George Washington Carver (18611943)
George Washington Carver was born a slave in Missouri as the Civil War was breaking out, but he was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. He grew up in Arkansas, where he and his mother lived on the farm of their former master. When he was a teenager, he moved to Kansas where he went to high school. He wasn’t allowed to go to college there because of his race, so he moved to Iowa, where he studied agricultural science at Iowa State Agricultural College (now Iowa State University). He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1894 and a master’s in 1896.
Around this time Booker T. Washington was founding a new school for African Americans in Tuskegee, Alabama. Carver went to work at the new Tuskegee Institute as soon as he finished school and stayed there the rest of his life. He was mainly interested in using chemistry to find ways to make life better for farmers in southeast Alabama. So he studied the soil there and found it was perfect for growing peanuts and sweet potatoes. The only problem was that back then, not many people ate peanuts or sweet potatoes, so farmers didn’t make much money growing them. Most farmers in Alabama and the rest of the South grew cotton, which is back-breaking work to pick and makes soil infertile after a few years.
So Carver went to work using chemistry to develop new products made from peanuts and sweet potatoes, including flour and ink. He was very successful, and made it possible for many farmers across the South to make better livings by growing peanuts and sweet potatoes instead of cotton.