbering 3).

Beverages: peanut orange punch #1-2, normal peanut beverage, plum punch, cherry punch, peanut lemon punch, peanut punch #2 beverage for ice cream, blackberry punch, evaporated peanut beverage, pineapple punch.

Medicines: rubbing oil, tannic acid, emulsion for bronchitis, castor oil substitute, iron tonic, goiter treatment, quinine, laxatives

Cosmetics: hand lotion, face cream, face bleach and tan remover, shampoo, shaving cream, face ointment, face powder, fat producing cream, toilet soap, pomade for skin, face lotion, vanishing cream, oil for hair and scalp, pomade for scalp, glycerin, all purpose cream, dandruff cure, and antiseptic soap.

Household Products: laundry soap and sweeping compound. Dyes, Paints and Stains: leather dyes (numbering 18), wood stains (numbering 17), special peanut dye, dyes for cloth (numbering 30), and paint.

General: fuel bricks, colored paper (from skins), newsprint paper (from vines), insecticide, gasoline, wood filler, plastics, lubricating oil, diesel fuel, writing ink, furnace coke (from hulls), white paper (from vines), paper (from hulls), coarse paper (from skins), glue, gas, metal polish, axle grease, illuminating oil, printers’ ink, rubber, washing powder, hand cleanser, wall boards (from hull, numbering 11), sizing for walls, nitroglycerine, soap stock, linoleum, insulating boards numbering 18), charcoal from shells), soil conditioner, and shoe and leather backing.