News Service


Murray Blackwelder, External Affairs, Carver Celebration Co-chair, (515) 294-7730
Bryan Burkhardt, Government of the Student Body, Carver Celebration Co-chair, (515) 294-1585
J. Herman Blake, African American Studies, (515) 294-4392
Steve Jones, News Service, (515) 294-4778


AMES, Iowa -- A famed scientist who left Iowa State University more than a century ago is still inspiring students today. George Washington Carver, Iowa State's first African American student, graduate and faculty member, died in 1943. Fifty-five years later, the man who was born into slavery is the focus of a university-wide celebration at Iowa State.

The celebration, "Inspiring students to become their best: The legacy of George Washington Carver," is taking place throughout the 1998-99 academic year. It's a celebration that Iowa State officials hope will inspire students and others to reach their potential for years to come.

"George Washington Carver is an inspiration for everyone to do their best," said Bryan Burkhardt, president of Iowa State's Government of the Student Body and co-chair of the Carver All- University Celebration steering committee. "In particular, he is an inspiration to Iowa State students to strive to do their best academically and in service to others -- two trademarks of George Washington Carver's life."

"The story of George Washington Carver is without question one of the most inspirational stories in the history of Iowa State University, and in the history of the land-grant movement," said Iowa State President Martin Jischke.

"Carver's life was the realization of the land-grant promise of creating access for higher education to all, providing a practical and liberal education, conducting research to solve real-world problems, and extending the knowledge at universities to help people improve their lives. Dr. Carver did them all," Jischke added.

Carver came to Iowa State in 1891 and earned a bachelor's degree in 1894. Because of his excellence in botany and horticulture, he was appointed to the Iowa State faculty, becoming the university's first African American faculty member. When Carver earned a master's degree in 1896, he was invited by famous educator Booker T. Washington to join the faculty at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.

At Tuskegee (now Tuskegee University), Carver gained an international reputation in research, teaching and service to humanity. His research resulted in hundreds of products from Alabama crops such as peanuts, pecans and sweet potatoes. Carver never wanted to profit from these products. Rather, he believed it was important that they get into the hands of the people who would benefit most from them.

Carver explained in 1939: "One reason I never patent my products is that if I did it would take so much time I would get nothing else done. But mainly I don't want my discoveries to benefit specific favored persons."

Carver was born into slavery in about 1864 in Diamond Grove, Mo. Because there was not a school for African Americans in Diamond Grove, Carver's desire for a formal education led him on a long, hard trek to several communities in Missouri and Kansas before he settled in Iowa. In 1888 he moved to Winterset, then moved to Indianola in 1890 to attend Simpson College. He came to Ames a year later to study horticulture.

Carver arrived in Iowa with virtually nothing, but left the state with two college degrees, a job as a college professor and pride in himself. "It was at Simpson [College] that I realized that I was a human being," said Carver in the late 1930s.

"George Washington Carver was always an inspiration for me," said J. Herman Blake, director of the African American Studies program at Iowa State.

Blake, who grew up in a poor family, read about Carver during the eighth grade. "I read the story of George Washington Carver and I knew there was hope for me," he said. "I knew if someone like that could overcome and achieve, my circumstances were not impossible."

Added Blake, "The fact that George Washington Carver got a solid foundation at Iowa State and did what he did, in my judgement, shows individuals at Iowa State years and years ago had a commitment and a vision. They believed in the human qualities of a young man who showed up with nothing more than a willingness to learn."

Numerous activities at Iowa State and elsewhere are honoring Carver's legacy. Lectures, fine arts performances and exhibits are scheduled throughout the academic year on campus. A new Carver traveling display is accompanying Iowa State officials as they speak throughout Iowa. Carver celebration organizers also want to develop a student exchange program with Tuskegee University and want to involve students in a national conference on race and ethnicity.

Entertainer Bill Cosby kicked off the Carver celebration Aug. 30 with a free comedy show for Iowa State students. Other Carver Arts Series events include the Klezmatics, who perform music with Jewish roots, Nov. 5; the Ondekoza Demon Drummers of Japan, Nov. 15; and Tango Buenos Aires, a company of dancers and musicians, March 27, 1999.

This fall, the Brunnier Art Museum at Iowa State is hosting "Through These Eyes: George Washington Carver at Tuskegee," an exhibition of 118 black and white photographs by P.H. Polk. Carver, Polk's favorite subject, is featured in more than 40 of these images.


