appeared in: THE JOURNAL OF SOUTHERN HISTORY Vol. XLII, No. 4, November 1976, pp. 507-528.
By BARRY MACKINTOSH MR. MACKINTOSH is a historian with the National Park Service in Washington, D.C.
IN SCIENCE AS IN OTHER FIELDS OF HUMAN ENDEAVOR ABLE AND accomplished black Americans usually found recognition slow in coming and meager when it came. The careers of biologist Ernest Everett Just and entomologist Charles Henry Turner exemplified this tendency, and their names remain anything but household words. George Washington Carver, on the other hand, became a legend in his own lifetime, with a popular reputation far transcending the significance of his accomplishments. His agricultural education and extension work at Tuskegee Institute in behalf of rural southern blacks was praiseworthy but unspectacular in nature and impact. The uses for soils and plants he developed or advocated were not of pioneering importance in science, nor were they widely adopted. Yet he was acclaimed a scientific genius for discovering hundreds of valuable applications for peanuts and sweet potatoes and for revolutionizing the southern economy. In reality, his legendary reputation depended less on these supposed achievements than on his psychological and social utility to both whites and blacks.
From his Missouri childhood on the farm of Moses Carver, his owner until emancipation, George Carver had a special affinity for plants. "Day after day I spent in the woods alone in order to collect my floral beauti[e]s and put them in my little garden...," he later wrote. "...strange to say all sorts of vegetation seemed to thrive under my touch until I was styled the plant doctor, and plants from all over the country would be brought to me for treatment." What he called his "inordinate desire for knowledge" extended to music and painting as well as the sciences. After varied experiences, including a try at homesteading in Kansas, he attended Simpson College and worked his way to a bachelor of science degree from the Iowa Agricultural College at Ames in 1894. Then in his early thirties (his birth date was unknown), he became an assistant botanist on the Ames Experiment Station staff and took an M.S. in agriculture two years later.
In February 1897 the state of Alabama enacted legislation to support an agricultural school and experiment station for blacks at Tuskegee Institute. The previous April Booker T. Washington had asked Carver to head the expected new program. "Of course it has always been the one great ideal of my life to be of the greatest good to the greatest number of 'my people' possible," Carver wrote Washington before accepting his offer, "and to this end I have been preparing my life for these many years; feeling as I do that this line of education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom to our people."
Carver began his duties at Washington's school with less than total dedication to the duties to which the principal had called him. "I do not expect to teach for many years," he wrote the Tuskegee Finance Committee upon his arrival in November 1896, "but will quit as soon as I can trust my work to others, and engage in my brush work, which will be of great honor to our people showing to what we may attain, along, science, History literature and art." Painting would remain a hobby, but the peanut would pave his way to fame.
Carver was raising a small quantity of Spanish peanuts at the Tuskegee Experiment Station in 1903, his earliest recorded involvement with the plant. The soil-building qualities and nutritional values of the peanut made it a useful crop for Tuskegee's farm constituency, and he emphasized its cultivation and use in a 1916 bulletin, How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways of Preparing It for Human Consumption. His advice was not new: the Department of Agriculture had issued two far more comprehensive bulletins encouraging peanut cultivation and consumption, and Carver freely acknowledged his debt to numerous recipe books and other sources. His publication doubtless made more rural blacks around Tuskegee aware of the values of the crop, but there was nothing in it to suggest his future prominence.
During the next four years Carver became increasingly involved with the peanut and aroused the interest of several peanut-processing firms in his work. In 1919 he wrote the Peanut Product Corporation of Birmingham about a milk substitute he had just produced from the plant: "...it is without doubt the most wonderful product that I have yet been able to work out, and I see within it, unlimited possibilities." Learning of his work, the United Peanut Associations of America asked him to appear at its convention in Montgomery in September 1920. Peanut growers, millers, and manufacturers had formed the organization that year in the face of declining postwar prices to lobby for a protective tariff on imported peanuts, and they sought publicity to promote their goal. Carver's presentation on "The Possibilities of the Peanut," in which he exhibited milk, coffee, stains, and others of more than 145 applications he claimed for the crop, was enthusiastically received despite reported "doubts lingering in the minds of the audience as to the advisability of having one of the negro race come before them...." "When the time comes when this question [the peanut tariff] must be threshed out before the American Congress," responded Representative Henry Bascom Steagall of Alabama, "I propose to see that Professor Carver is there in order that he may instruct them a little about peanuts, as he has done here on this occasion."
Carver's subsequent appearance before the House Ways and Means Committee in January 1921 marked the beginning of his national identity as "the peanut man." Some of the congressmen received the stooped old black with jocular condescension, but his diverting presentation held the committee's interest well over the allotted time. As at Montgomery, Carver based his remarks upon a large assortment of products that he demonstrated or described, including breakfast food, candy, milk, ice-cream flavoring, livestock feed, and ink. Man could live by the peanut and sweet potato alone, he asserted, because together they constituted a balanced ration.
Carver did not explicitly claim that he had personally discovered the benefits of the peanut and invented all of the uses he cited; yet this implication was difficult to escape. In reality, he was again publicizing values and product possibilities known if not popularly appreciated. The Agriculture Department's first bulletin on the peanut, issued in 1896, had discussed the legume's value in restoring nitrogen to the soil, its nutritional excellence, and the uses of peanuts and peanut oil in candies, soapmaking, salad dressing, flour, soups, griddle cakes, muffins, cattle feed, and other products and processes. The 1917 Yearbook of the Department of Agriculture had promoted the crop as a wartime substitute. Carver displayed many peanut products not manufactured commercially, but virtually all were ersatz commodities more feasibly derived from other materials.
"I have just begun with the peanut," Carver told the House committee. As the years passed he displayed an ever-growing quantity of peanut products at exhibits and personal appearances. By the mid-1930s he claimed over three hundred but refused to itemize them in response to a request from the Farm Security Administration: "I do not attempt to keep a list, as a list today would not be the same tomorrow, if I am allowed to work on that particular product."
