George Washington Carver was born at the height of the Civil War in 1864 in Diamond, Missouri. He was born into slavery under the ownership of Moses Carver, who had purchased his mother for seven hundred dollars. His father was also a slave and reportedly died in an accident.
Shortly after his birth, George and his mother and sister were kidnapped by Confederate soldiers. They were subsequently shipped to Arkansas to be resold to southern farmers. Moses Carver hired a private investigator named John Bentley to locate the family, but only George was found. Exactly what happened to his mother and sister is unknown, but some say that they went north with the Confederate soldiers that had kidnapped them.
George was returned to the Carver plantation and Bentley was rewarded with a prize race horse. During the affair, George had come down with a case of whooping cough and he suffered permanent damage as a result. The disease left him unable to do hard labor and he took to spending his time studying plant life.
The massive amounts of time that George spent with plants caused him to gain a great deal of knowledge about their care. He was nicknamed the "Plant Doctor" and would often help neighbors with their crops and houseplants. George later decided that he wanted to be a botanist when he grew up.
When the Civil War ended and slavery was abolished, George was accepted into Moses' family as a surrogate son. They helped him in his study of plants and art, as well as teaching him to read and write. They attempted to get him into a local school, but it would not accept blacks. George decided to go to a different town called Neosho, where they had a school for blacks.
George spent his first night there in a barn, but found a place to rent the next day. When he was thirteen years old, he joined a foster family in Fort Scott, Kansas so he would be able to attend high school. However, he decided to leave town after a black man was killed by a group of white men and moved to Minneapolis, Kansas. There, he finished high school and earned his diploma.
After graduating, George moved to Olathe, Kansas and opened a laundry business to earn money for college. He began applying to various colleges throughout the midwest and was accepted first by Highland College in Kansas. He went to the college to finalize his acceptance, but they turned him away after realizing that he was black. In 1887, he was accepted as the first black student at Simpson College in Iowa and studied there for four years before transferring to Iowa State University in 1891, where he was also the first black student.
George had majored in art at Simpson College, but changed his major to agriculture at Iowa State. In 1894, he received his bachelor's degree in the subject, but decided to stay to pursue his master's degree. In his free time, he performed research at the university's experiment station. In 1896, he graduated with his master's degree and left for Alabama, where he worked at the Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama.
In Alabama, many of the farmers did not employ science in their farming and planted crop after crop of cotton without taking consideration of the chemicals in the soil. He began telling the farmers to alternate their crops with other types of plants, including peanuts and seet potatoes, in order to restore the nitrogen level in the soil. This method caused the cotton crop in Alabama to greatly improve and he was given funding to establish a training program for farmers at the university.
One of the drawbacks of his system was that legumes and sweet potatoes weren't as profitable as cotton. To counter this, Carver developed more uses for them, including over three hundred different uses of the peanut. The discoveries made planting of peanuts more economically viable and more farmers began to follow the nitrogen cycling system as a result.
In 1915, Carver gained international recognition for his agricultural efforts when he was honored in a speech by Theodore Roosevelt. In 1916, he was voted into the Royal Society of Arts in England, an honor rarely given to Americans. In 1920, he gave an important speech before Congress on behalf of southern farmers in support of a tariff on imported peanuts. His speech detailed the many uses of the peanut and the importance of the nitrogen cycle and he was given a standing ovation at the end of it. He is largely credited with the implementation of the peanut tariff and protecting southern farmers from foreign competition.
As Carver became increasingly famous, the fame of his company began increasing as well. Suddenly, he was getting visits from presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He also received visits from the Prince of Sweden, Mahatma Gandhi, and Henry Ford. Ford became a major investor in Carver's research and resulted in the development of soy as an alternative fuel in automobiles.
In January of 1943, Carver fell down a stairwell in his home and fell unconscious. A maid found him and took him to a hospital, where he died on January 5, 1943 from the resulting injuries.