Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Jessica. Jessica Wonders, “What did George Washington Carver wonder?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Jessica!

Have you ever eaten peanuts? How about sweet potatoes? Soybeans? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’ve likely benefited from the work of one man. His name was George Washington Carver.

George Washington Carver was an American scientist and inventor. He specialized in plant life and was also an educator. He was born around 1864 on the farm of Moses Carver, near the end of the Civil War. Carver grew up on the farm and grew his own garden. He soon earned the nickname “The Plant Doctor.”

After the Civil War, Southern farmers used most of their land to grow cotton. Over time, this hurt the soil. It became very difficult to get anything to grow. In the early 1900s, the boll weevil destroyed most of the cotton crops. That left farmers looking for other crops to grow.

Carver worked hard researching new crops for southern farms. He taught farmers to rotate the crops they planted. This helped them make better use of the soil and natural resources. He helped farmers learn to alternate cotton with peanuts, soybeans, pecans, and sweet potatoes. These plants were much healthier for the soil than cotton.

Carver believed these crops could also be both a source of food and other products. He believed their sales would greatly improve farmers’ quality of life. Carver’s crop rotation idea improved southern farming by making it more sustainable.

How would people use all the new crops grown in the South? To help, Carver discovered over 300 uses for peanuts. He found hundreds of others for soybeans, pecans, and sweet potatoes. He came up with basic food recipes as well as other uses. Carver suggested these crops could be used for adhesives, wood stain, and shoe polish. He also found uses such as bleach, fuel, ink, and many more. 

Despite coming up with all these uses for various crops, Carver applied for only three patents during his lifetime. One was for cosmetics, and the other two were for paints and stains. He didn’t profit from most of his ideas.

Instead, Carver freely shared his discoveries. About his ideas, he once said, “God gave them to me. How can I sell them to someone else?”

Carver also improved racial relations, mentored children, wrote poetry, and painted. He once turned down a job offer from Thomas Edison. It would have paid him a yearly salary of $100,000 (more than $1 million in today’s dollars). Instead, he chose to continue his work as a researcher. In 1940, Carver donated his life savings to set up a foundation for continued agricultural research.

Based on his work in developing peanuts as a southern crop, Carver is often given credit for inventing peanut butter. And he probably did make peanut butter while studying the peanut. But 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. But Carver’s work did help to make peanut butter more popular in the U.S.

George Washington Carver’s inventions are used by many people every day. Can you come up with any additional uses for peanuts? How about soybeans, pecans, or sweet potatoes? Who knows? Maybe you could be the world’s next great inventor!

Standards: CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1

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.