The Peanut Man

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We all know that peanut is rich in energy and consists of a good list of nutrient profiles. However, that plain brown shell, not only has amazing nutritional powers, it also comprises of things that are extracted to make hundreds of products such as plastics, paper, shampoo, milk, cream, synthetic rubber, beverages, diesel fuel, insecticide and shaving cream. Over 300 uses for peanuts were discovered. Hundreds of uses for soybeans and sweet potatoes were also discovered. The man responsible for these remarkable discoveries is George Washington Carver.

Carver was born during the American Civil War years, may be during 1864. He was born on a farm near Missouri and into slavery. George’s father and mother, Giles and Mary (She was purchased at the age of 13) were the slaves of Susan and Moses Carver plantation. George’s father died, shortly after his birth. Near the end of Civil war, George and his mother were kidnapped from the cabin they lived. From Arkansas, George was returned to his owners, but his mother was never found (most likely sold). The Carver’s raised the child George, who was frail and sickly.

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In his childhood, George showed immense love on plants and animals, and was known around the neighborhood as ‘plant doctor’. He built a nursery on his own, where he taught himself to cultivate plants, and also and experimented with the soil. George received home-schooling, but his thirst for knowledge took him away from home. After graduating top class in high school, George applied for college in Highland University in Kansas (around 1885). The university denied his application, when it found out that George Carver was an African-American. But, Carver didn’t cast away his dreams of teaching his African-American brothers. In a gentle manner, he pursued art, music, cooking, and gardening. Carver’s persistent struggle finally found him a place at the Simpson College in Iowa (during 1890), and this he started his journey filled with great achievements.

In Simpson College, George joined as a student of art and music. He earned the respect of many professors, especially that of Etta Budd. She encouraged George to seek a career with a science background rather than arts. She talked to her father – an agricultural professor, in Ames. Although, George Carver was a very talented painter, his dream was to help African Americans by educating them the new scientific techniques of the time. He immediately transferred to Agricultural College, receiving his Bachelor of Agriculture Degree in 1894, and two years later received a Master of Agriculture Degree. Soon, he got an offer from Booker T. Washington – famous African-American leader of that time and also department head of agriculture at Tuskegee Institute.

Highland University, Iowa

Highland University, Iowa

In that time, George Carver was the only African-American to have achieved advance training in scientific agriculture. He took the offer and started to captivate and inspire his students at the institute. When Carver joined Tuskegee institute, peanut was not even identified as a crop, but few decades later, peanut became sixth leading crop in United States. Carver’s experimentation with peanut started, when Cotton, the main crop in American South, was destroyed year after year by boll weevil. He discovered the numerous products that could be extracted from peanut, and also taught farmers about crop rotation.

He encouraged rotating cotton with peanut, sweet potatoes, and other variety of crops. He also developed many cures and preventative measures for stopping various fungi from killing plants. George was called as ‘Savior of Southern Agriculture’. He continued his remarkable research projects throughout 1920’s and 30’s, and these researchers were acclaimed for their diversity – making paper from peanut shells, developing rubber from sweet potatoes, using wood shavings to create synthetic marble etc. Majority of George Carver’s inventions were not patented. He called it a gift from God and refused till the end to sell these ideas. Although. George was immortalized for his achievements with peanut, his major accomplishment was said to be the invention and promotion of organic fertilizing methods.

Carver and his close friend Henry Ford

Carver and his close friend Henry Ford

In 1939, he received honorary membership to American Inventors Society and also got a ‘Humanitarian Award’. Three years before his death, Carver donated his life savings of $60,000 to research foundation at Tuskegee Institute. The reasons for his national celebrity status also reside in the way he conducted himself. Even though his fellow men continually insulted him because of the color of his skin, he always remained as a paragon of grace (although his detractors relish in calling him as ‘accommodationist’).

 

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