George Washington Carver

History of Great Creation Scientists





A crumpled letter arrived in the mail addressed to the well-known professor of agriculture, George Washington Carver. It was a plea for help from the president of a small institute in Alabama. 'Our students are poor, often starving,' the president wrote. 'They travel miles of torn roads, across years of poverty. We teach them to read and write, but words cannot fill stomachs. They need to learn how to plant and harvest crops.'

For a moment 1Professor Carver stopped reading. He knew only too well the consequences of poverty on students. Born to Negro slave parents himself, George Carver had seen lean and hungry faces all through his school days. But his interest in botany had led him to earn two college degrees, and had taken him now, in 1896, to his position of professor at Iowa State College of Agriculture. His scientific research with plants and plant diseases was well known. Journals and magazines were eager to publish articles on his plant discoveries.

Now Dr. Booker T. Washington, president of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, wanted Professor Carver to leave Iowa for the South. But Tuskegee seemed to offer little. Dr. Washington's letter concluded: 'I cannot offer you money, position or fame. The first two you have. The last, from the place you now occupy, you will no doubt achieve. These things I now ask you to give up.' In their place, Dr. Washington offered Professor Carver work. Hard work. The challenge of bringing people up from degradation, poverty and wasted lives.

For hours George Carver walked around the beautifully landscaped campus of Iowa State College. He needed to think. He had long ago learnt to trust the Lord in difficult decisions. What now did God have planned for him? Finally he knew. He returned to his small room, seated himself at his wooden desk, and took a piece of paper and a pen. 'I will come,' he wrote.

His arrival at Tuskegee Institute brought some shocks. He found no laboratory to continue his bacteriological work on plants. The healthy black Iowa soil he had just left was replaced by dry multicoloured dirt. He saw erosion gullies in which an ox could fall and get lost!


The only things growing here at Tuskegee were weeds. And worst of all, his students didn't seem greatly interested in learning to raise productive crops, even if Professor Carver could work a miracle and actually grow something on this land.

The professor accepted this challenge. He encouraged his students to help him build a rough laboratory. Then together they worked on a large plot of ground until their backs ached and their muscles begged for mercy. They ploughed it and nourished it. Leaf mould, mud and muck from swamps and creeks, and animal droppings from the local farms were poured into the land. The dirt began to turn darker and richer. The professor and his students used their handmade lab equipment to test the soil.

Finally the day for planting arrived. By now Professor Carver had generated new enthusiasm into his students, and they arrived early at the 20-acre plot. The professor suggested they ask the good Lord's blessing on their first crop. One of his students stepped forward. 'Yes,' the student began, 'let's ask the Lord to bring us the best twenty acres of cotton in all the Southland.' Professor Carver shook his head. He admitted the Lord can do anything, but said it was a bit much to ask the Lord to grow cotton from the seeds of cowpeas!


A stunned silence fell over the group. Cowpeas to these people were a worthless crop. They thought they would be growing cotton. Their disappointment was obvious. Professor Carver tried to reassure them that a good crop of cowpeas would feed nutrients into the soil. But many thought he was a fool, and some told him so.

When the time came to harvest the crop, the professor found little joy among his students. Cowpeas were regarded as livestock food. What good were cowpeas to people?

Again Professor Carver accepted their challenge. He invited the students to the campus cafeteria, and told them to bring their best appetites. After gulping down helping after delicious helping in the cafeteria, the students left not a single cowpea! 'Maybe we should plant cowpeas again,' some suggested. The professor disagreed. The cowpeas put fresh nutrients back into the soil, but now the professor said it would be better to grow sweet potatoes. They were good to eat, starch could be made from them, and they could be dried and kept for lean times later.

A few students exchanged surprised looks. But after the cowpeas incident they were more trusting of their professor. Together the professor and his students raised an enormous crop of sweet potatoes. Every night George Carver would thank the Lord for such provision. After a record crop of sweet potatoes was harvested, an even bigger challenge awaited. It was time to plant the 'King' crop. Cotton!

Happy Times

Growing cotton brought happy times. Under Professor Carver's guidance each acre of the revitalised Tuskegee plot produced a 500 pound bale of cotton, compared to only 200 pounds previously.