In 1974 the Carver Museum at Tuskegee Institute, which Carver had helped develop, credited him with 287 peanut products. One hundred twenty-three were foods and beverages, sixty-eight were paints or dyes, the rest were cosmetics, stock foods, medicinal preparations, and miscellaneous uncategorized items. The catalog was inflated by much near duplication: listed as separate entries, for example, were bar candy, chocolate-coated peanuts, and peanut chocolate fudge; all-purpose cream, face cream, face lotion, and hand cream; thirty dyes for cloth, nineteen dyes for leather, and seventeen wood stains. Many and perhaps most of the products were not original with Carver—even "salted peanuts" were on the list! Nor could the efficacy of every preparation, including a "face bleach and tan remover," be taken for granted. Since Carver left no formulas or other records of his processes beyond one patent for a cosmetic utilizing peanuts, it was impossible for later investigators to evaluate most of the peanut products attributed to him or to document his production of them.
There could be no doubt, however, about the negligible extent to which peanuts became employed commercially in any new application Carver suggested. The crop continued to go almost entirely into confections and baked goods, peanut butter, and oils. Because the great majority of products on Carver's list could be made more easily and cheaply from other substances, they were of little more than curiosity value.
Together with the peanut, Carver championed the sweet potato, another crop well suited to Alabama soils that complemented the peanut nutritionally. Again he publicized the potential of the crop in quantitative terms. "The sweet potato products number 107 up to date," he told the Ways and Means Committee at his 1921 appearance. "I have not finished working with them yet." As with the peanut the final number varied; the Carver Museum in 1974 attributed 159 uses of the sweet potato to its founder. Many were food recipes and nearly half were dyes. Even some of the less obvious applications were not original. Sweet-potato flour, proclaimed among Carver's discoveries, had been discussed in an Agriculture Department bulletin a decade before he prepared it during the First World War. An absence of formulas has precluded scientific appraisal of other sweet-potato products attributed to Carver, but they found no wider adoption than those he claimed from the peanut.
Carver worked almost entirely alone and was singularly uncommunicative to those who asked about his laboratory procedures. George Lake Imes, on the Tuskegee faculty with him for many years, wrote of his "enigmatic replies" to information seekers. C. A. Basole of Auburn University's Department of Chemical Engineering, visiting Tuskegee, found that Carver never gave a clear answer to any question about how his products were made. Robert Lee Vann of Pittsburgh asked Carver if he had recorded the formulas for his many discoveries. "To my amazement," Vann reported, "Dr. Carver looked at me and smiled and said, 'I have all of these formulas, but I have not written them down yet.'"
Although much of the publicity about Carver stressed the practical value of his work to agriculture and industry, he was equally reluctant to discuss this subject in concrete terms. In 1936 the Reader's Digest, preparing to reprint an American Magazine article on Carver, asked the author for additional material on the application of his experiments. When the author forwarded this request, Carver replied that he could not keep up with the results of his work.
What public explanation of his scientific achievements Carver did offer was not calculated to satisfy the scientific community or most educated laymen. In a 1924 speech to a missions group at the Marble Collegiate Church in New York he declared that he never used books in his work and relied solely upon divine revelation for his product ideas and methods. In later addresses he often repeated his laboratory conversations with "Mr. Creator," who told him what to do with the peanut. With such a modus operandi his failure to record his experiments and processes and to publish in scientific journals was perhaps understandable.
Carver came to Tuskegee not to undertake original scientific research or invent new products but to teach the population served by the school, both on and off its campus. But his view of agricultural education as "the key to unlock the golden door of freedom to our people" was not widely shared by Tuskegee's students, many of whom saw education as a means of escaping the farm. Washington was continually unhappy about the small number of graduates turned out by the Agricultural Department, and in 1910 he removed Carver from charge. When Carver tendered his resignation in protest, the principal made him director of a new Department of Research and "consulting chemist," with teaching no longer required.
Carver did continue teaching for some time on a limited basis, but the quality of his instruction was not universally admired. "There is criticism among teachers and students to the effect that in your teaching you do not pursue a regular, logical and systematic course, that you jump about from one subject to another without regard to the course of study laid down in the catalogue," Washington advised him in 1912. "Some of your students are getting rather restless." After Carver's death, in a largely glowing account of his life and work, Edwin Rogers Embree conceded his failure to attain greatness as a teacher.
Carver's training in botany had not prepared him to become a model farm administrator, but he took over the Experiment Station and other farm operations at Tuskegee with expectations of success. In his first Experiment Station bulletin in 1898 he announced: "Every effort will be put forth to carry out the two-fold object of the Station, viz: that of thoroughly equipping the student along the lines of practical and scientific agriculture; also the solving of many vexing problems that are too complex for the average farmer to work out for himself."
In overseeing the school farms, however, Carver encountered many vexing problems that he was unable to solve, particularly in satisfying Washington's desire to make the farms paying operations. His greatest difficulty was the unproductive poultry yard, plagued by bad-egg shipments and thefts. When Washington discovered fifty bushels of sweet potatoes rotting in the basement of the Agricultural Building he upbraided Carver for failing to practice the preservation techniques he preached. Carver's aptitude as a practical farm administrator was questioned as early as 1902 by John Washington, Booker's brother, when he complained to the principal about maintenance shortcomings in Carver's department. G. Lake Imes recalled Carver during his years of teaching and farm management as one who "did not fit very well into the college routine," being uninterested in schedules, credits, and making the school farm profitable."
Experimental work was more to Carver's liking and became his principal occupation after 1910. The Experiment Station had a field on which he tested crop varieties and fertilizers. In the laboratory he analyzed well water, soil, feed, and other materials submitted from the school, the surrounding community, and farther afield. He especially worked to demonstrate uses for locally available substances, exemplified by his experiments with swamp muck in lieu of commercial fertilizer. The Tuskegee station differed fundamentally from others only in being staffed by blacks and being directed to a black constituency largely unaffected by progressive agricultural practices. It thus addressed an important need, even while its clientele kept it closer to a remedial level than to the forefront of scientific advance.
