George Washington Carver
Carver and Washington were born into slavery shortly before the American Civil War, Carver in the early 1860s and Washington in 1858 or 1859. Though they were freed after the Civil War, black Americans like Carver and Washington continued to be plagued by discrimination and poverty.
George Washington Carver was separated from his mother as an infant and never knew his father; his name was given by the Carver family who owned him in Missouri. As a child he was small and weak, and worked in the house, rather than the fields, cooking, cleaning, and making clothes. What set Carver apart from his peers was ample curiosity for both book learning and the natural world. His first education came from a found spelling book. As soon as slavery ended he attended an all-black primary school for a year in Neosha, Missouri, and quickly absorbed all that the school had to offer.
His formal education did not resume until 1890. After years of false starts, he was admitted to Indiana's Simpson College. A year later he went on to Iowa State College, in Ames. Though he had been allowed to matriculate at Iowa State, Carver was refused the dormitory and dining hall – only by taking jobs as janitor and waiter was he granted entrance. In 1894 he became the school's first black graduate, and, with the addition of an M.A. two years later, its first (and for many decades, only) black faculty member as well.
In 1897, Booker T. Washington, founder of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute for Negroes, convinced Carver to come south and serve as the school's Director of Agriculture. Carver remained on the faculty until his death in 1943.
At Tuskegee Carver developed his crop rotation method, which revolutionized southern agriculture. He educated the farmers to alternate the soil-depleting cotton crops with soil-enriching crops such as: peanuts, peas, soybeans, sweet potato, and pecans.
During his tenure at Tuskegee Institute Carver became famous for his inventions and new uses of peanuts, sweet potatoes, and soybeans. He used these crops to make improvements to adhesives, axle grease, bleach, buttermilk, chili sauce, fuel briquettes, ink, instant coffee, linoleum, mayonnaise, meat tenderizer, metal polish, paper, plastic, pavement, shaving cream, shoe polish, synthetic rubber, talcum powder and wood stain.