George Washington Carver was a scientist and inventor best known for discovering 100 uses for peanuts, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg in his extraordinary life. He was born to enslaved parents on a Missouri farm at the end of the civil war and kidnapped by muggers a week later, being orphaned in the process.
Carver’s former owners, Moses and Susan Carver, eventually located and returned Carver to the farm where he was born. In the years that followed, Susan Carver taught him to read and write because the local schools did not allow black students.
The experience sparked an interest in lifelong learning. Carver made his own way through high school and performed biological experiments of his own design. Eventually, he enrolled in the botany program at Iowa State Agricultural College, where he earned a master’s degree and a reputation as a brilliant scientist, teacher, and advocate for farmers. He later became an instructor at the famous Tuskegee Institute, working alongside Booker T. Washington.
In addition to developing crop rotation methods for sharecroppers, many of whom were former slaves, Carver designed a horse-drawn classroom to illustrate his methods firsthand. He also pioneered a number of practical inventions that would make farming more profitable and less dependent on cotton, including more than 100 ways to monetize sweet potatoes, soybeans, and peanuts with conversion into dyes, plastics, and fuel.
Carver became an adviser on agricultural affairs to President Theodore Roosevelt and, in 1916, one of the few American members of the British Royal Society of Arts. Carver died in 1943, aged 78. [source: Biography].