Habitat for Humanity home to honor Carver

The George Washington Carver All-University Celebration and the Iowa State Homecoming '98 committee have chosen Habitat for Humanity as their community service project. Joining forces with the Story County Habitat for Humanity chapter, the university community is supporting the construction of a home on the Iowa State campus east of Jack Trice Stadium.

The 1,100-square-foot, three-bedroom house will be constructed Oct. 5-9 during homecoming week in what will be central Iowa's first "blitz-build." Hundreds of students are expected to volunteer their labor and help raise funds. A week later, the house will be trucked to its awaiting foundation in Roland, Iowa, 15 miles northeast of Ames.

Fans attending the Oct. 10 Cyclone homecoming football game against Missouri will be able to see the nearly completed house.

"The student response to Habitat for Humanity has been overwhelming," Homecoming '98 co-chair Brett Showalter said. "We had about 1,000 student volunteers last year, and we expect a similar turnout this year." Contact Brett Showalter or Tonia Hesse at (515) 294-0198, or Roger Stover at (515) 294-8114.

Carver: The inventor of hundreds of products (but not peanut butter)

It's often claimed that George Washington Carver invented peanut butter. It's not true, but he did discover 325 other uses for peanuts as well as hundreds of uses for other southern crops. Carver was a genius at finding uses for agricultural commodities grown in the South.

His discoveries meant the crops that African American and other farmers grew had greater value. His products improved the lives of millions throughout the world. Carver, however, never tried to make money from his discoveries.

"[The] Creator did not charge anything to grow the peanut, and I cannot accept money for my work with it," said Carver in 1923.

In addition to peanuts, Carver found 108 uses for sweet potatoes, 75 uses from pecans and several hundred uses for more than two dozen other crops common in the South. Among his inventions were a topical pain-relieving oil derived from peanuts, milk substitutes from peanut and soybean oil, and more than 500 dyes from plants.

"Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough," according to an undated Carver quote.

Carver and Wallace: Pioneers in agriculture

George Washington Carver used his education to enhance his natural gifts and abilities not only to become his best, but also to inspire others to become their best. The 10-year-old son of an Iowa State agriculture faculty member took a liking to Carver. The boy, Henry A. Wallace, spent many hours with Carver, learning all about plants.

Wallace eventually studied plant genetics at Iowa State. He later became U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and Vice President of the United States under Franklin D. Roosevelt. He also was a leader in the commercial development of hybrid seed corn, which radically increased corn production in the 1930s and 1940s. This work led to the creation of Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., a world leader in agricultural products.

Wallace said this of Carver, his friend and mentor: "When I was a small boy, it was [George Carver] who introduced me to the mysteries of botany and plant fertilization."

More than a scientist, Carver was multi-talented

Although George Washington Carver was internationally known as a scientist, he also excelled in many other endeavors. He planned to study music and art at Simpson College, Indianola, Iowa, before being convinced to pursue a more pragmatic course of study in horticulture at Iowa State.

Carver studied agriculture, but he continued to pursue his interests in the arts. His poetry was published in the student newspaper, and two of his paintings were exhibited at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. Carver also was involved in other facets of campus life. He was a leader in the YMCA and the debate club. Carver worked in the dining rooms and as a trainer for the athletic teams, and he was captain -- the highest student rank -- in the campus military regiment. He often entertained by singing, playing musical instruments and reading aloud.

Carver artist-in-residence at Iowa State

Youssef Asar, an award-winning painter from Cairo, Egypt, is the George Washington Carver artist-in-residence at Iowa State during the 1998-99 academic year. Asar is based in the College of Design, where he will teach a painting course during the spring semester.

Asar also will conduct painting seminars, lectures and assist in other art and design courses during his ISU residency. Renowned for his accomplishments as a scientist, Carver also was an accomplished artist. Two of his paintings were exhibited at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. Contact Mark Engelbrecht, Design, (515) 294-7427.

Two stamps, coin among Carver honors

George Washington Carver received many honors during his lifetime and after his death. He is the subject of two commemorative postage stamps, issued in 1947 and 1998, and a special 50-cent coin in 1951. He is honored at a national monument in his hometown of Diamond Grove, Mo., and at a museum at Tuskegee University in Alabama.

Carver also is the subject of a 1938 feature film, a member of the Hall of Fame for Great Americans and a member of the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Iowa State awarded him the Doctor of Humane Letters degree in 1994.


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