Very few are the men who have had as much impact as this African-American scholar and inventor. Georges Washington Carver will be honoured in the whole world for his achievements in the field of agriculture and botany.
Carver was born in 1860 in the State of Missouri, in the property of Moses and Susan Carver. As he was a slave, he bore the name of his masters. He was exempted from forced labour in the plantations because he was sickly. His masters presumably castrated him to “protect” their daughter from an eventual rape. Dr Carver had all his life a feminine voice. He was kidnapped with his mother by gangsters and was found safe, but his mother disappeared. He soon showed interest towards plants and was sent by his master in a school for Blacks. His strong performance at school won him a scholarship. But when he presented himself at the university, the president told him “why didn’t you tell me that you were a nigger?”. The scholarship and the registration were revoked.
He then entered a university in Iowa where he completed a Master degree in Agronomic Sciences. Upon the request of the well-known African-American activist Booker T. Washington, he became research supervisor at the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute. George Washington Carver identifies three species of fungi that attack plants; they were named after him: Taphrina Carveri, Collectrichum Carveri and Metasphaeria Carveri. He planted peas with his students on the 20 acres of land that he was using for his experiments. As for all vegetables, the plant that grows out from peas possesses nitrogen-fixing bacteria in its roots. The nitrogen of the air is captured and converted into nitrate, which is used to fertilize the soils. Carter’s soils became so fertile that he harvested a significant quantity of cotton.
At that time, intensive planting of tobacco and cotton impoverished the soils in the South. Carver then asked local farmers to plant groundnuts in order to fertilize the soils. The success of this method was largely acclaimed before being harshly criticized, because there were groundnut surpluses that planters were unable to cope with.
Through his research, Dr Carver developed 250 peanut-based products, such as shampoo, vinegar, soap, cosmetic powder etc… The same planters were glad of these new economic opportunities. From potato, Carver developed 118 products such as flour, ink, tapioca, starch, rubber etc…
From clay, he produces dyes and paints. To solve the issue of cotton surpluses, he transforms it into isolation boards, paper, rope, paving blocks for the building of highways. From soya, he produces plastic that Henry Ford, funder of automotive group Ford, used for his vehicles. The South and the Midwest got wealthy thanks to Carver, who was invited to intervene at the United States Congress and became consultant for industry giants.
He declined politely a job offer from Henry Ford and a huge wage of 100 000 $/year offered by Thomas Edison, because he preferred to keep working in his laboratory. He was largely honoured; he was made member of the Royal Society of Arts, Industry and Trade in Great Britain in 1916. In 1940, he was proclaimed Man of the Year. The International Federation of Architects, Engineers and Technicians awarded him a plaque for services rendered to Humankind. He received several honorary degrees. A stamp was edited in his honour in 1948. The black lobby NAACP awarded him the top distinction. President Roosevelt paid him a deeply felt tribute when he died in 1943.
By : Lisapo ya Kama
- Inventeurs et Savants Noirs, Yves Antoine, Pages 24 à 29 ;
- Black Inventor