George Washington Carver was born in Missouri in 1861. The son of slaves, Carver was illiterate until he was nearly 20 years old. In his late 20s, he managed to work his way through high school in Minneapolis, Kansas. After the University of Kansas denied him admittance because he was black, Carver studied piano and art at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa. He eventually transferred to Iowa State Agricultural College in Ames, where he received a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science and a master of science degree. In 1896, Carver left for Alabama to direct the newly organized department of agriculture at the Tuskegee Institute, headed by Booker T. Washington. Here he worked on research aimed at developing ways to help farmers — particularly those from the South — improve their economic situation through crop diversification and soil improvement. Carver also pioneered the development of synthetics from plants, making over 100 different products from the peanut and sweet potato alone. Throughout his career, Carver received many lucrative offers to leave Tuskegee. He declined them all — even one from Thomas Edison for $100,000 a year — because serving humanity was more important to him than money. George Washington Carver’s work not only benefited the 20th century’s poorest black sharecropper, but all of mankind.
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