Carver sought to extend the station's influence with the bulletins, leaflets, and circulars appearing under his name from 1898 to his death. "But few technical terms will be used," he promised in his first bulletin, and all but one of the forty he issued offered elementary information on farming and related rural concerns to the uneducated farmer. The bulletins and other farming publications contained little of substance that had not already been printed in bulletins of the Agriculture Department or other experiment stations, and Carver's themes were not new even at Tuskegee. Much of what he would preach was summarized in a leaflet published by the institute before his arrival: "Do not plant too much cotton, but more corn, peas, sugar-cane, sweet-potatoes etc., raise hogs, cows, chickens, etc." But while his advice was standard, the extent to which he amplified it to rural blacks unfamiliar with crop rotation, diversification, and other modern practices was unprecedented.
The actual effectiveness of the bulletins, like that of Carver's other extension work, is not easily measured. As B. D. Mayberry of Tuskegee's Agricultural Department later noted, even the simplest publications had to be read and explained to the heavily illiterate farm population Tuskegee sought to help. Carver and others provided such instruction at Tuskegee farmers' conferences and appearances elsewhere, but they inevitably reached and affected only a fraction of those in need. The local impact of Carver's preachments on the peanut is illustrative. In a 1905 bulletin, How to Build up Worn Out Soils, he advised all farmers to raise peanuts. How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways of Preparing It for Human Consumption appeared in 1916 and in numerous editions thereafter. By the 1930s Carver's association with peanuts was legendary, and his encouragement of their cultivation must have been known to all in the countryside around Tuskegee. Yet in 1933 he observed that few were grown in surrounding Macon County. The extent of Carver's influence on local farming practices in other respects is also questionable. After his death the farms around Tuskegee could still be described as "poor and ill-kept."
Following Carver's presentation before the Ways and Means Committee, his by-line also appeared in journals aimed beyond the Tuskegee audience. His foremost publisher was the Peanut Journal, organ of the Southwestern and Southeastern Peanut Associations. "What Is a Peanut?" in the issue of November 7, 1923, was typical of his articles. Citing the values of the peanut in nourishing the soil and man, he named the products he had created. Descriptions of particular products were vague; of "peanut nitroglycerine" he said only, "This industry is practically new but shows great promise of expansion." There would always be more: "There is no assurance that this list will be correct tomorrow, certainly not if I get a chance to work with them as the Great Creator has put within the peanut a veritable storehouse of possibilities."
Carver's occupation as a publicist took him beyond the printed page and onto the exhibit and lecture circuit. He brought his message and his multitude of product samples to such events as the Four County Fair of 1922 in Suffolk, Virginia, and the Great Southern Exhibition in New York in 1925. Among his tours were those to colleges in Virginia and Tennessee in 1928, Mississippi and Louisiana in 1932, and the Northeast in 1933. At Tuskegee he and his laboratory were regularly on display for visitors.
Notwithstanding Carver's efforts in promoting peanut production and consumption by such means, the greatest increase in the crop predated his identification with it. In 1909 Beverly Thomas Galloway, chief of the Agriculture Department's Bureau of Plant Industry, observed that the peanut was rapidly becoming an important farm crop throughout the South. Annual American peanut production had climbed from 3,588,143 bushels to 19,415,816 bushels in the twenty years after 1889. When output rose to over 40,000,000 bushels in 1916 H. C. Thompson of the Agriculture Department called the phenomenon "one of the striking developments that have taken place in the agriculture of the South." Carver did not issue his first bulletin emphasizing the peanut until 1916 and was not prominently associated with the crop until the early 1920s. By then peanut production was actually declining. It did not regain its 1917 peak level until 1927. In Alabama the 1917 output was not surpassed until the mid-1930s—with little help from Carver's own county, it has been seen. Far from leading a revolution in southern agriculture away from cotton and toward the initial recognition and large-scale adoption of the peanut, Carver was boosting an established but beleaguered industry. His publicity and that by others about him and his work were possible factors in the peanut's eventual recovery, but there is no evidence that his role was decisive.
Given the modest nature of Carver's achievements, whence came his reputed transformation of southern agriculture and scientific wizardry? The development and perpetuation of the Carver myth may be traced in the writings of journalists, publicists, popular biographers, and even professional historians from the early 1920s into the third decade after Carver's death.
Carver's reputation began to exceed his attainments when he was still generally unknown. In 1918 the principal of the Voorhees Normal and Industrial School (a Tuskegee offshoot in South Carolina) was calling him "the most eminent scientist in the Negro race and one of the most distinguished citizens of America." After he "milked the peanut" the following year his name soared in wider circles. "What a wonderful thing it is to be a discoverer!" a Birmingham peanut processor wrote him. "I look upon such men as divinely inspired, and through such as you, Professor, God is indeed 'working in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform.'"
Through such contacts word of Carver's intriguing peanut milk spread to journalists and editors of trade publications. Then came the House Ways and Means Committee appearance, and Carver was celebrated to the public at large. The Peanut Promoter received clippings from newspapers across one country mentioning the appearance. Typical was the response of the Amsterdam (New York) Recorder: "...everybody listened eagerly, and with astonishment, to his revelations.... He has shown that so long as we can raise plenty of peanuts, the future of America is secure." The novelty of one of Carver's race testifying before Congress influenced much of the publicity, for most of the articles played as much on the man as on his "revelations."
In 1923 the Atlanta Journal published a full-page feature stressing Carver's background and personal attributes: "He combines all the picturesque quaintness of the ante-bellum type of darkey, the mind of an amazing scientific genius, and the soul of a dreamer. And his career... is no less picturesque." Attempting to reconcile his genius with his apparent absence of white blood, the journal found that "Professor Carver's nose, distinctly Arabic in type, hints of far-off ancestors who were possibly Egyptian, rather than African...." Success Magazine that year dubbed him "Columbus of the Soil" and approvingly noted how, in Washington, he had "deferentially remained in the background until all of the white men had been heard."
