George Washington Carver was an American scientist, botanist, educator and inventor. He was born around 1864 (no one knows the exact date or year) near Diamond Grove, Missouri, on the farm of Moses Carver.

Born into difficult times near the end of the Civil War, Carver grew up on the farm and fell in love with nature. He grew his own garden and soon earned the nickname “The Plant Doctor.”

After the Civil War, Southern farmers dedicated most of their acreage to growing cotton, which depleted the soil over time. In the early 1900s, the boll weevil destroyed most of the cotton crops, leaving farmers searching for better alternatives.

Carver dedicated his research to helping farmers develop new crops as alternatives to cotton. He suggested that farmers should rotate the crops they plant in order to make better use of the soil and natural resources.

He taught farmers to alternate soil-depleting cotton crops with soil-enriching crops, such as peanuts, soybeans, pecans and sweet potatoes.

Carver believed alternative crops could be both a source of food and a source of other products, the sale of which could greatly improve farmers’ quality of life. Carver’s crop rotation idea revolutionized Southern agriculture by making it more sustainable.

To urge farmers to consider alternative crops, Carver suggested more than 300 uses for peanuts and hundreds more uses for soybeans, pecans and sweet potatoes. In addition to basic food recipes, Carver’s suggestions for new uses for these crops included: adhesives, wood stain, shoe polish, bleach, axle grease, fuel, ink, linoleum, metal polish, paper, plastic, pavement, shaving cream, talcum powder and synthetic rubber.

Despite generating many ideas for alternative uses for various crops, Carver applied for only three patents during his lifetime: one for cosmetics and two for paints/stains. He didn’t profit from most of his ideas.

Instead, he freely shared his discoveries. He was quoted as saying about his ideas, “God gave them to me. How can I sell them to someone else?”

Carver was also known for improving racial relations, mentoring children, poetry and painting. He served as an example of humanitarianism and rejection of materialism.

He once rejected a job offer from Thomas Edison that would have paid him an annual salary of $100,000 (more than $1 million in today’s dollars), choosing instead to continue his work as a university researcher. In 1940, he donated his life savings to establish a foundation for continued agricultural research.

Based on popular legend and his work in developing peanuts as an alternative crop, Carver is often given credit for inventing peanut butter. Even though he probably did make peanut butter while studying the peanut, he didn’t invent it.

Peanut butter had already been around for hundreds of years. The Aztecs, for example, were known to have made an edible paste from ground peanuts.

 

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    • We’re glad you found this Wonder, Grace! There are LOTS of cool Wonders here in Wonderopolis…we hope you visit again soon! :-)

  1. I’m with Grace!!!!! My class is studying him too! This is actaully for our extra credit assignment! Thanks for this wonder! ~Jaidyn :D

    • Alright, we’re so happy to hear you and your Wonder classmates have been WONDERing about George Washington Carver, too, Jaidyn! Thanks for sharing your comment and learning with us- great work! :)

    • It’s awesome to know that your assignment and our Wonder about George Washington Carver were connected, Wonder Friend Nikki! What a cool idea– we LOVE to Wonder about history– it’s like learning something new! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Who was George Washington Carver?
  • What is crop rotation?
  • Did George Washington Carver invent peanut butter?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

George Washington Carver’s birthplace near Diamond, Missouri, has been set aside by the National Park Service as the George Washington Carver National Monument. But if you don’t live near Missouri, you can still take a virtual tour.

In honor of the man who found more than 300 uses for the humble peanut, head to the kitchen and try Paula Deen’s fried peanut butter and banana sandwich recipe. If you’re not crazy about bananas, you could also try this recipe for a gourmet peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

If you have your own idea for a great peanut butter recipe, do a little kitchen experimentation. You never know when a great idea might earn you $25,000. Find out how a young girl from California turned her idea for peanut butter and chicken lettuce wraps into cold, hard cash in a contest!

 

Still Wondering

George Washington Carver used his agricultural knowledge to change the economy of the South. Visit EconEdLink’s Peanuts, Pecans, and Peas, Please lesson to learn how the peanut kept Southern cotton farmers from losing it all.

 

Wonder What’s Next?

Planning to join us in Wonderopolis tomorrow? Come hungry! We’re going to take a big bite out of a wonder that’s really for the birds.

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