July 19, 1942: George Washington Carver begins experimental project with Henry Ford
On this day in 1942, George Washington Carver, head of Alabama’s famed Tuskegee Institute, visited fellow innovator Henry Ford at the Ford Nutritional Laboratory in Dearborn, Michigan. The pair were brought together through Ford’s interest in Carver’s agricultural work and had been friends for at least 10 years.
Young George Washington Carver
George Washington Carver was born on a farm near Diamond, Missouri sometime in the year 1864. His parents were slaves but died before he was born. Carver and his brother were raised by the farm owner, who taught them how to read and write.
As a sickly child, George was unable to work much around the farm and instead concentrated on helping the women out in the house. Even at a young age, his interest in nature was clear. He often experimented with natural pesticides, fungicides and soil conditioners, and local farmers began to refer to him as “the young plant doctor.”
Why is he known as the “Peanut Man”?
It is clear that Carver’s interests were very broad-reaching, so why is he so often associated with peanuts? It’s thanks in large part to an appearance he made before the House Ways and Means Committee in 1921. There, Carver spoke about the many products he had created using the popular legume (such as flour, milk, and cheeses) and the need for a tariff.
Though government officials weren’t keen on listening to a black man, he ended up winning them over. After his appearance, Carver and peanuts were forever intertwined in the public’s mind. Interestingly, Carver believed that peanut oil could help polio victims regain some of the lost function in their limbs–although that doesn’t appear to have been discussed at the time.
Relationship with Henry Ford
George Washington Carver believed there was a great opportunity for Americans to use agricultural products in a new way. Henry Ford agreed. Like Carver, Ford was interested in the regenerative properties of organic materials. In fact, long before it became trendy, Ford saw the need for alternative fuels.
Ford was drawn to Carver’s out-of-the-box thinking. The two visited each other several times through the years, but their relationship reached its pinnacle during World War II. In 1942, Carver arrived at Ford’s Dearborn workshop to develop a synthetic rubber to compensate for wartime shortages. Though their creation never took off, their friendship continued to thrive for many years.