The Durham Museum



July 30, 2011 - November 6, 2011
What makes a man a legend?  In the case of George Washington Carver it wasn’t just peanuts.  Visitors to the George Washington Carver exhibit will learn about the life and work of an extraordinary man, born into slavery, who used his gifts to become a groundbreaking scientist, educator and humanitarian with a lifelong mission: to bring practical knowledge to those in need.

The exhibit includes more than a hundred artifacts, along with videos, interactive displays, recreated scenes and more.  Visitors will follow along as Carver’s curiosity and persistence take him from a remote frontier town to success as a teacher and researcher at the famed Tuskegee Institute. 

The truth about Carver is much more interesting than the myths.  He was a man with a fascinating life story and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, who overcame tremendous odds to become one of America’s most versatile scientists.  He was a trail-blazing proponent of sustainability, who believed that “nature produces not waste” and neither should man.  He was a humanitarian whose primary goal was, as he put it, “to help the farmer and fill the poor man’s empty dinner pail.” 

“Carver was driven by the needs he saw around him,” says Michael Dillon, chair of the Botany Department at The Field Museum and one of the curators on the Carver exhibition. “His research was very goal oriented.”

One of the ideas that Carver seized upon was crop rotation.  Carver understood that cotton depleted the soil of nitrogen that plants need in order to grow.  He knew that legumes, such as peanuts and peas had a symbiotic relationship with bacteria that could take inert molecules from the atmosphere and convert them into a form that plants can use.

It was a desire to make these alternative crops more useful to farmers and others that led to Carver’s famous work with peanuts, black-eyed peas, and sweet potatoes.  He found hundreds of uses for them including laundry soap, linoleum, wallboard, rubber and cheese. 

“The most important gift Carver gave to people wasn’t any particular product,” Michael Dillon says. “It was the gift of self-worth.”  Carver crossed racial and class boundaries. He gave of himself so that others could become educated, self-sufficient, and proud.  He followed his own vision to improve the lives of others.

This exhibition is organized by The Field Museum in collaboration with Tuskegee University and the National Park Service.

Sponsored by The Durham Society, Douglas County Commissioners, Northern Natural Gas, MidAmerican Energy Company, CBSHOME Real Estate, Dr. C.C. and Mabel L. Criss Memorial Foundation, Monsanto Fund, Lincoln Financial Foundation, U.S. Bank, AGP, and the Steven H. Durham Family Foundation. Additional support provided by Thomas and Aileen Warren.

For more information about this exhibit, visit

Click here to download a George Washington Carver Educator's Guide.