Mark Twain
The State Historical Society of Missouri's Historic Missourians
Sacred Sun
Harry S. Truman
George Washington Carver
Rose O'Neil
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George W. Carver (1865? - 1943)

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Introduction

George Washington Carver was a world-famous chemist who made important agricultural discoveries and inventions. His research on peanuts, sweet potatoes, and other products helped poor southern farmers vary their crops and improve their diets. A monument showing Carver as a boy was the first national memorial erected in honor of an African American.

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Early Years and Education

George Washington Carver was born on a farm near Diamond, Missouri, in Newton County about 1865. His mother, Mary, was owned by Moses and Susan Carver. His father, a slave on a neighboring farm, died before George was born. When George was just a few months old, he and his mother were kidnapped from the Carver farm by a band of men who roamed Missouri during the Civil War era. These outlaws hoped to sell George and his mother elsewhere. Young George was recovered by a neighbor and returned to the Carvers, but his mother was not. George and his older brother, Jim, were raised by Moses and Susan Carver.

1870 Newton County Census 1870 Newton County Census 1870 Federal Census, listing Moses and Susan Carver and their former slaves, George and his older brother, James.

In the 1870 Census, George Carver is recorded as being ten years old. Historians generally agree, however, that Carver was not born in 1860 because he is not included in another important document of the period, the 1860 slave schedule. This document includes Carver’s mother and his brother, Jim, but not George. Carver himself often said that he was born “about 1865.” Scholars still debate the date, but generally agree that Carver was most likely born sometime in mid-1865. Since slavery was officially abolished in Missouri on January 11, 1865, Carver was probably born free. Historian Gary R. Kremer has noted that “the uncertainty of Carver’s birth date highlights the fact that African-American slaves in Missouri were regarded as property and that no detailed birth or death information was recorded for them.”

[SHS 97-0038(1)]

While Jim helped Moses Carver with farm work, George, who was frail and sickly, spent much of his time helping Susan Carver with chores around the cabin. He learned how to perform many domestic tasks such as cooking, mending, and doing laundry. He also tended the garden and became fascinated with plants.

Susan Carver taught George to read and write at home. When he was about eleven, George went to Neosho to attend a school
The old Lincoln School in Neosho, Missouri, circa 2000 The old Lincoln School in Neosho, Missouri, circa 2000.

[Newton County Historical Society]
Marker in Neosho identifying where Carver went to school. Today a marker identifies the school Carver attended, which stands at the corner of Young and Morrow Streets in Neosho, near the Mariah Watkins house.



[Newton County Historical Society]
for African Americans. There he boarded with Andrew and Mariah Watkins,
The home of Andrew and Mariah Watkins, circa 2000 The home of Andrew and Mariah Watkins, circa 2000.

[Newton County Historical Society]
Marker in Neosho identifying where Carver lived while attending school Today a marker identifies the house belonging to Andrew and Mariah Watkins in which George Washington Carver lived while he attended school in Neosho.



[Newton County Historical Society]
a childless black couple. He stayed in Neosho for at least two years until the late 1870s, when he decided to move to Kansas with other African Americans who were traveling west.
Diorama of the Carver Cabin Diorama of the Carver Cabin Diorama of the Carver cabin in the Visitor Center at the George Washington Carver National Monument near Diamond, Missouri. The diorama depicts George and Jim Carver playing marbles, around 1870.

[Courtesy of the George Washington Carver National Monument]

Over the next ten years, Carver traveled from one midwestern town to another, working and attending school. He often used his domestic skills to make money. By the late 1880s, Carver moved to Winterset, Iowa. Carver was befriended by a white couple, John and Helen Milholland. They encouraged Carver to enroll in nearby Simpson College where he studied piano and art. After a year, however, Carver transferred to the State Agricultural College at Ames, Iowa, to study agriculture. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1894 and a graduate degree in 1896.


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Agricultural Chemist

Booker T. Washington Booker T. Washington Portrait of Booker T. Washington, founder of the Tuskegee Institute.