Unusual successes continued. Early one morning the professor was walking through swampy marsh near the Tuskegee campus. Suddenly he stumbled. He got some of the sticky swamp mud on his hands, which he wiped off with a white handkerchief. In a nearby puddle of water he washed his hands and the handkerchief. Surprisingly, the white handkerchief turned bright blue. Blue? What was in this mud?

Eagerly he hurried back to the lab to analyse the mud. He first took a lump of red clay already in the lab, and poured water over it until the sand and grit was washed away. A sticky red substance remained. Paint! He could make paint from the clay. Blue and red paint. People could use this to paint their houses, barns, churches and fences.

President Booker T. Washington shared George Carver's joy. He was proud that such attention was being paid to the work at Tuskegee. It was bringing respect to the Negro people.

Exciting projects followed. The professor set up a 'school on wheels' - a simple wagon containing such things as a butter churn, a plough, a milk tester, garden tools... - which took new knowledge to the farmers and students around the countryside. Professor Carver took one of his best students and set off on his travelling school. He taught the farmers more effective ways to plough; he showed them how to fight insects; how to treat diseases of trees and plants; and how to plant productive gardens. The farmers' wives were shown how to make curtains from flour sacks; how to weave rugs from grasses; and how to best prepare their meals. Eventually Tom, the professor's assistant, and some other students, took over the wagon themselves. Professor Carver could now return to Tuskegee. Back at Tuskegee the classes grew larger, and more buildings went up on the campus. Cotton was now growing thick and rich around the Alabama countryside. The South looked like a white winter wonderland. Farmers boasted about their pure and healthy crops.


But disaster was looming.

Cotton crops over in Texas were being attacked by a tiny black bug. The boll weevil was chewing its way through cotton balls across Texas and into Louisiana. In his newspaper articles Professor Carver warned the Alabama farmers they must plant something besides cotton. He urged them to plant peanuts or sweet potatoes. These would help rebuild the soil, and would not be touched by the boll weevil. But the cotton fields were rich and full, and the farmers ignored the professor's warnings. Only the plot at Tuskegee College had been planted with peanuts.

The boll weevil struck! Billions of the savage little bugs swarmed over the Alabama cotton fields in 1914, leaving in their wake a tide of empty shells. Amid this widespread tragedy, the peanut vines at Tuskegee Institute grew firm and fresh. The suffering farmers admitted that all the professor had warned them about had come true. Could Professor Carver help them now? 'I will do all I can,' he promised.

A meeting was set up. Much work had to be done. Professor Carver told the farmers to plough their cotton remains back into the soil - and plant peanuts! The value of his advice was recognised. The farmers eagerly read the professor's bulletins on the use and value of peanuts. They learnt that like all members of the pod-bearing family, peanuts enrich the soil; they are easy and cheap to grow; they give man a wider range of food values than any other legume; their nutritive value as a stock food compares well with the cowpea; they are easy to harvest... the list went on.

From all over the South, farmers shared their excitement with Professor Carver about their peanut crops. They even mixed peanuts with corn and fed them to pigs - a Carver recipe for better quality pork.

Then something unexpected happened. There was suddenly such a glut of peanuts that farmers were having difficulty selling them. Angry peanut growers accused George Carver of leading them into bankruptcy. Had he been such a fool that he had seen only half the problem?

He retreated to his lab. There he prayed for a way to prevent those who had trusted him from tumbling into financial ruin. Countless experiments followed. Days and nights slipped by as he worked to find uses for the peanuts. His tireless testing began to pay off. He found that peanut oil blended easily with other fluids. It could be broken down into soap, cooking oil and margarine. He made fine paper from the red skin of the peanut.

'Not Alone'

He staggered from his laboratory. He had lost all track of time. 'Dr. Carver,' shouted one of his students, 'you've been working in there for six days and six nights. Why wouldn't you answer the door?' 'There was much to be done,' replied the professor wearily, 'but now we will be able to use every peanut we have raised. We have found the answer.' 'We?' the student asked. He knew the professor had been alone in his lab. The professor replied, 'I was not alone for a moment.'

