George Washington Carver had a timeless message for humanity. Yet he became famous not for his great wisdom, nor for his brilliance as an educator, but for transforming peanuts into products such as ink, paper, soap, glue, dyes, massage oil, milk, cosmetics, and more. It is not so much his specific achievements as the humane philosophy behind them that define the man. "It is not the style of clothes one wears, neither the kind of automobile one drives, nor the amount of money one has in the bank, that counts. These mean nothing. It is simply service that measures success."
Carver was motivated by his love for all of creation. For him, every lifea tiny fungus in healthy soil, the ever-present flower on his lapel, a forest bird, a human being of any complexion or nationalitywas a window on God and a mouthpiece through which the Great Creator spoke. He saw all living things as interrelated. His vision brought forth his teachings: A successful life is one of service through helping others: real education helps us understand life, bringing us the kind of happiness that inspires us to help humanity; true religion is expressed in love and kindness toward all life; science worthy of its name is truth, which sets us free.
Every facet of Carver's life and his teaching, including his peanut work, can be traced inward to reveal a genius whose source is the deep creative fountain of the inner spirit. Let George Washington Carver National Monument introduce you to this humble man whose love of God and agriculture became a ministry to benefit humanity.
Lifelong Service to Humanity
George Washington Carver mastered chemistry, botany, mycology (study of fungi), music, herbalism, art, cooking, and massage. But his life began in slavery about 1864 in Diamond Grove, Mo. Young George longed for an education to help him understand nature's mysteries, but schooling was denied him. At about age 11 he left home to seek answers on his own. His quest led him through poverty, prejudice, violence, and injustice.
Eventually finding himself rejected from college due to his race, he tried his hand at homesteading in Kansas. Finally, in 1890 he was accepted as an art major at Simpson College in Iowa, where he was the only African American. Within a year, his desire of preparing to serve his people forced a painful decision to leave art. Carver transferred to Iowa State Agricultural College (today's Iowa State University) to pursue agriculture. "The more my ideas develop, the more beautiful and grand seems the plan I have laid out to pursue or rather the one God has destined for me. It is really all I see in a successful life."
He earned a Bachelor of Agriculture degree in 1894 and a Masters of Agriculture degree in 1896. That year Carver accepted an offer from Booker T. Washington to head the new Agriculture Department at Tuskegee Institute, Ala. The post answered Carver's dream "to be the greatest good to the greatest number of my people." At that renowned school for African Americans, Carver became a beacon to students who were inspired by his ability to overcome so many obstacles.
His peanut work, beginning about 1903, was aimed at freeing African American farmers and the South from the tyranny of king cotton. With innovative farming methods, he convinced Southern farmers to grow such soil-enriching crops as soybeans and peanuts, in addition to cotton. At the heart of his vision for an economically rejuvenated South was his teaching that nature produced no waste. Embracing a message of hope "to help the man farthest down," Carver produced a series of free Agricultural Bulletins that provided information on crops, cultivation techniques, and recipes for nutritious meals. Several of the 43 bulletins were distributed throughout the world.
Carver came to public attention in 1921 with his captivating testimony before a U.S. Congress House committee debating a peanut tariff bill. Two years later he converted young Southern whites at a YMCA retreat into near disciples. They arranged speaking tours for him to colleges where no African American had ever been welcome. Carver became a symbol of interracial cooperation. His work and encyclopedic knowledge of plant properties impressed Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, who sought information from him on industrial uses of plants, including peanuts and soybeans.
Carver died at Tuskegee on January 5, 1943. That July, Congress designated George Washington Carver National Monument, the first park to honor an African American scientist, educator, and humanitarian.
It All Started Here
During the Civil War guerrilla warfare intensified along the Missouri-Kansas border. Born a slave on the Moses and Susan Carver farm about 1864, George Washington Carver was caught up in the turmoil. When George was an infant outlaws kidnapped him and his mother Mary, George was found in Arkansas and returned to the Carvers, orphaned and nearly dead from whooping cough. His mother was never found. He never knew the identity of his father, although George believed he was a slave on a nearby farm. George's frail health freed him from many daily chores, giving him time to explore. "Day after day I spent in the woods alone in order to collect my floral beauties and put them in my little garden I had hidden in brush." The flowers thrived under his care, and George acquired the nickname "The Plant Doctor" in his community. George left the farm about 1875. He never again lived with the Carvers, but many of his values were shaped during his years on the farm. His life work was rooted in his ability to retain the child's wonder of nature.
Planning Your Visit
Visitor Center The visitor center has information, a museum, interactive exhibits about history and science, classrooms for programs on Carver's life, an observation deck, a film, and bookstore. It is open daily, except Thanksgiving Day, December 25, and January 1.
Carver Trail This one-mile, self-guiding loop leads you into woodlands, across streams, and along a tallgrass prairie restoration area. You can see the Boy Carver statue, see the Moses Carver house, and visit the graves of Moses and Susan Carver. (George Washington Carver is buried at Tuskegee University in Alabama.)
Accessibility The visitor center is wheelchair-accessible. Ask about accessibility on the Carver Trail. Service animals are welcome.
Safety Tips • Stay on established trails. • Watch your footing around the streams and pond. Do not drink the water. Swimming, wading, or fishing are not allowed. • Be alert for poison ivy, ticks, and stinging insects. • Do not climb on fences or cemetery headstones. • Pets must be leashed and attended. • For firearms regulations see the park website. • Do not damage or remove plants, wildlife, or historical features; all are protected by federal law. Emergencies: call 911.
Source: NPS Brochure (2011)
Brochures ◆ Site Bulletins ◆ Trading Cards
Heritage Tourism at George Washington Carver National Monument: Perspectives of Five Demographic Groups NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NRSS/EQD/NRR—2014/844 (Nancy C. Holmes, Colleen Kulesza, Yen Le and Sandra De Urioste-Stone, August 2014)
Historic Resource Study and Administrative History, George Washington Carver National Monument (Anna Coxe Toogood, July 1973)
National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form
George Washington Carver National Monument (Richard I. Ortega, April 6, 1976)
Natural Resource Condition Assessment, George Washington Carver National Monument NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/HTLN/NRR-2011/425 (Gust M. Annis, Michael D. DeBacker, David D. Diamond, Lee F. Elliott, Aaron J. Garringer, Phillip A. Hanberry, Kevin M. James, Ronnie D. Lee, Sherry A. Leis, Michael E. Morey, Dyaana L. Pursell and Craig C. Young, July 2011)
Plant Community Report: 2004-2020, George Washington Carver National Monument NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/HTLN/NRR-2021/2334 (Sherry A. Leis and Mary F. Short, November 2021)
The Life and Character of George Washington Carver 1860-1943 (Getahun Dilebo, 1972)
The fishes of George Washington Carver National Monument, Missouri, 2003 USGS Scientific Investigations Report 2005-5128 (B.G. Justus and James C. Petesen, 2005)
Walking in Credence: An Administrative History of George Washington Carver National Monument (Diane L. Krahe and Theodore Catton, 2014)
Handbooks ◆ Books
Last Updated: 20-Dec-2021