Newspaper and magazine articles continued with some regularity. In 1929, in a prominent feature entitled "Negro Genius Shows 'Way Out' for Southern Farmers," Osburn Zuber of the Montgomery Advertiser found Carver "certainly the greatest genius the negro race has yet produced." But the Carver myth received its greatest impetus in 1932 with the publication of an American Magazine article by James Saxon Childers. Childers held Carver personally responsible for increasing peanut production in response to the boll weevil attack on cotton, then for increasing demand by developing peanut products and markets. He devoted much space to his subject's humility, unconcern for money, and other eccentricities and had him "shuffling" and "shambling" wherever he went. The article prompted a massive inpouring of letters to Carver from across the nation—many seeking help or advice with personal problems—and fixed his reputation more firmly than ever before in the public mind. In 1936 Wade Moss of the Tom Huston Peanut Company put forth a piece in the Chemist, predictably titled "The Wizard of Tuskegee." Moss had Alabama farmers facing bankruptcy from the weevil in 1898 (the pest did not strike Alabama until the second decade of the twentieth century), then appealing to Carver for advice. When they obeyed his command to grow peanuts, he discovered ways to use the crop, making possible the spectacular growth of the peanut industry. Although the circulation of articles like Moss's did not approach that of Childers's, journalists and popular biographers later magnified their impact by accepting them uncritically as source material. On occasion uncritical acceptance extended even to academic historians. In A History of the South William Best Hesseltine perpetuated Carver's catalog of discoveries by citing his "leading rank as an industrial scientist" in developing "165 different products from the lowly peanut and 107 food products from the yellow yam...."
As Carver advanced into old age his appeal, as measured by the publicity about him and his work, became even more irresistible. When the February 1937 Reader's Digest printed a condensation of the Childers article Carver's mail hit another peak. The next month Life did a photo feature lauding him as "one of the great scientists of the U.S." That year the New York Times also praised his "300 useful products" from the peanut and "more than 100 products of varying human values" from the sweet potato.
Carver's last year and his death on January 5, 1943, afforded opportunity for more eulogies by newspapers, journals, and public figures and gave new momentum to the myth. In June 1942 the New York Times again acclaimed him editorially, citing his "long series of discoveries that have memorably improved the agriculture of the South." Senator Bennett Champ Clark of Missouri inserted the last Times editorial in the Congressional Record and announced that Carver had "achieved a place as one of the foremost scientists of all the world for all time...." President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's statement typified those issued by public figures on Carver's death: "The world of science has lost one of its most eminent figures.... The versatility of his genius and his achievements in diverse branches of the arts and sciences were truly amazing. All mankind is the beneficiary of his discoveries in the field of agricultural chemistry."
Representative Dewey Short and Senator Harry S Truman quickly introduced bills to make Carver's Missouri birthplace a national monument. At the joint legislative hearings on February 5 Truman testified that "the scientific discoveries and experiments of Dr. Carver have done more to alleviate the one-crop agricultural system in the South than any other thing that has been done in the history of the United States." On July 14, 1943, President Roosevelt signed the national-monument legislation. Only two other persons had their birthplaces so designated: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
The only major Carver biography with a claim to objectivity, Rackham Holt's George Washington Carver, appeared the year of its subject's death. Holt recognized Carver's products as "not revolutionary in themselves" and saw his major contribution as that of a publicist. Yet the romantic tone of her book did little to counter his established image. In 1946 popular biographer Hermann Hagedorn held Carver single-handedly responsible for the tariff on peanuts as a result of his showmanship before the congressional committee and largely responsible for freeing the South from dependence on cotton. His overall assessment of Carver was a breathtaking combination of scientist and saint. Two other serious works treating Carver appeared during the postwar period. In Titans of the Soil, issued in 1949 by the University of North Carolina Press, Edward Jerome Dies attributed to Carver's discoveries the establishment of major business enterprises. Unaware that he kept no laboratory records, Langston Hughes wrote with unintentional irony in Famous American Negroes, "From Carver's small laboratory at Tuskegee came formulas in agricultural chemistry that enriched the entire Southland, indeed the whole of America and the world."
The last and perhaps most extensive mass circulation of the Carver myth came with the condensation of Lawrence Elliott's George Washington Carver: The Man Who Overcame in the May 1965 Reader's Digest. Elliott's book had Carver, in conjunction with the boll weevil, responsible for making peanuts the principal crop in much of Alabama prior to the First World War, then for developing "well over 300" peanut products manufactured in "scores of factories." The South's economic salvation was due to Carver alone.
Edgar Allan Toppin apparently made use of sources like Elliott for his portrait of Carver in A Biographical History of Blacks in America Since 1528, published in 1971. Toppin credited him with originating the process of food dehydration on the basis of his sweet potato flour. But most important—"Working in his humble laboratory at Tuskegee, George Washington Carver freed the South from dependence on cotton by developing hundreds of uses for peanuts and sweet potatoes."
A survey of the most important Carver literature quickly reveals that his fame involved much more than his revolutionary discoveries, his salvation of the southern economy, and other deeds attributed to him. His religiosity, humility, racial stance, and disregard for material wealth received equal if not greater attention.
The Alabama volume of the W.P.A. American Guide Series aptly phrased Carver's combination of religiosity and humility: "Never seeking honor for himself, Dr. Carver simply says, 'God told me how.'" His frequent attribution of all his success to God enhanced his humble image and simultaneously elevated his stature as one in whom God confided. But while he was doubtless genuinely devout, his humility appears to have been legendary in the fullest sense of the word. He affected it to avoid discussing specifics about his work, as in a typical response to a written inquiry: "I do dislike to talk about what little I have been able, through Divine guidance, to accomplish." Reacting to inflated journalistic pieces about his achievements, he customarily protested in a manner readily interpreted as modesty. "How I wish I could measure up to half of the fine things this article would have me be," he wrote one author.
