George Washington Carver, was the scientist who developed hundreds of useful products from the peanut. When talking about his research, he said, “When I was young, I said to God, ‘God, tell me the mystery of the universe.’ But God answered, ‘That knowledge is reserved 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.”
His life begins with Moses Carver, and his wife Susan, who were kind Germans and did not approve of slavery. They badly needed help, and figured if they bought a slave, he would be better off with them than with others. So they bought a thirteen-year-old girl named Mary, who became the mother of two boys, James and George. Their father had been killed in a logging accident.
He was kidnapped with his mother when an infant, but was abandoned, because they didn’t have a use for him. He was rescued by his owner, Moses Carver, and was raised as a member of the Carver family, who saved pennies to send him to school.
When he was young, he had a “green thumb.” It seemed he could get anything to grow. He was known as the “plant doctor,” and was called to “prescribe” help for ailing plants all over Diamond Grove, his hometown.
George went out on his own at the assumed age of ten, which was about 1870. He got jobs wherever he could. He sometimes worked in greenhouses, or as a harvester binding the wheat and oats as they were cut. He got schooling whenever he could find a place and had enough money.
In 1886, he got a job as a general assistant at the Gregg-Steely Livestock Ranch. While working here he wrote a poem he titled “Golden Moments”
Whilst I was sitting one day musing
The rich and poor, the great and small,
O! sit not down nor idly stand;
It went on like this for 42 stanzas!
In May, 1891, George enrolled in the Iowa State College of Agriculture. When he arrived, he had nothing but faith. He had faith that anything he needed would be taken care of, and it was.
At this college, George studied: botany, geology, chemistry, bacteriology, zoology, entomology, and similar subjects.
Because the Iowa State College was part of the National Guard, each student was required to go through military training. They were trained by General James Rush Lincoln. George rose steadily from private to captain, which is the highest rank in the school. General Lincoln became his warm friend.
The president of the college commended him for his upright and Christian attitude.
On July 13, 1891, George Carver accepted an invitation from Booker T. Washington to head the Tuskegee University’s agriculture department.
When he arrived, it consisted of a barn a horse, and two chickens. There were no tools, no equipment, and no lab. Carver took his students out to the rubbish heap to find things to use. They gathered bottles, wire, rubber, glass, etc. They used an old lamp for a burner, reeds for pipettes, broken bottles for knives, a cracked bowl for a mortar, and a flatiron for a pestle. Zinc sulfate was too expensive, so he gathered the zinc tops of fruit jars. He made holders for pencils so they could be used to the last half an inch.
Most of the students at Tuskegee had just come off plantations, and wanted nothing to do with farming. Carver worked with them, and showed them many tricks and tips. His encouragement caused them to become proud of their skills, and eager for their own farms. If anyone dragged, or wouldn’t work, he would say, “Get the drones off you! Remember, the more ignorant we are the less use God has for us.”
George Carver figured out how to get the best out of the poor Alabama soil, and then held classes for farmers to teach them how to get the best from their farms. He taught them to plant legumes to put nitrogen back into the soil. He showed how to put fast decaying material into heaps to make cheap fertilizer. Later, he went out all over the state to show others how to do this. He taught the ladies to can their fruits and vegetables. Butchering used to be done in the winter so the meat would not spoil, but Carver showed the farmers how to preserve their meat so they could butcher as soon as the animals were ready.
One of George Carvers favorite texts was: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help.” He explained, “Now that doesn’t mean just to look at the hills without seeing anything. It means to search. I took it to mean that I should try to see with every method at my command—with chemistry, with physics, as well as with my eyes.”
Carver gathered clay from the hills around the school, and used them in his paintings. One day, while checking on some cows, he found some red clay in a hillside. Taking it to his laboratory, he detected blue, and extracted it. Word spread, and an expert came to see the blue. He tested it, and found that it was seventy times bluer than blue!
One day, some boys asked professor Carver to have a Bible class. By 1911, the class had about 100 steady attendants, and gradually grew to 300. The class would start at the stroke of six. The aim of the class was not to merely become familiar with the Bible, but by example and demonstration, to turn the scriptures from simply stories, to things vivid and livable. He always had illustrations ready to show various things. He showed that the story of the creation and science did not conflict. His classes were optional, and free, but were always well attended.
George Washington Carver died on January 5, 1943. He was about 83.
Rackman Holt, George Washington Carver, Garden City, New York: 1943
10,000 Sermon Illustrations. (electronic ed.). Dallas: Biblical Studies Press, 2000.