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American Chemical Society

George Washington Carver receives historical recognition

George Washington Carver's development of hundreds of new uses for peanuts, soybeans, sweet potatoes and other crops was designated a National Historic Chemical Landmark in a special ceremony at Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama, on January 27. The American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society, sponsors the landmarks program.

Carver's was never sure about the date of his birth, sometimes claiming it was "about 1865," or "near the end of the war," or "just as freedom was declared." What is known is that he was born a slave near Diamond Grove, Missouri, never knew his parents, and was raised by the white couple who had owned his mother. He struggled to gain an education, eventually enrolling at Iowa State College where he received a degree in agricultural chemistry.

At Tuskegee, Carver demonstrated that agricultural productivity could be increased by crop rotation and by planting soil-enriching crops such as cowpeas, sweet potatoes, peanuts, and soybeans. The next step for Carver as an agricultural chemist was to find alternative uses for these crops. From sweet potatoes, for example, came a raft of new products: flours, starches, sugar, a fake coconut, vinegar, synthetic ginger, chocolate as well as stains, dyes, paints, writing ink, etc.

It was the lowly peanut which made Carver famous. From the peanut, Carver developed a host of new products: most notably milk, but also butter, meal, Worcestershire sauce, various punches, cooking oils, salad oil, and medicines as well as cosmetics such as hand lotions, face creams, and powder. All together, he discovered more than 300 food, industrial, and commercial products from the peanut.

But Carver was not only a scientist; he was also a teacher and interpreter of scientific information who wanted to guarantee that the fruits of his research reached poor southern farmers. This he did by issuing forty-four agricultural bulletins intended to serve as manuals supplying simple cultivation information for farmers.

Carver reached his widest audience in the forum that cemented his fame as "The Peanut Man:" his appearance in 1921 before the House Ways and Means Committee as an expert witness for the peanut industry which was seeking tariff protection. Carver demonstration of the vast number of items that could be made from peanuts won protection for the peanut and fame for himself.

When he died in 1943 the National Park Service made his Missouri birthplace a national monument, the first such honor bestowed on an African American.

At the Landmarks designation, Eli M. Pearce, Ph.D., past president of the Society, presented a commemorative bronze plaque to Benjamin F. Payton, Ph.D., president of Tuskegee University. The American Chemical society established the chemical landmarks program in 1993 to recognize seminal historic events in chemistry and increase awareness of the contributions of chemistry to society.

Paul Anderson, Ph.D., chairman of the ACS National Historic Chemical Landmarks Committee, said "We are pleased to honor the work of George Washington Carver. His research on new uses for old crops demonstrates how the work of chemists can improve the quality of life."

The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization, chartered by the U.S. Congress, with a multidisciplinary membership of more than 159,000 chemists and chemical engineers. It publishes numerous scientific journals and databases, convenes major research conferences and provides educational, science policy and career programs in chemistry. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.


Nuts about George Washington Carver: A quiz

The agricultural research of George Washington Carver at Tuskegee University has been designated a National Historical Chemical Landmark by the American Chemical Society.

Q: For what is Carver most famous?
A: He is known as "The Peanut Man" for developing over 300 products from peanuts.

Q: One reason Carver began research on peanuts is because it is a good source of protein for people who can't afford meat. But if you do eat meat, can you still have peanuts?
A: You can, if you put Worcestershire Sauce made from peanuts on your steak.

Q: How can you eat peanuts for breakfast and still make your parents happy because you are having a nutritious meal?
A: You can have a healthy breakfast that includes peanuts if you have pancakes made from peanut flour of if you put milk made from peanuts on your cereal.

Q: If you order a tuna sandwich on whole wheat with mayo, lettuce and tomatoes, could you be eating peanuts?
A: Could be, since George Washington Carver made mayonnaise from them.

Q: Can you use peanuts to soften your chapped hands this winter?
A: Yes, if you make hand lotion from peanuts. Carver also made face cream, baby massage cream, and other lotions and creams from peanuts.

Q: How far can you run a car on peanuts?
A: We don't know for sure, but George Washington Carver made gasoline from peanuts.

Q: You may not want to eat peanuts in the bathtub, but can you still bathe with peanuts?
A: Yes, shampoo has been made from peanuts as has soap.

Q: Can you use peanuts to build your house?
A: Yes, Carver made wallboard from the hulls of peanuts. And if your family has a wooden deck, let them know that Carver made a stain from peanuts

Q: Could you be reading peanuts now?
A: Yes, and not just the famous comic strip. George Washington Carver made paper from vines, hulls, and the skin of peanuts and he made printers ink from peanuts.

All in all Carver made some 300 products using peanuts. To see that list go to http://www.tuskegee.edu/Global/story.asp?S=1107158&nav=CcWvVAbx