Seed Science Center displays posters to honor George Washington Carver

Posters of George Washington Carver hang in the front windows of the Seed Science Center.

Logan Metzger

Due to February being Black History Month, the Seed Science Center has displayed posters with a prominent figure from Iowa State’s history.

The figure is George Washington Carver, Iowa State University alumnus and former faculty member, who is well known for his work with peanuts.

“In recognition of [Black History Month], the Seed Science Center has installed window displays highlighting the first black student and first black faculty member at Iowa State University, George Washington Carver,” said Cynthia Hicks, communication specialist for the Seed Science Center. “George Washington Carver once walked the area and collected seeds where the Seed Science Center currently stands.”

The set of four posters is located in the front windows of the Seed Science Center where people can see them as they are walking into the building.

The four posters include multiple images of Carver, quotes from Carver and a variety of facts about him and his life.

These fast facts include: “Born into slavery during the Civil War”; “First black student and first black faculty member at Iowa State”; “At ISU, he mentored Henry A. Wallace, who would became the founder of Pioneer Seed and U.S. Vice President”; “First African American to have a national monument dedicated to him”; “Admired by President Theodore Roosevelt who sought his advice on agricultural matters”; “Went to work at Tuskegee Institute in 1896”; “Taught systematic crop rotation to prolong the life of soil”; “Discovered over 300 uses for peanuts.”

“When I was standing out in front of the building looking at the posters, it occurred to me that the place I was standing is quite possibly a place he stood at point collecting seeds,” Hicks said. “I hope people who walk by look at the posters and learn a little bit about his life.”

Positioned right next to the front door of the Seed Science Center is the only life-size statue of Carver on campus. The posters work alongside the statute to tell the story of Carver’s life.

The statue was added in 2008 as part of a large event celebrating Carver on campus; it is designed after a maquette from Christian Peterson and was made in a foundry in New York.

The posters will remain in place for all of Black History Month, but Hicks said the posters may be displayed somewhere in the Seed Science Center afterward.

“He is our hero in the sense that Carver was actually walking these grounds when he was a student and then a faculty member at Iowa State,” said Manjit Misra, director of the Seed Science Center. “He used science to help agriculture and humanity. He is not only a scientist, but he is also humanist.”

Carver was born into slavery circa 1864 in Missouri. After slavery was abolished, he was raised by his former owner due to his family being kidnapped when he was an infant.

When Carver was of age to go to college, Carver applied to several colleges before being accepted at Highland University in Highland, Kansas. When he arrived, however, they refused to let him attend because of his race, according to Misra.

However, Carver eventually ended up in Indianola, Iowa, where he attended Simpson College in 1890 to study art and piano. His art teacher, Etta Budd, recognized Carver’s talent for painting flowers and plants and encouraged him to study botany at Iowa State Agricultural College.

When he began there in 1891, he was the first black student at Iowa State.

Carver became involved in all facets of campus life in Ames. He was a leader in the YMCA and the debate club, trainer for athletic teams, captain of the campus military regiment and a dining room employee.

His poetry was published in the student newspaper, and two of his paintings were exhibited at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1894, and his professor, Louis Pammel, encouraged him to stay at Iowa State and pursue a graduate degree. Because of his proficiency in plant breeding, he was asked to join the faculty at the Seed Science Center as the first black faculty member of Iowa State. Carver continued to expand his knowledge and skills, writing professional papers of national acclaim.

Upon completing his master’s degree in 1896, he was invited by Booker T. Washington to join the faculty of Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute.

At Tuskegee, Carver gained an international reputation in research, teaching and outreach. His teaching stressed the “hands-on” approach, as he encouraged poor farmers to diversify and rotate their crops, grow local food crops to nourish their families and develop pride in their farmsteads.

His research resulted in the creation of hundreds of products from peanuts, soybeans and sweet potatoes. Carver’s efforts to utilize organic materials, such as farm products, for industrial applications earned him the title “the father of chemurgy,” according to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences website.

Best known for creating over 300 uses for the peanut and over 150 uses for the sweet potato, Carver also made many foods and beverages using soybeans.

“His research resulted in the creation of 325 products from peanuts, more than 100 products from sweet potatoes and hundreds more from a dozen other plants native to the South,” according to the Parks Library website. “These products contributed to rural economic improvement by offering alternative crops to cotton that were beneficial for the farmers and for the land.”

Some of the more interesting discoveries and inventions, according to the Carver Museum website, include axle grease, charcoal from shells, cleaner for hands, diesel fuel, dyes, stains and paints, fuel briquettes, gasoline, glue, illuminating oil, insecticide, insulating boards, linoleum, lubricating oil, nitroglycerine, paper from skins, paper from vines, printer’s ink, plastics, rubber, shoe and leather blacking, sizing for walls, soap stock, soil conditioner, wallboards from hulls, washing powder, wood filler, laundry soap, sweeping compound, castoria substitute, emulsion for bronchitis, goiter treatment, iron tonic, laxatives and medicines similar to castor oil.