Writers found Carver's humility only slightly less noteworthy than his discoveries. "His most notable characteristic aside from the great mental capacity which marks him as a genius, is his deep humility," declared Osborn Zuber. His devotion to well-worn old clothes was part of the image. Hermann Hagedorn's depiction of "a stooped old colored man in a saggy alpaca coat shuffling through the dust of an Alabama road" exemplifies his biographers' delight in setting his scientific brilliance against his outward conformity to the black "uncle" stereotype. In her Portraits in Color Mary White Ovington wrote of the enthusiasm southern whites felt for Carver's modest demeanor.
Carver was indeed popular with southern whites, for his deferential manner extended to a thoroughly accomodationist stance in race relations. Consistent with his support of Booker T. Washington's racial philosophy, he advocated in correspondence with George Foster Peabody a gradualist, self-help approach to black advancement: "Rising or falling, I believe is practically inherent within the individual, and since races and nations are made up of individuals, they progress or are held back by the percentage of individuals who will, or will not to do the right thing.... I believe in the providence of God working in the hearts of men, and that the so-called, Negro problem will be satisfactorily solved in His own good time, and in His own way."
Carver's adherence to southern interracial etiquette was even stricter than Washington's. When he had dinner prepared for two white visitors to Tuskegee he took no chance on reviving the uproar engendered by Washington's famous White House dinner with Theodore Roosevelt. As he described the occasion to a friend, "I was astonished to have them send for me and insist on my dining with them, which of course I begged to he excused, and after finishing my dinner I explained to them why I did so." At least once he privately mentioned the discomfort of Jim Crow accommodations in his travels, but he left no record of public expression on the subject.
While Carver avoided public discussion of racial questions, he appeared frequently before southern white audiences in tours sponsored by the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, the Y.M.C.A., and other organizations in the interracial movement. These groups, which sought to improve relations between the "better classes" of both races within the framework of segregation, found him an asset to their cause as he impressed college and conference assemblies with his work and personality. After his death Clare Boothe Luce asserted that "Carver did more than any man ever born to improve racial relations in America."
In a materialistic era Carver's disregard for financial gain was among the remarkable qualities exciting the public imagination. He sought or arranged for commercial exploitation of his products on at least four occasions, acquired three patents and a possible interest in others, and granted over $60,000 to the George Washington Carver Foundation at the end of his life despite reported losses in bank failures. But since his patents and business ventures were not highly remunerative, since he lived almost penuriously, and since his estate—while comfortable—did not befit a scientific genius responsible for hundreds of commercially valuable discoveries, his commercial activity was generally ignored or denied outright. "He would permit no patents to be taken out on his discoveries, allow no commercialization of his name," declared Clare Boothe Luce, oblivious of his Carver Products, Carver Penol, and Carvoline companies. "Henry Ford and Thomas Edison tried to lure him to their laboratories," Edgar A. Toppin wrote. "But Carver donated his discoveries to humanity, never seeking to patent, or profit from them."
Carver's reported refusal of an immense salary to go to work for Edison was dramatic evidence of his disregard for riches; and the advertised admiration of two such prominent whites, who epitomized the scientific and materialistic spirit of their age, gave him a status matched by few others of his race. Edison never met Carver, but Ford visited him at Tuskegee and in 1942 announced plans to employ him in an experimental food laboratory. "In my opinion," Ford was quoted, "Professor Carver has taken Thomas Edison's place as the world's greatest living scientist."
The principal disseminators of the Carver myth were popular writers who found in Carver's life, work, and personality the potential for human-interest material that publishers and the public would buy. Three parties in particular had a deeper interest in promoting him, however: manufacturers of peanut products, Tuskegee Institute, and Carver himself.
The role of the United Peanut Associations in bringing him to national attention has been cited, as has the space given him in the peanut trade journals. As a living "Mr. Peanut" his symbolic value to the peanut manufacturers compensated for the failure of his new peanut products to prove commercially attractive.
Tuskegee Institute, having enjoyed a living symbol in Booker T. Washington, found Carver a fitting successor in that capacity. Carver was a featured topic in the Rural Messenger: "Professor Carver ranks among the greatest scientists of this age," a writer for the Tuskegee farm journal declared in 1920. The 1921-1922 edition of the Negro Year Book issued by the school, reporting his presentation before the congressional committee, had him personally discovering the many uses he described for the peanut. Writing for a Hampton Institute journal in 1934, a Tuskegee publicist praised Carver's great discoveries and personal qualities and called him "the greatest single force for racial understanding and goodwill in the South from an economic standpoint today." Carver recognized the publicity value of his work to the school and noted its desire to have him on tour as much as possible.
Although Carver had a penchant for self-promotion, it is unlikely that he sought fame through conscious deception—at least at first. Perhaps he was swayed by the excited reaction of nonscientists like the Birmingham peanut processor, unaware that a peanut milk substitute had already been made and patented, to his production of peanut milk in 1919. For while he did not explicitly claim an innovative role in the products and uses he created and found, he said nothing to prevent laymen from assuming one on his behalf. If he ever considered setting the record straight, it became more difficult to do so as the public adulation grew.
In his speeches and articles Carver blurred the distinction between creative discovery of new chemical syntheses and the production of items known to science or requiring no real scientific originality. By stressing the great quantity of his products rather than their quality or value, his presentations were more spectacular than informative or practical. His misleading representations of the nature of his scientific work and output contributed directly to the myth.
Carver contributed even more to the myth indirectly by his failure to correct the misleading and erroneous statements of others. Certainly he was aware of the claims made on his behalf, for he kept copies of virtually everything published about him. In many cases writers corresponded with him and requested his review of their work before publication. Rather than contradicting untruths, he let them pass or issued modest protestations unlikely to be received as sincere criticism. His customary response to spoken claims was similar. "I always look forward to introductions about me as good opportunities to learn a lot about myself that I never knew before," he would begin on the platform, dissociating himself from inaccuracies without actually seeming to do so under a cover of humor and apparent modesty.
By playing along with misrepresentations and by his own infidelity to the facts Carver was both principal and accessory in the making of the myth. The Wizard of Tuskegee bore a certain similarity to the Wizard of Oz.
