George Washington Carver inventions are a great example to how the need to change an existing product or a process leads to inventions that revolutionise the world.
Whether it is the invention of an air-plane that made distances shorter and convenient to travel or it is the invention of a lamp that made life brighter, inventions have always simplified the lives of people.
Washington Carver's inventions transformed the agricultural economy of south eastern United States.
George Washington Carver, the great African-American agricultural chemist, inventor, and botanist, went through odds during his lifetime. His journey started as a slave and ended as one of the most respected and admired people of his era.
During his early childhood days George Washington Carver experienced racial prejudice when he was denied education by a neighbourhood school, because they did not allow blacks to study with the whites. Soon he left Diamond Grove to attend a school in Neosho, Missouri. It is believed that a black couple, Mariah and Andrew Watkins, allowed him to stay in their home during his elementary education. Mariah is the one supposedly attributed as the inspiration to George’s positive attitude, beliefs, and simple way of living.
George Washington Carver then moved to Minneapolis, Kansas for his higher education and earned his diploma. All this while, he had been earning a living by doing various chores, such as, cooking, laundering, and other domestic work. Working hard had become a part of his life since childhood.
His desire for learning made him apply to the Highland College in Highland, Kansas. But once again he was denied admission due to the colour of his skin. The Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts also initially denied him admission because of his race.So he decided to pursue arts and music at the Simpson College in Iowa.
Interestingly, one of his teachers at Simpson College recognized his talent and quest for knowledge, and helped him to transfer to the Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts where he received a Bachelor’s Degree in Agricultural Science and subsequently a Master’s Degree in Science.
After having suffered the brunt of racism many times, George remained determined to improve the life of the black Americans. He joined the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama as an agriculture teacher. The institute was run by a famous black American educator, Booker T. Washington.
While working as a teacher, he continued his experiments to improve the state of agriculture. George took this opportunity to educate his students, who were mostly Agriculture students and local farmers, about optimum utilization of the soil and improved farming methods. Based on his research he had understood that there was a decreasing demand for crops such as peanuts, sweet potatoes and soybeans which contribute to the richness of the soil otherwise ruined by single-crop cultivation of cotton. The latter used to be the most popular crop in the area.
As a solution, he thought to increase demand and encourage people to buy the crops by devising new uses for these crops. Up came George Washington Carver inventions, including more than 300 products out of peanuts, such as, cheese, milk, peanut butter, medicines, and cosmetics and over 100 products of sweet potatoes, including, vinegar, flour, postage stamp, and ink. His inventions brought a revolution in the agricultural history of the farmers of the south, who now could earn better money and produce a healthier type and greater quantity, of crops.
George Washington Carver was known as the “peanut man” having invented products out of the crop such as various kinds of dyes, wood stains, boards and peanut flours. He also invented sweet potato based products such as dyes, candies, breakfast foods and molasses. A lot of his contributions are simple, everyday things that we still use today such as adhesives, ink, instant coffee, linoleum, mayonnaise, metal polish and synthetic rubber. But despite being a prolific inventor, George Washington Carver only applied for three patents.
Most of the products invented by George Washington Carver were alternatives to pricier products, which already existed in the market. His motivation was to make these commercial products accessible to farmers.
George Washington Carver inventions brought him international popularity which could have showered him with fortunes had he so wished. However, history tells us that he modestly chose to continue his $125 per month job at Tuskegee and he is believed to have rejected an offer for a salary as big as $100,000 annually, made by Thomas Edison. He worked at the Tuskegee for over forty years of his life for the same salary. Such was his dedication to help and benefit humankind that he gave his entire life savings of $33,000 for research in agriculture and chemistry.
George Washington Carver inventions, and his simplicity and modesty have earned him a lasting place in history. The epitaph on his tombstone reads: “He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honour in being helpful to the world.”