The most prominent black scientist of the 20th century
George Washington Carver was born in Missouri in 1865. As a child, he spent a lot of time outdoors working in a garden and became fascinated with plants. In the 1880s he attended Iowa State Agricultural College in Ames, Iowa, and studied botany. He graduated in 1894–becoming the first African American to earn a Bachelor of Science degree–and earned a master’s degree in 1896.
In 1896, he began work with Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee Institute. He led agricultural research and taught students for more than 40 years. His research focused on farming practices and improving the community’s diet. During this time, the primary crop in the South was cotton, which severely depleted soil nutrients. Carver stressed the importance of rotating crops–alternating cotton with nitrogen-fixing plants like peanuts–to upgrade the quality of the soil. Crop rotation not only boosted soil health, but it also diversified farmers’ operations and provided new market opportunities. Carver found many uses for peanuts, sweet potatoes and other agricultural products.
From 1900 to 1920, Carver’s fame grew. He became known for his agricultural research and was an advocate for racial equality. Carver drew more public attention during the mid-1930s when the polio virus affected America. He offered a treatment of peanut-oil massages that he believed helped many people, especially children, gain relief from polio.
Carver died on January 5, 1943 at Tuskegee Institute. He is buried on campus near the grave of Booker T. Washington. The George Washington Carver National Monument was created soon after his death. Established through legislation sponsored by Senator Harry S. Truman, it was the first national memorial to an African American. It stands on the farm where Carver was born.
Did you know that Phoenix is home to the The Carver Museum? George Washington Carver Museum & Cultural Center is a premier cultural institution that is the steward of the African American experience in Phoenix. The museum and cultural center honors African American heritage, arts and culture.