George Washington Carver was an African-American educator and agricultural researcher who headed the Tuskegee Institute, and who developed many uses for lesser-used crops, such as cow peas, sweet potatoes and peanuts. Much of Carver's fame was attributable to his work with peanuts, and his rise from humble origins.
Carver was born in Missouri in 1864, living with the white family that had kept his mother as a slave prior to the Civil War. He earned a master's degree in agriculture in 1896 and accepted an offer from civil rights leader Booker T. Washington to work as the head of the agricultural department at the all-black Tuskegee Institute. While Carver was an excellent researcher, he proved less capable at administration, and frequently clashed with Washington.
Carver's research was focused on helping farmers replace expensive commodities with other, more affordable alternatives. For instance, Carver published material and gave presentations on ways to improve soil fertility without commercial products, and on growing other crops besides cotton. To help induce farmers to try new crops, Carver developed new uses for many of them, especially cow peas, sweet potatoes and peanuts. Carver's work with peanuts brought him national publicity, even from traditionally anti-civil rights groups, who saw the apolitical Carver as a better alternative to more political figures. After leaving the Tuskegee Institute, Carver embarked on several lecture tours.