George Washington Carver: Text-Only Version
From Slave to Student
Desire for Knowledge
Arts and Crafts
A Great Teacher
Practical Researcher
Selected Recipes
Movable School

Overview  Top

George Washington Carver rose from slavery to become a renowned educator, scientist, artist, and humanitarian. An innovator and idealist, he had a remarkable understanding of the natural world.

Carver devoted his life to research and finding practical alternatives to improving agriculture and the economic condition of African-Americans in the South.

From Slave to Student  Top

Carver was born a slave on a small farm near Diamond Grove, Missouri, in 1865, "near the end of the war." Moses and Susan Carver, his owners, reputedly opposed slavery. However, they needed labor to work their lands and acquired slaves, including Mary, George's mother.

There was a lot of unrest in Southwest Missouri at that time. As an infant, George and his family were kidnapped by bandits and taken to Arkansas. His mother was never heard from again. The Carvers gave a reward when young George was returned to them.

They taught him to appreciate nature, learning, and self-sufficiency. As a young man, George began a lifelong habit of taking long walks and observing and collecting specimens. "Day after day I spent in the collect my floral Beautie(e)s...all sorts of vegetation seemed to thrive under my touch until I was styled the plant doctor, and plants from all over the county would be brought to me for treatment."

Starting from childhood, and throughout his life, religion played an important role. It broke down social and racial barriers for Carver and was the inspiration for his research and teaching. His beliefs were universal and didn't conflict with his scientific knowledge. In fact, the more Carver learned, the greater was his faith."The Great Creator...permit(s) me to speak to Him through...the animal, mineral and vegetable kingdoms..." Carver was an active member of the YMCA, from his early college days to his last years.

Desire for Knowledge  Top

As an African American, Carver was unable to attend the local white school. However, he had "an inordinate desire for knowledge." The young boy attended school in Neosho, Missouri, and later moved to Kansas. Doing laundry and cooking paid for his tuition. Given the difficulties confronting African Americans who wanted an education, Carver took intermittent schooling breaks in the 1880s.

After homesteading in Kansas, Carver went to Simpson College, Iowa, in 1890 to study art. However, as an African American, he was not allowed to register. Eventually admitted to the class, he proved to be a talented artist. Doing laundry, cooking, and selling his paintings supported him again. Driven by his desire to contribute to his people, Carver switched to agricultural studies. He believed that he could find practical ways to benefit African-American farmers.

In 1891, Carver enrolled at Iowa Agricultural College at Ames to study agriculture. His teachers thought Carver "a brilliant student...and collector." He earned a BS there in 1884 and worked as an assistant botanist at the experimental station. Carver graduated with an MS in agriculture in 1886. A skilled plant breeder and field collector, in particular of fungi, he developed expertise in plant diseases.

Arts and Crafts  Top

As a child, Carver learned to how to draw and paint pictures. Later, as a college student he enrolled in art class. Although he switched to agricultural studies, Carver continued to paint all his life. One of his paintings won Honorable Mention in the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.

Carver found time in his hectic schedule to crochet, knit, and do needlework. He found these activities satisfying and they enabled him to produce useful items for friends. He had a great appreciation for the world around him, in particular, the materials found in nature. He dyed many of his own threads and fibers with natural dyes made from local walnut, mulberry, and ochre clay. He recycled old burlap and string bags into functional and attractive needlework. Bark fibers were woven into mats.

Carver collected clays locally and was fascinated by their natural colors. He refined the extracted pigments and made paints that interested several commercial paint companies. These jars were displayed in his laboratory, at county fairs, and in the original Carver Museum. Carver used Alabama pigments to paint the interior of a local church. He also used them in his own paintings.

He developed a rich array of house paint colors to encourage poor local farmers to improve the appearance of their homes. He arranged the pigments in pleasing combinations, ceiling colors on top, border and cornice colors in the middle tier, and wall colors on the bottom. The paints were used on the Tuskegee campus and throughout the area.

A Great Teacher  Top

Looking to attract the best and brightest African-American professionals to Tuskegee, Booker T. Washington hired the young teaching assistant, George W. Carver, in 1896. The two men shared the belief that a practical education would make African Americans self-sufficient. In a letter to Washington, Carver said "it has always been the one ideal of my life to be of the greatest good to the greatest number of my people possible and to this end I have been preparing myself for these many years, feeling as I do that this line of education is the key." Carver believed that Tuskegee Institute was the place that could "unlock the golden dawn of freedom to our people."

A gifted teacher, Carver was assigned various responsibilities at Tuskegee over a long career. Although he was frustrated by Carver's management and administrative shortcomings, Washington realized that Carver was "a great teacher, a great lecturer, a great inspirer of young men and old men."

At schools, on farms, and county fairs, Carver urged others to recognize their own potential, and that of their surroundings. He was committed to learning by doing. Students were encouraged to "figure it out for themselves." They need a thorough preparation to "do all common things uncommonly well." Carver's talks and writings were direct, practical, and engaging. His warmth and charm allowed him to develop and maintain close personal relationships with students, farmers and powerful philanthropists over the years.

Practical Researcher  Top

Applying his wide ranging research to finding practical solutions, Carver experimented with seeds, soils, soil enrichment, and feed grains. "Soil enrichment, natural fertilizer use, and crop rotation" was his message to students and farmers. Carver developed fertilizers to produce more food and better cash crops. As yields improved, the creative researcher developed new products from crops such as sweet potatoes and peanuts. His plant hybridization, recycling, and use of locally available technology was ahead of his time. Carver's work on synthetic substitutes for petroleum products and paints was of great interest to industry. He also patented several inventions. All Carver's efforts were geared to increasing African-American farmers' economic independence.

