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Famous biologists: George Washington Carver

George Washington CarverHe could dye your clothes, run your car, paint your house and blow you up - using peanuts. Find out how a man born into slavery changed agriculture.

Who was he?

George Washington Carver was born in America around 1864. Although his parents were slaves, slavery was abolished shortly after he was born, giving him the chance to pursue his intellectual interests.

He successfully applied to college only to be rejected because of his race when he arrived. Instead, he worked on a homestead for two years growing various crops until he was able to return to education as Iowa State Agricultural College's first black student. He would later become the college's first black faculty member.

Most of his work was done at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, where he spent 47 years.

Why is he famous?

Carver realised that the American South was too dependent on growing cotton plants. Growing the same thing year after year damaged the soil. Carver also thought it would be good for farmers to be more self-sufficient, rather than just relying on the money they made selling their crops. After all, you can't eat cotton.

But Carver didn't just encourage more balanced use of the land. He developed ways to make a few simple crops into a huge range of useful products. His uses for peanuts included paints, dyes, glues and even a replacement for petrol and a way of making explosives.

Despite the extraordinary number of ideas he developed, Carver only ever patented or marketed a few, saying "God gave them to me. How could I sell them to someone else?"

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