Did George Washington Carver Invent Peanut Butter?

On April 22, 2021 we celebrated Earth Day recognizing a commitment to studying and practicing methods which will protect our environment. Following is an excerpt from the article published in Biography Magazine describing George Washington Carver’s – The Peanut Doctor – development of sustainable gardening practices. The full article can be found here.

Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

George Washington Carver created more than 300 products from the peanut plant but is often remembered for the one he didn’t invent: peanut butter. The agricultural scientist is often given credit for “discovering” something that was already there. Still, his story fits nicely alongside the rise of peanut butter as a culinary favorite in the first decades of the 20th century, making him an appropriate symbol for this distinctly American specialty.

Carver helped farmers find alternate uses for popular crops

Born into slavery in Missouri, near the end of the Civil War, Carver displayed a curiosity for learning and delicate touch for plant life from his earliest years. Rejected from one college, which had accepted him before realizing he was Black, Carver eventually entered Iowa’s Simpson College and then the school that became Iowa State University, where he earned his master’s in agriculture in 1896.

George Washington Carver
Photo: Getty Images

As director of the agricultural department at Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute, Carver worked to develop sustainable farming practices when he wasn’t bogged down by more menial tasks like actually teaching. Generations of cotton planting and the intrusion of the boll weevil had decimated Southern farms by the early 1900s, and Carver encouraged farmers to develop other crops that revitalized the soil, like cowpeas, beans, sweet potatoes and peanuts.

One of his earliest known achievements was the development of the Jesup Wagon, a school on wheels that paid visits to poor farmers in remote areas beginning in 1906. Carver also sought to give growers additional incentive by devising alternate uses for the crops he championed, producing an array of items that included medicines, lotions and soap.

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