Selected Recipes  Top

"Before interested housewives [Dr. Carver compared cooking to painting]...In painting the artist attempts to produce pleasing effects through the proper blending of colors. The cook must blend her food in such a manner as to produce dishes which are attractive. Harmony in food is just as important as harmony in colors."

Tillery, after George Washington Carver.

Carver was a talented and innovative cook. His recipes were developed to make tasty and nutritious dishes using local and easily-grown crops. Booker T. Washington thought that Carver had "great ability in and showing what can be done in the use of foods and the preserving of foods." Using Tuskegee Institute bulletins, Carver shared his recipes with farmers and housewives. Many of his recipes would today be considered "nouvelle cuisine." The recipes below are taken from Dr. Carver's bulletins.


Peanut Soup
Cook peanuts until soft; remove skins, mash or grind until very fine; let milk come to a boil; add the peanuts; cook 20 minutes. Rub flour into a smooth paste with milk; add butter to the peanuts and milk; stir in flour; season with salt and pepper to taste; serve hot.

Peanut Soup Number Four
Boil 10 minutes in a half a cup of water; half a cup of chopped celery, a tablespoon of chopped onion, the same amount of red and green peppers mixed; add a cup of peanut butter and 3 cups of rich milk to which has been added 1 tablespoon of flour; add 1 teaspoon of sugar; boil two minutes and serve.

Sorrel soup
We hope that every person who likes something new, novel, delicious nourishing, and appetizing will try this soup. Thoroughly clean and wash about 2 quarts of the leaves, boil slowly until tender (preferably in a porcelain or granite ware vessel); rub through a sieve, add your favorite seasoning and three cups of soup stock to it; thicken with one tablespoon of butter and one of flour rubbed together, stir this into a teacupful of boiling hot milk. Add to the soup stirring it vigorously to prevent curdling. Let boil up and serve at once.

Peanut butter candy
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons peanut butter
cup milk

Blend (all ingredients) together, boil for 5 minutes, remove from the fire and beat steadily until cool. (Break into pieces and store covered).


Broiled Tomatoes
Wipe; scald; peel and cut the tomatoes in halves or thick slices; if very large lay on a wire broiler; when hot, add a pinch of pepper, salt and a bit of butter; toast quickly until brown; serve hot.

Baked Tomatoes
Cut in halves; lay them in buttered pan; cover with buttered bread crumbs, and bake until brown.


Dr. Carver's Baked Sweet Potatoes
Scrub with brush and rinse with water until thoroughly clean. Bake like white potatoes, without breaking the skin. When done break the skin in one place in the form of a cross, forcing the meat partly out, cap with butter and serve. Potatoes from 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter, and from 5 to 6 inches long, as the most desirable for baking- the flavor seems to be far superior to the large kinds, or the round or irregular sort.


Peanut Cookies
3 cups flour
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups ground peanuts
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sweet milk
1 teaspoon baking powder

Cream butter and sugar; add eggs well beaten; now add the milk and flour; flavor to taste with vanilla; and the peanuts last; drop one spoonful to the cooking in well greased pans; bake quickly.

Peanut Brownies
2 eggs
2 squares chocolate
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup melted butter
1/8 cup coarsely ground peanuts

Mix and bake in shallow pan in a quick oven; garnish the top with nuts; cut in squares.

Mock Chicken

Blanch and grind a sufficient number of peanuts until they are quite oily; stir in one well-beaten egg; if too thin, thicken with rolled bread crumbs or cracker dut; stir in a little salt. Boil some sweet potatoes until done; peel and cut in thin slices; spread generously with the peanut mixture; dip in white of egg; fry to a chicken brown; serve hot.

Peanut Brittle
3 cups granulated sugar
1 scant cup boiling water
1 cup roasted peanuts
1/4 teaspoon soda

Melt all together over a slow fire; cook gently wihtout stirring until a little hardens when dropped in cold water; add the nuts; turn the mixture in well buttered pans and cut while hot. Stirring will cause the syrup to sugar.

Peanut Chocolate Fudge
1 cup cream
2 cups white granulated sugar
1/4 cake unsweetened chocolate
1 cup chopped peanuts
1 tablespoon butter

Put in the sugar and cream, and when this becomes hot, put in the chocolate, broken up into fine pieces; stir vigorously and constantly, put in the butter when it begins to boil; stir until it creams when beaten on a saucer; remove and beat until quite cool, and pour into buttered tins; add the nuts before stirring.

Movable School  Top

Washington directed his faculty to "take their teaching into the community." Carver responded by designing a "movable school" that students built. The wagon was named for Morris K. Jesup, a New York financier who gave Washington the money to equip and operate the "movable school." The first movable school was a horse-drawn agricultural vehicle called a Jesup Wagon. Later it was a mechanized truck, still called a Jesup Wagon, that carried agricultural exhibits to county fairs and community gatherings.

By 1930, the "Booker T. Washington Agricultural School on Wheels" carried a nurse, a home demonstration agent, an agricultural agent, and an architect to share the latest techniques with rural people. Later, community services were expanded, and educational films and lectures were circulated in local churches and schools. The "movable school" was the cornerstone of Tuskegee's extension services and epitomized the Institute's doctrines of self-sufficiency and self-improvement.

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