28th Dec 2013
Badass Scientist of the Week: George Washington Carver
George Washington Carver (1864–1943) was a botanist, an agricultural researcher and an educator. He was born on a small farm near Diamond Grove, Missouri, where his mother and brother were the only slaves of Moses and Susan Carver. When he was a baby, his mother was taken by Confederate night-raiders, and the Carvers raised the two boys as their own. George became interested in nature at a young age but schools were racially segregated—to get an education he was forced to leave home at twelve and work to support himself while studying. Racial barriers made applying to college a struggle too, but after four years he finally became the first black student at Simpson College, Iowa. Carver soon transferred to Iowa State College to study science, and he gained a Master’s in agriculture and bacterial botany in 1896. He was renowned within the school for his academic talent and his gift as a teacher. He then took up a position as head of agriculture at the all-black-staffed Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. At the time, southern farming was devastated by years of civil war and the “loss” of slave labour, which was hurting the economy. Carver helped farmers recover: he recognised that years of growing cotton and tobacco had severely depleted the soil and so introduced “rotational” crops—alternating soil-depleting crops with soil-enriching crops like peanuts and sweet potatoes. To encourage farmers, he proceeded to invent hundreds of profitable applications of the crops, including adhesives, axel grease, biofuel, bleach, ink, metal polish, shaving cream, synthetic rubber and wood stain. Soon, his ingenuity led to speaking engagements, and by the 1920s he was on lecture tours of white colleges, opening students’ eyes to racial injustices and serving as a mentor to black students. He became a national folk hero, and after his death in 1943, President Roosevelt honoured Carver with a national monument. Carver never patented or profited from most of his profits—as his epitaph reads: “He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world.”

Badass Scientist of the Week: George Washington Carver

George Washington Carver (1864–1943) was a botanist, an agricultural researcher and an educator. He was born on a small farm near Diamond Grove, Missouri, where his mother and brother were the only slaves of Moses and Susan Carver. When he was a baby, his mother was taken by Confederate night-raiders, and the Carvers raised the two boys as their own. George became interested in nature at a young age but schools were racially segregated—to get an education he was forced to leave home at twelve and work to support himself while studying. Racial barriers made applying to college a struggle too, but after four years he finally became the first black student at Simpson College, Iowa. Carver soon transferred to Iowa State College to study science, and he gained a Master’s in agriculture and bacterial botany in 1896. He was renowned within the school for his academic talent and his gift as a teacher. He then took up a position as head of agriculture at the all-black-staffed Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. At the time, southern farming was devastated by years of civil war and the “loss” of slave labour, which was hurting the economy. Carver helped farmers recover: he recognised that years of growing cotton and tobacco had severely depleted the soil and so introduced “rotational” crops—alternating soil-depleting crops with soil-enriching crops like peanuts and sweet potatoes. To encourage farmers, he proceeded to invent hundreds of profitable applications of the crops, including adhesives, axel grease, biofuel, bleach, ink, metal polish, shaving cream, synthetic rubber and wood stain. Soon, his ingenuity led to speaking engagements, and by the 1920s he was on lecture tours of white colleges, opening students’ eyes to racial injustices and serving as a mentor to black students. He became a national folk hero, and after his death in 1943, President Roosevelt honoured Carver with a national monument. Carver never patented or profited from most of his profits—as his epitaph reads: “He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world.”

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