George Washington Carver is probably the best known African American scientist and inventor. At a time when the South’s major crop-cotton was faced with total destruction by boll weevil beetle, Dr. Carver encouraged the southern farmers to plant a variety of other plants, such as peanuts, soybean and sweet potatoes along with the cotton. So if one crop failed, all was not lost.
Born of slave parents on a plantation near Diamond, Missouri, when he was just a baby, he and his mother were kidnapped. Carver was returned to the plantation, but his mother was never found.
Carver taught himself to read and write. He left the plantation where he was born when he was about ten years old and eventually settled in Minneapolis, Kansas, here he worked at odd jobs and attended school whenever he could. He won a scholarship for Highland University, but they refused to admit him because of his colour. Eventually Carver was accepted at Simpson College Iowa. He supported himself by ironing clothes for his fellow students.
From Simpson College Carver went on to Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (now Iowa State University). His work in botany and chemistry was so outstanding that, following his graduation in 1894 he was invited to join the college faculty and continue his studies. Specializing in bacteriological laboratory work in systematic botany, in 1896 the boy from humble beginnings became director of the Department of Agricultural Research at Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (now Tuskegee University).
In recognition of his accomplishments, Carver was awarded the Spingarn Medal in 1923 by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In 1935 he was appointed collaborator in the Division of Plant Mycology and Disease Survey of the Bureau of Plant Industry of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In 1940 he donated all his savings to the establishment of the George Washington Carver Foundation at Tuskegee for research in natural science. Carver died at Tuskegee, on January 5, 1943. His birthplace was established as the George Washington Carver National Monument in 1951. This was the first national park and monument for an African American.