Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site | GEORGE WASHINGTON CARVER MUSEUM

George Washington Carver Museum and Visitor Center

George Washington Carver Museum and Visitor Center

GENERAL INFORMATION

The George Washington Carver Museum is one of two buildings within Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site that is owned by the National Park Service. In addition to a museum, it also serves as the park’s visitor center. It is located on Campus Road near the corner of Booker T. Washington Boulevard (near the main entrance into Tuskegee University). Parking is available in the Kellogg Center’s parking deck next door, but there is a fee. You can also park in the National Historic Site’s official parking lot next to The Oaks at 1200 West Montgomery Street. Since you’ll eventually want to visit both buildings, no matter where you park you will have to walk. The distance between the two buildings is .3 mile.


OPERATING HOURS

The George Washington Carver Museum and Visitor Center is open Monday through Saturday from 9 AM to 4:30 PM. It is closed on Sundays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

Inside the George Washington Carver Museum

Inside the George Washington Carver Museum

AMENITIES

  • Ranger-staffed information desk where you can pick up a park brochure
  • Meeting place for a guided tour of The Oaks
  • Museum dedicated to George Washington Carver
  • Book and souvenir store
  • Restrooms
George Washington Carver Museum book and souvenir store

George Washington Carver Museum book and souvenir store

GEORGE WASHINGTON CARVER MUSEUM

Exhibits at the George Washington Carver Museum

Exhibits at the George Washington Carver Museum

When Booker T. Washington came to the Normal School for Colored Teachers at Tuskegee shortly after its creation in 1881, his goal was to educate future teachers with practical knowledge so they could venture out into the black community and teach the people how to earn a living. Since most of the former slaves were farmers and blue collar laborers, the initial focus of the school was on industrial training and agriculture. Washington, a segregationist, set out to recruit only the brightest minds in the black academic world. He hired George Washington Carver, a promising botanist from Iowa State College, to head the Agriculture Department in 1896.

Carver is best known for his work with the peanut, but he invented commercial byproducts from many vegetables (he did not invent peanut butter, as popular lore has it). Taking the proverb “Necessity is the mother of invention” to heart, Carver created and invented in order to help the poor people in the black community. As a young man, he was constantly coming up with uses for discarded items, helping people to recycle some of their own garbage into usable household items. He was driven to invent things out of cheaply available resources so that everyone, regardless of wealth, could afford the benefits.

Industrial products made from peanuts

Industrial products made from peanuts

Carver was born a slave in the early 1860s (his birth date is unknown) near present day Diamond, Missouri, but was raised by kind slave owners. When he was less than one year old, George, his sister, and his mother were kidnapped by slave raiders: men who poached slaves off of plantations and then sold them in other states. His owner, Moses Carver, hired a man to find George and his family, but he was only able to locate George. After slavery was abolished, Moses and his wife, Susan, raised George and his brother—who had escaped the raiders—as their own.

George was a sickly child and unable to perform much manual labor, so he spent his time in the forest collecting rocks and plants. The museum showcases part of his extensive collection. He also loved to draw and paint. Through his experiments with soil and clay he was able to create his own paints, even going so far as to make sample color swatches to help poor people pick colors to decorate their homes. They could even make the paints themselves from local resources.

Decorative color palettes developed by Carver

Decorative color palettes developed by Carver

Realizing that George was a very intelligent boy, the Carvers encouraged him to get an education, and in 1877 he left to study at a school for blacks near Neosho, Missouri, paying his way by doing odd jobs. After this school, he moved to Fort Scott, Kansas, again working various jobs to pay his way through school. Once completing what was then the equivalent of high school today, he moved around Kansas and Iowa, eventually entering Simpson College (Iowa) in 1890 to study art. Though the school allowed anyone to enter, George was the only black student on campus.

While at Simpson, his professor thought he had more talent with plants than with art and suggested he transfer to Iowa State College, the premier agricultural college in the United States. He received his undergraduate degree at Iowa and stayed on for post-graduate work, receiving a Masters degree in science in 1896. He was then invited to join the Iowa State faculty as an assistant biologist, and it was here that Booker T. Washington learned of him and invited him to teach at Tuskegee. Carver remained at Tuskegee for the rest of his career—as a teacher until around 1910 and then mainly as a researcher.

The George Washington Carver Museum had been around long before the National Park came into the picture in 1974. The building was originally the laundry facility for the school. In 1938, college President Frederick Patterson requested that a Carver museum be created. It was dedicated in 1941 by Henry Ford, who had also donated much of the money for the museum. Carver also maintained a laboratory on the bottom floor.

In 1947, a fire destroyed a large portion of the museum, including most of Carver’s paintings. Those saved were heavily damaged by water and smoke.

Water damaged painting that survived the 1947 fire

Water damaged painting that survived the 1947 fire

Today’s exhibits cover the entire life of Carver, from boyhood until his death. In addition to information panels and archival photographs, there are many actual artifacts from Carver’s life, such as equipment he used, parts of his various collections of natural resources, and facsimiles of his personal and business correspondence.

Early typewriter owned by Carver

Early typewriter owned by Carver

Letters to Carver

Letters to Carver

Peanut-based product advertised as conforming to Carver's recipe

Peanut-based product advertised as conforming to Carver’s recipe

A restored truck used for Tuskegee’s mobile school is also on display. Carver used the trucks to send teachers from the school out to the farmers around the area to help educate them on modern farming techniques.

Tuskegee Institute's Mobile School truck

Tuskegee Institute’s Mobile School truck

The Carver’s Environmental Laboratory exhibit covers his agriculture innovations through information panels, video presentations, and other interactive tools.

Carver's Environmental Laboratory exhibit

Carver’s Environmental Laboratory exhibit

Carver's Environmental Laboratory exhibit

Carver’s Environmental Laboratory exhibit

SCHEDULING YOUR TIME

To read and see everything in the Carver Museum, one of the larger National Park Service museums, takes about 1.5 hours. Most people, however, browse through the exhibits in about 15 minutes or so.

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Last updated on February 21, 2020
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