Carver, George Washington

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Carver, George Washington,

1864?–1943, American agricultural chemist, b. Diamond, Mo., grad. Iowa State College (now Iowa State Univ.; B.S., 1894; M.A. 1896). Born a slave, he later, as a free man, earned his college degree. In 1896 he joined the staff of Tuskegee Institute as director of the department of agricultural research, retaining that post the rest of his life. His work won him international repute. Carver's efforts to improve the economy of the South (he dedicated himself especially to bettering the position of African Americans) included the teaching of soil improvement and of diversification of crops. He discovered hundreds of uses for the peanut, the sweet potato, and the soybean and thus stimulated the culture of these crops. He devised many products from cotton waste and extracted blue, purple, and red pigments from local clay. From 1935 he was a collaborator of the Bureau of Plant Industry. Carver contributed his life savings to a foundation for research at Tuskegee. In 1953 his birthplace was made a national monument.


See biographies by R. Holt (rev. ed. 1966) and L. Elliott (1966).

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Carver, George Washington

(c. 1861–1943) agricultural chemist, educator, botanist; born near Diamond Grove, Mo. Born to slave parents, he began his education at age 14 and earned a B.S. and M.S. in agriculture (1894, 1896) from Iowa State College. He directed the agricultural research department at Tuskegee Institute, Alabama (1896–1943), teaching and pioneering an extension program of "movable schools" to train black farmers in agriculture and home economics. Aiming to revitalize and conserve depleted soil, Carver influenced the southern shift from single-crop to diversified agriculture by developing hundreds of products made from peanuts, sweet potatoes, and other crops, many of them commercially viable. He developed a hybrid cotton and was a noted collector of fungi. Working with severely limited resources outside the white scientific establishment, Carver published little more than his 44 Tuskegee Experiment Station bulletins (1898–1942) and, wishing his work to be widely available, obtained only three patents; nevertheless he became a researcher of international stature. He chose not to challenge the system of segregation that existed during his lifetime, but he became one of the chief models of what African-Americans could accomplish.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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