George Washington Carver (January 1, 1864 - January 5, 1943) was an American botanist who introduced crop rotation to southern U.S. agriculture and developed hundreds of uses for the peanut and other plants.
Carver was born into slavery in the early 1860s, near Diamond Grove Missouri. His owner was a German immigrant named Moses Carver, who also owned his mother and brother. His father died in an accident when he was very young. When George was an infant, he and his mother were kidnapped by thieves who hoped to sell them elsewhere, a common practice. Carver tracked them down. When he was found, George was near death (his mother was lost). This episode caused a bout of respiratory disease that left him with a permanently weakened constitution. Because of this, he was unable to work as a hand and spent his time wandering the fields, drawn to the varieties of wild plants. He became so knowledgeable that he was known by the Carvers' neighbors as "the plant doctor."
After slavery was abolished, Carver and his wife raised George and his brother as their own, and encouraged the boy to continue his intellectual pursuits. When George was 12, he decided to strike out on his own, much to the Carvers' distress. By his own account, once in the nearest town, he met a kindly woman from whom he wished to rent a room. When he identified himself "Carver's George" -- as he had done his whole life -- she replied that from now on, his name was "George Carver." They then struck a deal: free room and board in exchange for work and a promise by George that he would attend school every day.
He earned his high-school diploma at Minneapolis High School in Kansas. He was accepted to Simpson College in 1887, and then transferred to Iowa State University (then Iowa State Agricultural College) where he earned bachelor's (1891) and master's (1894) degrees. In order to avoid confusion with another George Carver in his classes, he began to use the name George Washington Carver.
While in college, he showed a strong aptitude for singing and art, as well as for science, and could possibly have chosen a career in any of the three fields.
In 1896 Carver came to the Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) at the request of Booker T. Washington and specialized in botany. He became the director of agricultural research.
Taking an interest in the plight of poor Southern farmers working with soil depleted by repeated crops of cotton. Carver advocated employing the nitrogen cycle by alternating cotton crops with legume planting, such as peanuts, to restore nitrogen to the soil. Thus, the cotton crop was improved and new cash crops added. He developed an agricultural extension system in Alabama to train farmers in raising these crops and an industrial research laboratory to develop uses for them.
In order to make these new crops profitable, Carver devised numerous new uses for the new crops, including more than 300 uses for the peanut ranging from glue to printer's ink; however, contrary to popular belief, this list does not include peanut butter. He made similar investigations into uses for plants such as sweet potatoes and pecans.
He often said that if all other foods were gone from the earth, the peanut and sweet potato alone could provide sufficient food, in both nutrition and in variety of preparation, to sustain humans indefinitely.
George Washington Carver died January 5, 1943. As a legacy, he left behind the Carver Research Foundation at Tuskegee, founded in 1940 with his life's savings.
Carver Hall at Iowa State University, and Carver Science Building at Simpson College are named after him. He appeared on US commemorative stamps in 1947 and 1998 and was depicted on a commemorative half-dollar in 1953.