George Washington Carver

Carver conducted scientific research on such crops as peanuts, soybeans, sweet potatoes, and pecans. Products derived from this research reached the market during the early twentieth century, revitalizing the economy and business activity of the South by liberating the region from an excessive dependence on cotton.

While participating in farmwork during his youth in Missouri, George Washington Carver developed a great interest in and love for plants. After graduating from Iowa Agricultural College in 1894, he was hired there as a faculty member and spent many hours working on agricultural and botanical projects in the school’s greenhouses. In 1897, he was hired as the director of agriculture at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.Carver, George Washington

George Washington Carver.

(National Archives)

At Tuskegee, Carver discovered that crop rotation could be used to maintain soil nutrients. In particular, peanuts, peas, sweet potatoes, soybeans, and pecans would enrich soils that had been depleted by growing cotton. Carver developed more than 300 different uses for peanuts, from cooking oil to printer’s ink; over 150 uses for sweet potatoes; over 50 uses for pecans; and many practical uses for soybeans, including making paints and stains. The implementation of proper crop rotation, along with the exploitation of the vast number of new applications of peanuts, sweet potatoes, soybeans, and pecans, created new markets for farmers in the South. By 1938, peanuts had become a $200 million business.

As Carver’s fame grew, business leaders and American presidents sought his help to stimulate business and boost the economy. Henry Ford worked with Carver to solve the problems caused by the rubber shortage during World War II by making synthetic rubber using sweet potatoes and goldenrod, a weed. Through the use of science and technology, Carver helped Americans meet societal, business, and financial needs at a critical time in the history of the United States.

Further Reading

  • Hersey, Mark. “Hints and Suggestions to Farmers: George Washington Carver and Rural Conservation in the South.” Environmental History 11, no. 2 (April, 2006).
  • Holt, Rackham. George Washington Carver: An American Biography. Rev. ed. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1963.
  • McMurry, Linda O. George Washington Carver: Scientist and Symbol. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.



Cotton gin

Cotton industry

Henry Ford

Marcus Garvey


Booker T. Washington

World War II