Six days and six nights of creative research had shown no end to the professor's use for peanuts. From the various parts of the peanut plant he had developed nearly 300 products. Ink, ice-cream, bread, cosmetics, dyes, candy, soap, sausage, oils... substitutes for flour, butter, cheese and coffee. The uses George Carver had found in his laboratory for peanuts seemed endless.

In factories and on farms throughout the South, jobs were increasing. The humble peanut had become a giant help to man.

In his classrooms and his laboratory, Professor Carver now turned his attention to sweet potatoes. Before long, he found the sweet potato could help provide vinegar, starch, library paste, shoe black, candy... it had at least 115 valuable uses!

But in the midst of all this joy came sorrow. A note arrived from one of the professor's students. Dr. Booker T. Washington, the man who had brought George Carver to Tuskegee, was dead. In the days that followed, Professor Carver had doubts about whether he too should leave Tuskegee. Perhaps it was time to move on. He prayed for guidance. At Dr. Washington's funeral, the answer came.

The death had brought a long-time friend of Dr. Washington to the funeral: former President Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States. President Roosevelt encouraged Professor Carver to stay on at Tuskegee. He told him he must continue with his important work of bettering the world for black people and white people alike. The scientist's decision was made. He would stay.

Peanuts were still helping to rebuild the South when, in January 1921, Professor Carver received an invitation to Washington, DC. An important tariff bill was being considered by the Senate 'Ways and Means Committee' in Congress. For years peanuts had been brought into America from other countries at a tax of only half a cent a pound. It was becoming difficult for local growers to compete with the cheap foreign imports. Peanut growers pleaded with Professor Carver to ask the government at the Senate hearing to raise the tariff of imported peanuts. The professor agreed.

Arriving at the Capitol building, George Carver nervously entered the room in which the senators were discussing the bill. He heard someone say the meeting was about to close. Had he arrived too late? He announced himself to the committee, and was granted 10 minutes to state his case.

Only 10 minutes! He had so much to say and so little time. But he had to make a start. He told those gathered in the great hall about his findings from the peanuts: that the peanut was one of the richest of all the products in the soil, rich in food value, chemical properties, and much more. He produced displays: Breakfast food made from peanuts and sweet potatoes; delicious, wholesome, and easily digested.


More surprising displays: Ice-cream powder made from peanuts - just add water; Quinine substitute for fighting malaria; Peanut fodder for livestock; Dyes that wouldn't harm human skin... The committee was impressed. They agreed that the professor's 10 minutes should be extended.

For the next two hours George Carver shared the secrets of the peanut with a fascinated group of senators. They had never heard anything like this. He told them peanuts could be eaten when meat couldn't. Peanuts were the perfect food.

'Where did you learn all this?' asked one puzzled senator.

'From a book,' came the reply.

'What book?' the senator asked.

'The Bible,' answered the scientist, with a smile.

He told them God has given us everything for our use. 'He has revealed to me some of the wonders of the fruit of His earth,' Professor Carver continued. 'In the first chapter of Genesis we are told, "Behold, I have given you every herb-bearing seed which is upon the face of the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat."

That's what He means about it - meat. There is everything there to strengthen, nourish and keep the body alive and healthy.'

When George Washington Carver had finished, several senators came over to proudly shake his hand. An hour later, the committee's decision was announced. Professor Carver had won his case. Peanut growers no longer needed to fear being undersold by foreign imports.

Professor Carver was now 57 years old. Despite offers to work for such an eminent scientist as Thomas Edison, he continued on at Tuskegee for another 22 years. He developed a new type of cotton known as Carver's Hybrid, and manufactured synthetic marble from wood shavings. He produced dyes from tomato vines, beans, dandelions, onions, trees and clay, and was awarded a medal for advancing the cause of coloured people.

During his lifetime, George Washington Carver accepted the Book of Genesis as the foundation for his life and his scientific experiments. A few years before his death on Tuesday, January 5th, 1943, he donated his life's savings to establish a foundation for research in creative chemistry. A humble slave had become one of God's great scientists.

by Robert Doolan

Source: 'Creation Ex-Nihilo', Vol.9, No.1