Most of the acclaim and honors granted Carver were ostensibly for his accomplishments in agricultural science. But his real accomplishments were unspectacular, and even in their inflated state they would not have attracted such widespread public attention for their own sake. As Richard Bardolph has observed, "...no white scientist with precisely the same achievements would have been called a 'wizard' or 'the greatest industrial chemist in the world.'" The Carver myth was accepted, therefore, for reasons transcending the alleged accomplishments of its subject. Its reception hinged on Carver's person and his function in the context of contemporary racial attitudes. Both blacks and whites acclaimed him because it served their respective needs to do so.
Blacks had an obvious stake in the myth. In a society that worshiped individual achievement a submerged race with few prominent achievers was much in need of success symbols. Because few of even the most important members of the black community gained recognition in the white world the publicity about Carver in the white media and his links with men like Edison and Ford made him especially valuable in illustrating that blacks could stand on an equal footing with whites. Liberal whites sympathetic to black advancement as well as blacks themselves could find hope in the optimistic theory that the respect attained by one like Carver would extend to the race as a whole.
Carver's suspected partiality to whites was cause for grumbling among the Tuskegee faculty, some of whom viewed him as interested more in currying favor with the other race than in helping his own. Others actively combating segregation and discrimination had reason to regret his accommodationism in race relations. Because he did not seek a position of race leadership and avoided public statements of his racial philosophy, however, he attracted little overt black opposition.
The Carver myth was proclaimed and accepted most widely in white society, including the majority of white society indifferent or hostile to black advancement. The stake of most whites in the myth was of course quite different from that of the blacks. By lavishing praise on a token black they could deny or atone for prejudice against blacks as a class. The presence of a black achiever in the South could serve as testimony that the southern social order was not oppressive to blacks per se and, by extension, that those who failed to achieve had themselves to blame. Finally, a black achiever of the right sort could be valuable as a model to hold before the race.
Booker T. Washington had served southern whites admirably as a black achiever of the right sort. They greeted with acclaim his advocacy of industrial education for blacks, his overt acceptance of their social order, and his kind words for the South and its leaders. With Washington's death in 1915 they needed a replacement. They found him in Carver.
Like Washington, Carver had been born in slavery, a circumstance adding dramatic interest to his early life. He had risen through his own efforts—although not without help from white patrons to whom he was duly grateful. He came to Washington's school, followed its founder's precepts, and came to personify the institution almost as Washington had. "Dr. Carver is regarded generally as the most outstanding figure of his race in the South since Booker T. Washington," one journal declared with probable accuracy in 1933.
In some ways Carver was even more appealing than Washington to whites. Unlike Washington, who affected unconcern for politics but whose covert political activity and influence occasionally came to public notice, Carver was completely apolitical. While privately regretting the discomforts of segregated accommodations, he never attempted to influence southern policy in this regard. The chief factors in his appeal, however, were his very different personal attributes. Washington—aggressive, driving, virile—did not fit the white stereotype of the acceptable black; his popularity among whites was thus achieved in spite of his personal qualities as a result of the positions he advocated on race and education. Carver's popularity, in contrast, depended heavily on his ideal personality. He epitomized submission and piety. Old (he was in his late fifties when he became famous), gray, stooped, celibate, and squeaky-voiced, he was totally nonthreatening. Of him it could be truly said—and it usually was—that he "shuffled" and "shambled." To southern whites he was a perfect model for his race.
Carver's field of work also fitted conservative white concepts of proper black roles. Agriculture was a suitably humble occupation for blacks. In choosing to work with the "lowly" peanut Carver demonstrated that he knew his place vocationally as well as in social relationships. As a scientist who attributed his work to God, moreover, he was welcomed by traditional religionists whom the contemporary incursions of science had put on the defensive.
On balance, Carver's work was less significant to whites than his person. But the legitimacy of his fame required major accomplishments. Since his personal attributes alone were insufficient to support claims of greatness, his laboratory work was revised and extended to a level of wizardry, to be joined by his exploits in saving the southern economy. The miraculous nature of these achievements had the added benefit of making Carver so clearly atypical of his race that whites could express admiration for him without having to reassess their attitudes about blacks generally; as one reporter put it, he was "in a class by himself." Had many been seriously concerned with the intrinsic value of his "discoveries" and other lauded accomplishments his work would have been subject to far closer scrutiny.
Because the Carver myth was of such broad utility and because of the racial sensitivities involved, those who doubted Carver's advertised achievements generally kept quiet. In 1937 following publication of the Childers article in the Reader's Digest the Agriculture Department received a request for verification of the dramatic claims made in Carver's behalf. The reply indicated a reluctance to rock the boat: "Dr. Carver has without doubt done some very interesting things—things that were new to some of the people with whom he was associated, but a great many of them, if I am correctly informed, were not new to other people.... I am unable to determine just what profitable application has been made of any of his so-called discoveries. I am writing this to you confidentially and without an opportunity to make further investigation and would not wish to be quoted on the subject."
Twenty-five years later another federal agency exhibited similar reluctance to deal candidly with Carver's career. To obtain data for interpreting his life and work at the George Washington Carver National Monument the National Park Service commissioned a study and evaluation of his scientific contributions by the University of Missouri's Department of Agricultural Chemistry. The assessment was less than flattering. Concerned about unpleasant repercussions, the Park Service official transmitting the study to Washington urged that it be kept under wraps: "While Professors Carroll and Muhrer are very careful to emphasize Carver's excellent qualities, their realistic appraisal of his 'scientific contributions,' which loom so large in the Carver legend, is information which must be handled very carefully as far as outsiders are concerned.... Our present thinking is that the report should not be published, at least in its present form, simply to avoid any possible misunderstandings."
Informed assessments of Carver's place in science did appear in print during and after the 1950s. They contrasted him unfavorably with black scientists of high professional qualifications like Just and Turner while ascribing his much greater public reputation to his adherence to black behavior stereotypes and his folk appeal. But the Carver myth has stayed current in popular literature, school textbooks and other juvenile works, and the Americana and Britannica encyclopedias. With such widespread advocacy, its prospects for survival remain strong.
