An Uncommon Man: George Washington Carver

One of America’s greatest inventors and botanists, George Washington Carver, has an amazing story.    There are a lot of life lessons we can all learn from the way in which Carver lived.  He once said, “When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.”  And that is exactly what he did!

From very humble beginnings, Carver overcame amazing odds to become a true American hero!  Born in Missouri in the year 1864, as a young baby, Carver, along with his sister and mother were kidnapped and sold in Kentucky.  However, Carver was found and returned to Moses and Susan Carver.  At the time, black children were not allowed to attend school so Susan taught Carver how to read and write at home.

Carver spent a large majority of his time outside in the woods and developed a passion for plants early on in his life.  He learned how to make sick plants healthy, even helping other people with their plants, and thus appropriately earning him the nickname, “Plant Doctor”.

Because he was not allowed to go to school where he lived, Carver left the home of Moses and Susan and walked 10 miles to Neosho to attend school.  Upon arriving, the school was closed for the night so he slept in a barn on the first night.  (Can you imagine letting your 12 or 13-year-old not only walk 10 miles alone but not even have a secure place for him or her to stay once they got there?)

Carver eventually moved on, attending several high schools, before finally graduating high school in Minneapolis, Kansas.  Carver was accepted into Highland University in Kansas but was rejected upon arrival because of his race.  After several setbacks, but not one to give up, Carver enrolled in Simpson College in Iowa.   He was a talented artist with a passion for plants, so Carver’s art teacher encouraged him to study botany at Iowa State Agricultural College.  (He was the first black student to attend the college.)

On a side note, think about the impact a few encouraging words can do for your own children!  Can you see a passion or a talent in your child that you can continuously encourage them to pursue?  The world was changed by Carver’s inventions and research.  Would it be so if Carver’s art teacher hadn’t encouraged him to pursue his love for plants?

In 1896, George was hired by Booker T. Washington to run Tuskegee Institutes’ agricultural department.  Diligent research helped George learn and implement crop rotation methods, as well as using other crops cotton farmers could use to diversify their farms.   (It’s important to remember, the boll weevil caused major devastation to these farmers.)

He is probably best known for his work with peanuts (over his lifetime he developed over 100 uses of peanuts), however, that is only a part of his story.  (Did you know that 3 different Presidents sought his advice?)  He invented hundreds of products such as plastics and paint dyes as well as hundreds of uses for pecans, soybeans, peanuts and sweet potatoes.

He was a great teacher and mentor.  Carver gave to others what he had received, encouragement.  Young men flocked to him for guidance.  With no family of his own, Carver gave his time generously to others.  One thing many people don’t know about this famous man is that he even taught a Sunday evening Bible class.

What’s even more amazing is that despite all of his accomplishments and fame, Carver remained humble throughout his life.  He was a strong Christian who lived out his faith by his actions.  Carver died on January 5, 1943 at the age of 78.

Here are a few notable quotes from Carver worth sharing with your children:

  • Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.
  • When I was young, I said to God, ‘God, tell me the mystery of the universe.’ But God answered, ‘That knowledge is for me alone.’ So I said, ‘God, tell me the mystery of the peanut.’ Then God said, ‘Well George, that’s more nearly your size.’ And he told me.
  • Start where you are, with what you have. Make something of it and never be satisfied.
  • No individual has any right to come into the world and go out of it without leaving behind him distinct and legitimate reasons for having passed through it.
  • I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.
  • The secret of my success? It is simple. It is found in the Bible.
  • There is literally nothing that I ever asked to do, that I asked the blessed Creator to help me to do, that I have not been able to accomplish.
  • All my life I have risen regularly at four o’clock and have gone into the woods and talked to God. There He gives me my orders for the day.
  • There is no short cut to achievement. Life requires thorough preparation – veneer isn’t worth anything.

Lastly, George also had a list of 8 Cardinal Virtues:

  1. Be clean both inside and out.
  2. Neither look up to the rich, nor down on the poor.
  3. Lose, if need be, without squealing.
  4. Win without bragging.
  5. Always be considerate of women, children, and older people.
  6. Be too brave to lie.
  7. Be too generous to cheat.
  8. Take your share of the world, and let others take theirs.

If you would like to take a family trip to learn more about George Washington Carver, you may visit the George Washington Carver National Monument in Diamond, Missouri.  There is also a George Washington Carver Garden at the Missouri Botanical Gardens in St. Louis, Missouri.


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