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George Washington Carver

George Washington Carver was an American agricultural scientist and inventor who promoted alternative crops to cotton and methods to prevent soil depletion. He was one of the most prominent Black scientists of the early 20th century. He invented more than 300 products involving the crop, including dyes, plastics, and gasoline, but not peanut butter. Born enslaved, Carver developed an interest in botany and eventually earned a master’s degree from the Iowa State Agricultural College (now Iowa State University). He became a longtime teacher at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, an advocate for farmers, and an internationally renowned botanist who consulted for President Theodore Roosevelt and Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi. Carver died in 1943 around age 78 and became the first African American to have a national monument created in his honor. After becoming the institute’s director of agricultural research in 1896, Carver devoted his time to research projects aimed at helping Southern agriculture, demonstrating ways in which farmers could improve their economic situation. He conducted experiments in soil management and crop production and directed an experimental farm. At this time, agriculture in the Deep South was in steep decline because the unremitting single-crop cultivation of cotton had left the soil of many fields exhausted and worthless, and erosion had then taken its toll on areas that could no longer sustain any plant cover. As a remedy, Carver urged Southern farmers to plant peanuts and soybeans.

Among Carver’s many honors were his election to Britain’s Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce (London) in 1916 and his receipt of the Spingarn Medal in 1923.

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