 Holograph autobiography, c. 1898, Box 138, Booker T. Washington Papers (Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D. C.).
 Alabama, General Assembly, An Act to Establish Two Branch Agricultural Experiment Stations for the Colored Race and to Make Appropriations Therefor, approved February 15, 1897, Acts of the General Assembly of Alabama, Passed at the Session of 1896-7 (Montgomery, 1897), 945-47; Carver to Washington, April 12, 1896, Washington Papers.
 Carver to Tuskeegee Institute Finance Committee, November 27, 1896, Washington Papers.
 Carver to Washington, October 17, 1904, ibid.
 R. B. Handy, Peanuts: Culture and Uses (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Farmers' Bulletin, No. 25; Washington, 1896); W.R. Beattie, Peanuts (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Farmers' Bulletin, No. 356; Washington, 1909).
 Carver to Walter M. Grubbs, October 1, 1919, George Washington Carver Papers (Tuskegee Institute, Alabama).
 Peanut Promoter (editorial), III (October 1920), 20 (first quotation); "Montgomery Meeting of the United Peanut Associations of America, September 13-14," ibid., 25-34 (second quotation on p. 34).
 U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Ways and Means, 66 Cong., 3Sess., Tariff Information, 1921: Hearings... on Schedule G. Agricultural Products and Provisions, January 21, 1921 (Washington, 1921), 2070, 2075; cited hereinafter as Hearings on Agricultural Products.
 Handy, Peanuts: Culture and Uses, 23.
 Hearings on Agricultural Products, 2075.
 Carver to R.W. Gray, September 14, 1937, Carver Papers.
 George Washington Carver Museum (brochure, Tuskeegee Institute); Patent No. 1,522,176, January 6, 1925; William R. Carroll and Merle E. Muhrer, "The Scientific Contributions of George Washington Carver" (unpublished report for National Park Service, 1962), 19, 38. The patent was the first of three in Carver's name and the only one involving peanuts.
 C. Lewis Wrenshall, "The American Peanut Industry," Economic Botany, III (April-June 1949), 168; Robin Bird to William R. Carroll, July 6, 1961, Carroll and Muhrer, "Scientific Contributions of Carver," 45; C. H. Fisher to Carroll, October 20, 1961, ibid., 54.
 Hearings on Agricultural Products, 2075.
 W. R. Beattie, Sweet Potatoes (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Farmers' Bulletin, No. 324; Washington, 1908); Carroll and Muhrer, "Scientific Contributions of Carver," 10; Carver Museum brochure.
 Carroll and Muhrer, "Scientific Contributions of Carver," 24, 29.
 Imes, I knew Carver ([Harrisburg, Pa., 1943]), 7.
 Basole interview, Carroll and Muhrer, "Scientific Contributions of Carver," 16-17; Vann to Raleigh H. Merritt, August 30, 1928, Merritt, From Captivity to Fame; or, The Life of George Washington Carver (Boston, 1929), 69.
 James Saxon Childers to Carver, October 30, 1936; Carver to Childers, November 2, 1936, Carver Papers.
 "Men of Science Never Talk That Way" (editorial), New York Times, November 20, 1924, p. 22.
 Washington to Carver, May 25, 1910, Washington Papers; Carver to Washington, November 19, 1910, Carver Papers; Washington to Carver, November 28, 1910, Washington Papers.
 Washington to Carver, May 3, 1912, Washington Papers.
 Embree, 13 Against the Odds (New York, 1944), 116.
 Washington to Carver, April 3, 1909, February 16, June 11, 14, December 9, 1910; March 26, October 15, 1912, Washington Papers.
 John H. Washington to Washington, April 5, 1902, ibid.
 Imes, I Knew Carver, 12-13.
 Carver address at convention of Association of American Agricultural Colleges and Experiment Stations (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Experiment Stations, Bulletin, No. 123; Washington, 1902), 57; Carver to Washington, May 5, 1910; August 1, 1912, Washington Papers.
 Carver, Feeding Acorns, 4.
 Things to Remember and Practice During 1895 (copy in Box 110, Washington Papers).
 Mayberry interview, Carroll and Muhrer, "Scientific Contributions of Carver," 5.
 Carver to Paul R. Miller, July 10, 1933, letter in possession of Miller, Beltsville, Maryland.
 Embree, 13 Against the Odds, 115-16.
 Carver, "What is a Peanut?" Peanut Journal, III (November 7, 1923), 35, 55; see also Carver, "The Peanut's Place in Everyday Life," ibid., IV (December 1924), 9-10; Carver, "The Peanut Possesses Unbelievable Possibilities in Sickness and Health," ibid., VII (January 1928), 9, 11; Carver, "The Peanut and Its Essential Place on the Daily Menu," ibid., VIII (February 1929), 13, 15; Carver, "Drawing of a New Day for the Peanut," ibid., IX (January 1930), 25, 32; Carver, "Some Additional Facts on the Food Value of Peanuts," ibid., (September 1930), 13, 15.
 "Carver's Exhibit at the New York Exhibition," ibid., IV (July 1925), 9-10; "Peanuts—Most Unique Exhibit in World at Four County Fair, Suffolk," Peanut Promoter, V (October 1922), 11-12; Tuskegee Messenger, IV (June 30, 1928), 2; Carver, "Why Not Change Our Method of Advertising?" Peanut Journal and Nut World, XI (August 1932), 11; "Dr. Carver Visions Peanut Oil as Paralysis Cure," ibid., XIII (January 1934), 16.
 Osburn Zuber, "Negro Genius Shows 'Way Out' for Southern Farmers," Montgomery Advertiser, December 22, 1929, Feature Section, 7.
 Beattie, Peanuts, 3.
 Thompson, "Present Status of the Peanut Industry," United States Department of Agriculture, Yearbook, 1917 (Washington, 1918), 113.
