Facial Hair Friday: George Washington Carver’s Nuts for Peanuts!

Today’s a twofer—it’s #ArchivesHarvest day and Facial Hair Friday! We’re looking back at a very well known botanist in American history, George Washington Carver. Today’s post comes from Danielle Sklarew from the National Archives History Office.

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George Washington Carver, ca. 1936. (National Archives Identifier 26174895)

Not only could George Washington Carver masterfully grow crops, but he was also extremely talented at cultivating a superb mustache.

Born in 1864, Carver was a botanist and scientist with a fascination with finding less-mainstream crops and promoting them to other botanists and farmers.

Throughout his career, Carver created bulletins advising farmers on how to make their soil healthier and how to grow other products besides cotton—especially peanuts. And Carver had plenty of ideas for how to use these peanuts, creating various peanut-based inventions such as gasoline, paints, inks, and soaps.

In 1891 Carver began to study in the botany program at Iowa State Agricultural College, where he eventually earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He was the first African American student, graduate, and faculty member at the college.

Carver left Iowa for Alabama to teach and research at the African American Tuskegee Institute. He was hired by another well-renowned African American, Booker T. Washington, to run the agricultural department, which allowed Carver to continue researching as he taught students.

Carver helped students understand different ways to grow crops and how to move away from the main staple of cotton. In addition to peanuts, Carver advocated for alternative crops like sweet potatoes, soybeans, and pecans to help combat soil depletion.

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Sketch of George Washington Carver by Charles Alston, 1943. (National Archives Identifier 535694)

In his lifetime, Carver invented over 300 products using his favorite crop, the peanut. The products he created had a range of uses, including dyes, plastics, wood stains, and milk. Despite the large number of invented items, Carver patented only three of his products; two were for paint and one was for cosmetic use.

Carver’s impressive career helped him become an authority in the world of agriculture, and arguably the leading expert on all things peanut. In 1921 he even testified in front of Congress to urge the elected officials to support a tariff on imported peanuts. Agreeing with Carver’s testimony, Congress passed the tariff the following year.

Carver died on January 5, 1943, at age 78 from complications after a fall. He is buried next to Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee University. On his gravestone is written, “He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world.”

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