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George Washington Carver Did Not Invent Peanut Butter

Today I found out. contrary to popular belief, George Washington Carver did not invent peanut butter.   The earliest reference to peanut butter being made goes all the way back to the Ancient Incas and the Aztecs, though whether they were the first or not isn’t known (peanuts themselves are known to have been cultivated as far back as 7000-8000 years ago).  Since then, peanut butter has been “invented” numerous times by various individuals throughout history.

Although Carver didn’t invent peanut butter, he did play a significant role in popularizing it and his 1880 “invention” of peanut butter preceded most of the other modern “inventors” of peanut butter.  Carver was one of the greatest inventors in American history, discovering over 300 hundred uses for peanuts with100 or so of those not being related to one another in terms of the end product produced; he also discovered hundreds of uses for soybeans, pecans, and sweet potatoes.

Among the various products he created from peanuts, pecans, soybeans, sweet potatoes, and a few other types of plants were:

  • Antiseptic soaps
  • Face bleach and tanning lotions
  • Various other cosmetic products such as face powders and creams
  • Shaving cream
  • Shampoo
  • Dyes
  • Paints
  • Wood stains
  • Chicken food specialized to increase egg production in hens
  • Milk substitute from soybeans and peanuts
  • Emulsion for Bronchitis
  • Laxatives
  • Goiter treatments
  • Axle grease
  • Charcoal from peanut shells
  • Diesel fuel
  • Gasoline fuel
  • Lamp oil
  • Insecticide
  • Linoleum
  • Lubricating oil
  • Nitroglycerin
  • Colored paper
  • Printer’s ink
  • Plastics from soybeans
  • Synthetic Rubber
  • Laundry soap
  • Synthetic marble
  • Paving blocks from cotton

Among his peanut inventions were:

  • 19 types of leather dyes
  • 18 types of insulating boards
  • 11 types of wall boards
  • 17 types of wood stains
  • 11 types of peanut flours
  • 30 types of cloth dyes
  • 50 types of food products

Among his sweet potato related inventions were:

  • 73 types of dye
  • 17 types of wood fillers
  • 14 types of candy
  • 5 types of library paste
  • 5 types of breakfast foods
  • 4 types of starches
  • 4 types of flour
  • 3 types of molasses

Bonus Facts:

  • Some of the more interesting food related products Carver was able to make from peanuts were: cocoa substitute; mayonnaise; dehydrated milk flakes; cheese; instant coffee; asparagus substitute; pepper;  meat substitutes including Mock Goose, Mock Chicken, Mock Oyster, Mock Pig,  and Mock Veal.
  • Joseph L. Rosenfield in 1928 invented the churning process that gives peanut butter the smooth texture we have today.  He originally licensed this process to Pond Company, who makes Peter Pan peanut butter.  In 1932, he started his own peanut butter company which he named Skippy.
  • Carver did not patent the vast majority of his inventions; in fact, he only patented three.  He believed his discoveries with food products were all gifts from God.   “God gave them to me.”  He would say about his ideas, “How can I sell them to someone else?”
  • In 1940, three years before his death, Carver donated his life savings of $60,000 to the establishment of the Carver Research Foundation at Tuskegee, which is an organization dedicated to continuing research in agriculture.
  • The epitaph on the grave of Carver reads as follows: “He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world.”
  • Not only did he not patent most of his discoveries, Carver once turned down a job to work for Thomas Edison for an annual salary of $100,000 (in today’s currency that would be around 1 million dollars a year), because Edison would have not made the inventions Carver came up with, while he worked there, free to the public.  Carver wanted his inventions available for anyone to use at no cost.
  • Carver also liked to make his discoveries easy for other people to reproduce, including farmers, many of whom were barely literate.  He published many pamphlets giving instructions for farmers to make such things as adhesives, axle grease, bleach, buttermilk, chili sauce, fuel briquettes, instant coffee, inks, meat tenderizers, metal polish, paper, plastics, pavement, synthetic rubber, wood stain, etc.
  • The three patents Carver did apply for were #1,522,176, 1/6/1925, Cosmetics & Plant Products;  #1,541,478, 6/9/1925, Paints & Stains; #1,632,365, 6/14/1927, Paints & Stains
  • Peanut butter is made by:
    • First roasting the peanuts at around 240 degrees Celsius (464 degrees Fahrenheit).  At this stage the peanuts turn from white to light brown.
    • The peanuts are then cooled rapidly so that they don’t continue to cook and so that the natural oils remain in the peanut.
    • They are then blanched with the blancher machine removing the skins and splitting the kernels and removing the heart at the center.  The skins are typically then sold for pig food and the hearts for bird food.
    • The split peanut kernels are then dropped into a grinder where they are slowly ground into a paste.  This is done slowly to make sure the peanuts don’t heat up too much in the grinding process.
    • Additional ingredients are then added to the peanut paste, such as sugar, salt, and hydrogenated vegetable oil.  The purpose of the vegetable oil is to make it so the natural peanut oils do not separate from the butter; though, in some brands of peanut butter, you will still see this happen at times, as with one of the creamier brands of peanut butter, Peter Pan.
  • Despite peanut butter not needing refrigerated, most major brands of peanut butter do not contain any preservatives.
  • Over 50% of all peanuts grown in the United States are used for making peanut butter and other

    peanut spreads.

