11/07/2014

George Washington Carver: Renaissance Man

12:40 minutes

George Washington Carver, taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston in 1906
George Washington Carver, taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston in 1906

George Washington Carver invented some 300 uses for the peanut, including soaps, lotions, shaving cream and paper—but peanut butter was not one of them. Native Americans developed a peanut paste centuries before Carver, and it was Marcellus Gilmore Edson and John Harvey Kellogg who first patented the stuff in the 1800s.

Even so, Carver’s talents as a scientist and humanist were many. He was a painter, singer and piano teacher. In addition to his hundreds of peanut recipes, he also invented dozens of uses for soybeans, sweet potatoes, and pecans. And he brought the idea of crop rotation to poor southern farmers whose soils had been depleted by the cotton boom.

Alabama’s Tuskegee University, where Carver spent much of his life, has been celebrating the 150th anniversary of Carver’s birth this year. Cathie Woteki of the U.S.D.A. and Dana Chandler of Tuskegee University offer this tribute.

Segment Guests

Cathie Woteki

Cathie Woteki is chief scientist and under secretary for research, education and economics in the United States Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C.

Dana Chandler

Dana Chandler is archivist at Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama.

Meet the Producer

About Christopher Intagliata

Christopher Intagliata is Science Friday’s senior producer. He once served as a prop in an optical illusion and speaks passable Ira Flatowese.