George Washington Carver
Agricultural chemist George Washington Carver developed crop rotation methods for conserving nutrients in soil and discovered hundreds of new uses for crops such as the peanut, which created new markets for farmers, especially in the South.
Born of slave parents in Diamond Grove, Missouri, Carver was rescued from Confederate kidnappers as an infant. He began his education in Newton County in southwest Missouri, where he worked as a farm hand and studied in a one-room schoolhouse. He went on to excel at Minneapolis High School in Kansas. Though denied admission to Highland University because of his race, Carver gained acceptance to in Indianola, Iowa, in 1887. Intent on a science career, he transferred to Iowa Agricultural College (now Iowa state university) in 1891 and gained a B.S. in 1894 and a M.S. in agriculture in 1897. Later that year Booker T. Washington, founder of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute for Negroes, convinced Carver to come south and serve as the school's director of agriculture. At Tuskegee, Carver developed his crop rotation method, which alternated nitrate producing legumes-such as peanuts and peas-with cotton, which depletes soil of its nutrients.
Following Carver's lead, southern farmers soon began planting peanuts one year and cotton the next. While many of the peanuts were used to feed livestock, large surpluses quickly developed. Carver then developed 325 different uses for the extra peanuts-from cooking oil to printers ink. When he discovered that the sweet potato and the pecan also enriched depleted soils, Carver found almost 20 uses for these crops, including synthetic rubber and material for paving highways.
Upon his death, Carver contributed his life savings to establish a research institute at Tuskegee. His birthplace was declared a national monument in 1953.