The Possibilities of the Peanut

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Aug 15, 2015

“When you do common things in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.”
George Washington Carver

No one could have predicted that George Washington Carver would ever become a true American hero. He was born around July 12, 1865. Within a few weeks his father was killed in a log-hauling accident. Shortly after the Civil War, he and his family were kidnapped and he was abandoned alone, lying on the ground, never to see his immediate family again. 

Carver was raised by his uncle and aunt in Missouri. In poor health as a child, he stayed near the house and learned a host of domestic chores. He worked his way through grade school, high school and college. He went to Simpson College where someone said, “He arrived at Simpson College with a satchel full of poverty and a burning zeal to know everything.”  

Eventually he joined the staff at Iowa State College of Agricultural and Mechanical Arts. But in the fall of 1896, Carver surprised his colleagues by giving up his promising career there to join the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, which was founded by Booker T. Washington. His going-away gift from his colleagues was a microscope. 

At Tuskegee, Carver, with his microscope, assembled an agricultural department and visited nearby farmers. He noticed that the soil was depleted due to years of repeated cotton growth. And when the boll weevil swept through the South, the devastation to the cotton crop was even worse. 

Carver’s discovery that peanuts, soybeans and cowpeas restored much-needed nitrogen to the soil transformed the agricultural industry in the South. But soon there were more peanuts than they knew how to use. 

In the summer of 1920, Professor Carver spoke at a YMCA meeting in Blue Ridge, North Carolina, where he told the following story: 

“Years ago I went into my laboratory and said, ‘Dear Mr. Creator, please tell me what the universe was made for?’

The Great Creator answered, ‘You want to know too much for that little mind of yours. Ask for something more your size, little man.’ Then I asked, ‘Please Mr. Creator, tell me what man was made for?’ Again the Great Creator replied, ‘You are still asking too much. Cut down on the extent and improve the intent.’

So then I asked, ‘Please Mr. Creator, will you tell me why the peanut was made?’ ‘That’s better, but even then it’s infinite. What do you want to know about the peanut?’ 

I responded, ‘Mr. Creator, can I make milk out of the peanut?’

What kind of milk do you want? Good Jersey milk or just plain boarding house milk?’ 

‘Good Jersey milk,’ I replied.

And then the Great Creator taught me to take the peanut apart and put it together again. And out of the process has come forth all of these products.'”  

Professor Carver served for 47 years at Tuskegee, where he became known everywhere for his agricultural research, especially on the peanut, discovering hundreds of uses. And whenever he was asked the secret for his insights, he always gave credit to God for revealing them to him.

He once said, “I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we only tune in.”  

Out of this life well lived came great wisdom like this: “Fear of something is at the root of hate for others, and hate will eventually destroy the hater.”

He certainly could have bemoaned his lot in life because of where he was born and what happened to him in his childhood, but as he once said, “Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.”

Next time you are eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or you are savoring a peanut butter cookie, you may want to thank George Washington Carver and his Creator. 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of  
University of Valley Forge, Phoenixville, Pa. 
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