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George Washington Carver

Inventor of Over 300 Peanut Products

Generally, when people think of famous African-American inventors, one of the first names that springs to mind is George Washington Carver. Perhaps most famously, Carver's inventions included the discovery of over 300 different uses for peanuts – such as making cooking oil, axle grease and printer's ink. But despite his penchant for inventing, Carver was never interested in money or prestige so much as helping his fellow man.

Born at the end of the civil war, George Washington Carver displayed a strong desire for knowledge from an early age and took particular interest in plants. As a young boy, Carver became known as the "plant doctor" and was regularly called upon by neighbors to "cure" ailing plants. But it wasn't until late in his twenties that Carver had the opportunity to study plants more thoroughly. While initially enrolled at Simpson College to study art and piano, Carver transferred to Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (now known simply as Iowa State University) to follow his passion.

Though he was the first African-American student accepted to Iowa State, George Washington Carver quickly became a campus leader and, excelling in botany and horticulture, went on to become the university's first African-American faculty member. After finishing his education, George Washington Carver was convinced by Booker T. Washington to serve as the director of agriculture at the upstart Tuskegee Institute. Though the job offered very little in terms of pay, Carver took the position and ran with it. It was there he devised his method of crop rotation, whereby farmers would rotate cotton (which depleted the soil of nutrients) with peanuts (which replenished them) from year to year.

Through the system, crops flourished – but a large surplus of peanuts also developed. This led George Washington Carver to develop alternate uses for the peanut. When he later determined that sweet potatoes and pecans also could help replenish soil, he invented over a hundred different uses for them too. Despite the positive impact George Washington Carver's inventions had on the South, the inventor never sought out glory. Instead, he continued to invent, discover and teach in order to make the world a better place. Inscribed on his tombstone is the epitaph: "He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world."