[SHS 027546]
In 1896, George Washington Carver left Iowa to take a job with Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. There he conducted agricultural research and taught students until his death. Carver’s research and instruction helped poor southern farmers, both white and black, change their farming practices and improve their diets. He stressed the importance of planting peanuts to upgrade the quality of the soil, which had been depleted from years of planting cotton. Carver found many practical uses for peanuts, sweet potatoes, and other agricultural products. He also created and tested many recipes
Some of Carver's Peanut Recipes

unt Nellie's Peanut Brown Bread

Oat Meal Peanut Bread

Peanut Ice Cream number one

Peanut Cream number two

Peanut Maple-Sugar Fudge

Peanut Carrot Fudge

in his laboratory. Carver’s ideas and discoveries helped farmers improve their lives. His work also helped revitalize the depressed southern economy.

As Carver worked tirelessly in his laboratory from 1900 to 1920, his fame grew. He became widely known for his agricultural experiments. He also became known as a promoter of racial equality. People who wanted to improve race relations in America asked for Carver’s help. Carver was a deeply religious man and agreed to share his belief in racial equality. During the 1920s and 1930s, he traveled throughout the South delivering his message of racial harmony.

Carver in his laboratory Carver in his laboratory Carver in his laboratory

[SHS 027553]

Carver drew more public attention during the mid-1930s when the polio virus struck in America. Carver offered a treatment of peanut-oil massages that he believed helped many people, especially children, gain relief from the painful and paralyzing effects of polio. As word of Carver’s treatment spread, people flocked to the Tuskegee campus for Carver’s “cure.”

George Washington Carver’s reputation also grew larger during the 1930s because of the Great Depression. This was a period of great economic decline caused partly from generations of poor farming practices and years of drought. People from all over the world asked Carver for agricultural advice because he was able to show farmers how to maximize plant production and improve the soil at very little cost.

Carver as a painter Carver as a painter Carver as a painter

[SHS 027556]

Carver lived a simple and industrious life. A skilled artist and musician who never married, Carver lived out his life in a dormitory at Tuskegee Institute. He became friends with many people, some of whom were quite rich and famous. One of his closest friends was the automobile manufacturer Henry Ford. Ford made sure that an elevator was installed in Carver’s dormitory so that Carver could get to his laboratory more easily in his later years.


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Carver’s Legacy

George Washington Carver George Washington Carver George Washington Carver

[SHS 007806; Courtesy of the Tuskegee Institute, Dictionary of American Portraits]

George Washington Carver changed the agricultural and economic life of many poor farmers. From ordinary peanuts he made hundreds of useful products, including milk, cheese, soap, and grease. He also made over a hundred products from sweet potatoes. Though he was offered positions at many other laboratories, Carver always declined, preferring to continue his work among his own race at Tuskegee.

Carver died on January 5, 1943, at Tuskegee Institute. He is buried on that campus near the grave of Booker T. Washington. The George Washington Carver National Monument in Diamond was created soon after his death. Established by legislation sponsored by Senator Harry S. Truman, it was the first national memorial to an African American.
Correspondence between Richard Pilant and Allen McReynolds concerning the creation of a memorial in Missouri to honor Dr. Carver, Page 1 Correspondence between Richard Pilant and Allen McReynolds concerning the creation of a memorial in Missouri to honor Dr. Carver.
(Page 1)


Richard Pilant was a professor of English at Lindenwood College in St. Charles, Missouri, at the time he wrote to Allen McReynolds, a trustee of The State Historical Society of Missouri. Pilant wrote a book about Carver titled George Washington Carver: The Poor People's Scientist and was instrumental in creating the national memorial in Diamond, Missouri.

[Allen McReynolds Papers, 1842-1970 (C3605), The State Historical Society of Missouri, Manuscript Collection-Columbia]
Correspondence between Richard Pilant and Allen McReynolds concerning the creation of a memorial in Missouri to honor Dr. Carver, Page 2 Correspondence between Richard Pilant and Allen McReynolds concerning the creation of a memorial in Missouri to honor Dr. Carver.
(Page 2)


Richard Pilant was a professor of English at Lindenwood College in St. Charles, Missouri, at the time he wrote to Allen McReynolds, a trustee of The State Historical Society of Missouri. Pilant wrote a book about Carver titled George Washington Carver: The Poor People's Scientist and was instrumental in creating the national memorial in Diamond, Missouri.

