George Washington Carver, The Father of the Peanut Industry

George Washington Carver, The Father of the Peanut Industry

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George Washington Carver: A brief history of his life & legacy

George Washington Carver was a scientist, inventor and educator who is most remembered for helping turn peanuts into a major cash crop throughout the South, revolutionizing agriculture in the South by teaching the importance of crop rotation and modeling the idea of an extension agent traveling to help the farmer problem-solve on site.

Carver was born into slavery in Missouri in 1864. Freed at the age of four, he stayed with the Carvers where he was fond of working in their garden. He came to be known as “the plant doctor” to many neighbors.

At 13, he began studying art and music at Simpson College in Iowa. He was an accomplished pianist and painter. His work was displayed at the 1893 World Fair and some of his paintings can still be seen at the George Washington Carver Museum at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.

George Washington Carver was one of the few African Americans of his time to receive a formal education. The first African American to enroll, he received a undergraduate degree in Agricultural Science in 1894 and then a Master of Science degree in 1896 from Iowa State Agricultural College (today known as Iowa State University). After graduation, he became the first African American faculty member at the college.

In the Fall of 1896, Carver left Missouri for Alabama where a teaching position had opened at the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute’s newly established Department of Agriculture. Tuskegee is a historically black college headed by Booker T. Washington at the time.

It was at the Tuskegee Institute that Carver began experimenting with peanuts. At the time, cotton was the primary cash crop throughout the South, but it had depleted the soil causing erosion and making it increasingly vulnerable to crop-killing pests and diseases. Peanuts were not yet recognized as a crop, but Carver saw their potential in solving some of the South’s most pressing issues – erosion, nutrition and diversifying revenue.

Carver discovered that peanuts were able to restore nutrients to the soil, most notably nitrogen which is a main ingredient in modern fertilizers. Peanuts were also naturally resistant to many pests and diseases that were running rampant across South. He began to write and distribute free, easily understandable brochures about crops, soil conservation, food preservation and nutrition.

“From oppressive and crippling surroundings, George Washington Carver lifted his searching, creative mind to the ordinary peanut, and found therein extraordinary possibilities for goods and products unthinkable by minds of the past and left for succeeding generations an inspiring example of how an individual could rise above the paralyzing conditions of circumstance.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

Despite the protein that was badly needed in the diets of many Southerners, when peanuts were brought to the market, they found little success. Carver then investigated new ways to use peanuts in food products and manufacturing processes. In 1916, he published How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways of Preparing it for Human Consumption. In total, he developed 300 products from peanuts. Within the next 50 years, peanuts would become the second most produced crop in the South.

In addition to his work on peanuts, Carver was a proponent of sustainable agriculture, livestock care and education. He encouraged farmers to grow a variety of crops, such as sweet potatoes and soybeans, to maintain soil health and diversify their income. He also encouraged farmers to submit samples of their soil and water and visited local farms to teach livestock care and food preservation techniques. His goal was to improve the life of “the man farthest down,” and he did that by educating poor famers and their families.

In 1906, Carver designed the Jessup Wagon, a kind of laboratory on wheels that would help him educate farmers throughout the rural South. He had a particular desire to bring the Jessup Wagon to formerly enslaved farmers. With them, he often relied upon his showmanship to educate.

Throughout his life, George Washington Carver became known as the “father of the peanut industry.” He helped to transform the agricultural economy of the South, especially among African American farmers, through education. He became so influential that his friends included Henry Ford and Mahatma Gandhi and several foreign countries requested his advice on agricultural matters.

Despite his groundbreaking work, Carver faced discrimination and obstacles as an African American scientist. Her persevered, however, and devoted his life to education and public service. He worked with farmers, businesses and government agencies to promote sustainable agriculture and economic development.
In the 1940s, Carver left his life savings to establish the Carver Research Foundation at Tuskegee. This foundation is still active today.

Today, Carver’s legacy lives on in the peanut industry, as well as in the fields of agriculture, botany, and chemistry. He is remembered as a brilliant scientist, a dedicated educator and a visionary leader who overcame adversity to make a lasting impact on American history.

Article by Abby Wagner


Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2023, January 1). George Washington Carver. Encyclopedia Britannica.

The Legacy of Dr. George Washington Carver. Tuskegee University. (n.d.). Retrieved March 30, 2023, from

Fleur, N. S. (2021, February 16). George Washington Carver. History. Retrieved March 30, 2023, from

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