  • Carver played a huge role in the recovery of the South’s economy, which had formerly been based primarily on the production of cotton and tobacco, which depleted soils and had the secondary side effect of having near the entire southern economy based on just two crops; one of which was being threatened by weevils in Carver’s time.
  • It was Carver who developed a system for rotating specific crops in the South which would allow for the fields to be used in a sustainable fashion and provided a more diverse income source for farmers.  This rotation included alternating nitrate producing legumes, such as peanuts and peas, with cotton.  He later discovered that pecans and sweet potatoes also enriched the depleted soils and so proceeded to recommend those in the rotation.  *note: crop rotation methods have been around for thousands of years.  Carver simply put forth a specific system which would allow the South to still grow cotton and tobacco in large quantities, while at the same time be able to grow other crops to sell that would replenish the soil with the nutrients the cotton and tobacco used up.
  • He then successfully campaigned to get the farmers to use this system.  After that, he invented numerous ways for these crops to be used to make them valuable things to grow; such as with peanuts, which previously were not a valuable crop outside of being used for feed for livestock.  With the South now producing significantly more peanuts than was needed at the time, it created a massive surplus and the prices plummeted.  Not to be deterred, Carver then proceeded to discover over 300 uses of peanuts that made the crops valuable once again.   He did the same thing for sweet potatoes and pecans; this all then created a huge market for these products that the southern farmers were now growing in-mass.  By the time of Carver’s death, peanuts alone had gone from a rarely grown crop, to one of the six largest crops produced in America.
  • Carver also developed many cures and preventative measures for stopping various fungi from killing plants, such as cherry plants.  In the process, he discovered two new types of fungus that now bear his name.
  • Carver’s significant aid to the country didn’t stop there.  During WWI, when textile dyes that had previously been imported from Europe were in short supply, he managed to produce over 500 shades of dye from products such as soybeans and peanuts, which were readily available in America.  This didn’t just help the textile companies, but also diverted cash that used to go to Europe from America, but now went to American farmers.
  • Also during WWI, his method for creating synthetic rubber from goldenrod, which is a weed, was a huge boon to the United States Army.  Carver had developed this method with Henry Ford, whom he was close friends with.
  • When Carver’s health declined in 1937, Henry Ford had an elevator installed for Carver in his home as Carver could no longer use stairs.
  • The area in Diamond Grove, Missouri, where George Washington Carver grew up, is now preserved as a park.  It was the first national monument in the United States dedicated to an American with black skin.
  • Carver’s fame skyrocketed after being selected by the United Peanut Association of America to speak to the U.S. House of Representatives on the issue of peanut tariffs.  Initially, he was mocked, primarily by southern congressmen; but by the end of his speech, he was given a standing ovation.  His eloquence and intelligence during this speech endeared him both to the congressman and the general public.
  • During his lifetime, Carver was often mocked by other scientists for his steadfast Christian beliefs and the fact that he believed God guided his research.  This frequent criticism also aided in his rise to fame, as the general public viewed these criticisms as an attack on religion.
  • Carver compiled a list of eight cardinal virtues for all his students to try to emulate.  These were:
    • Be clean both inside and out.
    • Neither look up to the rich nor down on the poor.
    • Lose, if need be, without squealing.
    • Win without bragging.
    • Always be considerate of women, children, and older people.
    • Be too brave to lie.
    • Be too generous to cheat.
    • Take your share of the world and let others take theirs.
  • George Washington Carver was born in 1864, near the end of the Civil War, in Missouri, at the farm of Moses Carver, who owned George’s mother Mary and father Giles.  Moses Carver had purchased Mary and Giles for $700 in 1855.  His mother and he were kidnapped by Civil War raiders and sent to Arkansas.  Moses Carver hired John Bentley to find George and reclaimed him by swapping a racehorse for him, but his mother was never found.  George was raised by Moses and Susan Carver as if he were their own son.  George struggled to get a proper education, owing to the color of his skin, but eventually found a schoolhouse and later, at the age of 30, a University that would take him. He was the first black man at Iowa State University.
  • Carver earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1897 from Iowa State University and a Master of Botany and Agriculture in 1897.  He then became a member of the faculty at Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanics and later at the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute for Negroes, where he remained until his death in 1943.  While there however, he was frequently known to tender his resignation for various reasons, generally stemming from wounded pride.
  • Early in life, Carver had a mysterious illness that made him somewhat frail.  He was not expected to live into adulthood.  All 10 of his sisters and his one brother died prematurely from similar ailments.
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