[Allen McReynolds Papers, 1842-1970 (C3605), The State Historical Society of Missouri, Manuscript Collection-Columbia]
It stands on the farm where Carver was born.

Text by Gary R. Kremer and Carlynn Trout with research assistance by Valerie Kemp and Jillian Hartke

Meets Show-Me Standards SS: 2, 6, 7; 4th grade GLE 2a.A.; and MSIP equity in gender and racial/ethnic awareness.

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References and Resources

For more information about George Washington Carver's life and career, see the following resources:

Society Resources

The following is a selected list of books, articles, and manuscripts about George Washington Carver in the research centers of The State Historical Society of Missouri. The Society’s call numbers follow the citations in brackets. All links will open in a new tab.


  • Articles from the Missouri Historical Review
  • Articles from the Newspaper Collection
    • “Missouri History Sparkles in Diamond.” Fulton Sun. Page 1. September 3, 1994.
    • “The Carver Story.” The Missouri Times. p. 10. February 4, 1983.
    • Obituary. Saint Louis Post-Dispatch. January 6, 1943, p. C3, c. 5
  • Books
    • Albus, Harry James. The Peanut Man: The Life of George Washington Carver in Story Form. Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1948. [REF F508.1 C256a]
    • American National Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. v. 4, pp. 513-514. [REF 920 Am37 v4]
    • Burchard, Peter Duncan. George Washington Carver: For His Time and Ours. “Special History Study: Natural History Related to George Washington Carver National Monument, Diamond, Missouri.” George Washington Carver National Monument, National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior. 2005. [REF F508.1 C256bu]
    • Burchard, Peter Duncan. Carver: A Great Soul. Fairfax, CA: Wise as Serpents Harmless as Doves. 1998. [REF F508.1 C256bu2]
    • Christensen, Lawrence O., William E. Foley, Gary R. Kremer, and Kenneth H. Winn, eds. Dictionary of Missouri Biography. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999. pp. 154-155. [REF F508 D561 c2]
    • Coil, Suzanne M. George Washington Carver. New York: F. Watts, 1990. [REF F508.1 C256co]
    • Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1973. Supplement 3 (1941-1945) pp. 145-147. [REF 920 D561 supple. 3]
    • Elliott, Lawrence. George Washington Carver: The Man Who Overcame. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1966. [REF F508.1 C256e]
    • Holt, Rackham. George Washington Carver: An American Biography. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran and Company, 1943. [REF F508.1 C256h]
    • Kremer, Gary R. George Washington Carver: A Biography. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2011. [REF F508.1 C256kr2 ]
    • Kremer, Gary R. ed. George Washington Carver in His Own Words. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1987. [REF F508.1 c256kr]
    • McMurry, Linda O. George Washington Carver, Scientist and Symbol. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981. [REF F508.1C256mc]
    • Merritt, Raleigh H. From Captivity to Fame, or the Life of George Washington Carver. Boston: Meador Publishing Company, 1929. [REF F508.1 C256m]
    • Thomas, Henry. George Washington Carver. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1958. [REF F508.1 C256th]
    • Who Was Who In America. Chicago: A. N. Marquis Company. v. 2 (1943-1950) p. 106. [REF 920 W6201 v2]
  • Manuscript Collection
    • Donnelly, Phil M. Donnelly (1891-1961), Papers, 1944-1957 (C2151)
      This collection contains papers relating to Donnelly’s two terms as Democratic governor of Missouri. Folder 306 includes a four-page “Programme of Carver Day Exercises” for a memorial honoring Carver at Tuskegee Institute, January 5, 1948.
    • McReynolds, Allen (1877-1960), Papers, 1842-1970 (C3605)
      Folder 269 contains correspondence from 1942 between Richard Pilant, English professor at Lindenwood College, and McReynolds, a Missouri state senator and trustee of the State Historical Society of Missouri, regarding the possible purchase of the Carver birthplace.

Outside Resources

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Historic Missourians: George Washington Carver
George Washington Carver (1865? – 1943) George Washington Carver (1865? – 1943)

[SHS 027557]

George Washington Carver

Born: Around 1865
Died: January 5, 1943 (age 79)
Categories: Scientists, African Americans
Region of Missouri: Southwest
Missouri Hometown: Diamond

George Washington Carver's Signature