 U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Agricultural Economics, Peanuts: Acreage, Yield per Acre, Production, Farm Disposition, and Value, 1909-45 (Washington, 1948). The decline of peanut prices after the war boom and the broader application of boll-weevil control measures caused many areas that had raised peanuts to return to cotton and other crops. Wrenshall, "The American Peanut Industry," 159.
 Jesse O. Thomas to Carver, April 11, 1918, Carver Papers.
 Walter M. Grubbs to Carver, November 30, 1919, ibid.
 Quoted in Peanut Promoter, IV (April 1921), 54; clippings in Carver Papers.
 Atlanta Journal, March 18, 1923, p. 13, clipping in Carver Papers.
 Walter H. Seeley, "Carver of Tuskegee," Success Magazine, reprint in Carver Papers.
 "Carver Rites Tomorrow," New York Times, January 7, 1943, p. 19.
 U.S. Congress, 78 Cong., 1 Sess., George Washington Carver National Monument, Mo.: Joint Hearing Before Committee on Public Lands and Surveys, Senate, and the Committee on Public Lands, House of Representatives,... on S. 37, S. 312, and H.R. 647,... Feb. 5, 1943 (Washington, 1943), 4; An Act to Provide for the Establishment of the George Washington Carver National Monument, The Statues at Large... of the United States of America, LVII (1943), 563.
 Holt, George Washington Carver: An American Biography (New York, 1943), 269.
 Hagedorn, Americans: A Book of Lives (New York, 1946), 228, 241.
 Dies, Titans of the Soil: Great Builders of Agriculture (Chapel Hill, 1949), 181.
 Hughes, Famous American Negroes (New York, 1954), 71.
 Elliott, George Washington Carver: The Man Who Overcame (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1966), 154-60, 207; quotation on p. 159; "Beyond Fame or Fortune," Reader's Digest, LXXXVI (May 1965), 259-310.
 Toppin, A Biographical History of Blacks in America Since 1528 (New York, 1971), 139, 266 (quotation). This volume was copyrighted in 1969 and 1971 but not published until 1971.
 Writers' Program, Alabama, Alabama: A Guide to the Deep South (New York, 1941), 284.
 Carver to Franklin D. Cogswell, June 11, 1923, Carver Papers.
 Carver to T. A. M'Neal, September 30, 1935, ibid.
 E. Maddin Ainsworth, "Form Company to Market Products of Plant Wizard," Atlanta Constitution, August 26, 1923, p. 8F; "Carver Penol Company," Peanut Journal, V (October 1926), 28; Annual Report of the George Washington Carver Foundation and a Resume of the Period 1940-1947 (Tuskegee Institute, Ala., n.d.), 9, 14.
 Toppin, Biographical History of Blacks in America, 266.
 "Carver to Work for Ford," New York Times, June 12, 1942, p. 38; "Dr. Carver Helps Ford Open Food Laboratory Where He Will Work on 'Wild Vegetables,'" ibid., July 22, 1942, p. 27.
 Holt, George Washington Carver, 314; Elliott, George Washington Carver, 227 (quotation).
 S. L. Bacon, "The Tenth Annual Voorhees Farmers' Conference," Rural Messenger, I (March 26, 1920), 12.
 "Negro Discovers Amazing Food Uses for Lowly Peanut," Monroe N. Work, ed., Negro Year Book, 1921-1922 (Tuskegee Institute, Ala., 1922), 27-28.
 Ollie Stewart, "Dr. Carver and the South's New Deal," Southern Workman, LXIII (September 1934), 261-63.
 Carver to Walter A. Richards, July 1, 1929, Carver Papers.
 U.S. Patent No. 1,243,855, October 23, 1917, cited in Carroll and Muhrer, "Scientific Contributions of Carver," 52.
 Carver to Rackham Holt, July 23, 1940; Holt to Carver, October 10, 1941; Carver to Holt, October 13, 1941; Carver to Lucy Cherry Crisp, April 23, 1941, Carver Papers.
 Glenn Clark, The Man Who Talks with the Flowers: The Intimate Life of Dr. George Washington Carver (St. Paul, 1939), 38; see also Carver, "What Chemurgy Means to My People," Farm Chemurgic Journal, I (September 17, 1937), 38.
 Bardolph, The Negro Vanguard (New York, 1959), 186.
 For an expression of this theory see Stewart, "Dr. Carver and the South's New Deal," 263.
 Transcribed interviews with Pearl Wilson Jefferson, June 2, 1948, and Emily Neely, June 3, 1948, Carver Papers.
 "Dr. Carver, Scientist, Shows the Value of Peanuts," Peanut Journal and Nut World, XII (September 1933), 23.
 Julia C. Harris, "Lions Honor Guest Tonight; Is Chemist of World Wide Fame," Columbus (Ga.) Enquirer Sun, June 12, 1929, reprint in Carver Papers.
 Letter reproduced in Caroll and Muhrer, "Scientific Contributions of Carver," 39.
 Regional Director, Region Two, to Director, February 21, 1962, George Washington Carver National Monument file, Division of History, National Park Service, Washington, D. C.
 Herman R. Branson, "The Negro Scientist: His Sociological Background, His Record of Achievement, and His Potential," in Julius H. Taylor, ed., The Negro in Science ([Baltimore, 1955]), 1-9; E. Franklin Frazier, The Negro in the United States (rev. ed., New York, 1957), 560-61; Bardolph, The Negro Vanguard, 10, 184-86; Michael R. Winston, "Through the Back Door: Academic Racism and the Negro Scholar in Historical Perspective," Daedalus, C (Summer 1971), 704.
 L. H. Foster, "George Washington Carver," Encyclopedia Americana (international ed., 30 vols., New York, 1971), V, 746-47; [John L. King, Jr.], "George Washington Carver," New Encyclopaedia Britannica: Macropaedia (15th ed., 30 vols., Chicago and other cities, 1974), III, 972-73. The Britannica article recognized that Carver's popular reputation as an intellectual giant was overblown but spoke positively of his three hundred peanut products and the impact of his work on the southern way of life.