This Day in History

July 19: This Day in History

Although I’m not a historian, I enjoy studying history, especially relevant history. Then again I guess all history is relevant? By the way, I also enjoy philosophy. But I digress. The story below is taken from Following this story I have some questions and comments.

“On this day in 1942, the agricultural chemist George Washington Carver, head of Alabama’s famed Tuskegee Institute, arrives in Dearborn, Michigan at the invitation of Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company.
Born to slave parents in Missouri during the Civil War, Carver managed to get a high school education while working as a farmhand in Kansas in his late 20s. Turned away by a Kansas university because he was an African American, Carver later became the first black student at Iowa State Agricultural College in Ames, where he obtained his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. In 1896, Carver left Iowa to head the department of agriculture at the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, a school founded by the leading black educator Booker T. Washington. By convincing farmers in the South to plant peanuts as an alternative to cotton, Carver helped resuscitate the region’s agriculture; in the process, he became one of the most respected and influential scientists in the country.
Like Carver, Ford was deeply interested in the regenerative properties of soil and the potential of alternative crops such as peanuts and soybeans to produce plastics, paint, fuel and other products. Ford had long believed that the world would eventually need a substitute for gasoline, and supported the production of ethanol (or grain alcohol) as an alternative fuel. In 1942, he would showcase a car with a lightweight plastic body made from soybeans. Ford and Carver began corresponding via letter in 1934, and their mutual admiration deepened after Carver made a visit to Michigan in 1937. As Douglas Brinkley writes in “Wheels for the World,” his history of Ford, the automaker donated generously to the Tuskegee Institute, helping finance Carver’s experiments, and Carver in turn spent a period of time helping to oversee crops at the Ford plantation in Ways, Georgia.
By the time World War II began, Ford had made repeated journeys to Tuskegee to convince Carver to come to Dearborn and help him develop a synthetic rubber to help compensate for wartime rubber shortages. Carver arrived on July 19, 1942, and set up a laboratory in an old water works building in Dearborn. He and Ford experimented with different crops, including sweet potatoes and dandelions, eventually devising a way to make the rubber substitute from goldenrod, a plant weed. Carver died in January 1943, Ford in April 1947, but the relationship between their two institutions continued to flourish: As recently as the late 1990s, Ford awarded grants of $4 million over two years to the George Washington Carver School at Tuskegee.”

Very inspiring! Personally, I like this story for many reasons, one of which it involves Agriculture. But since this story took place in the 1940’s what makes it “relevant” today? To answer that question I remind you of another piece of history, a much more recent piece of history. Last Friday (July 13, 2012) President Obama said, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen,” To make his point President Obama trumpeted the “virtue” of government. Teachers. Infrastructure. Research. That’s all well and good, but who pays for that great teacher? That road so vital to a business man’s success? That government research? Individuals pay for government. And by individuals I also mean corporations, because after all corporations are people too.

So here’s my final question: What government bureaucrat or agency was busy helping George Washington Carver in 1942?

Here’s my comment: In 1942 while Government was busy enforcing segregation laws, two Individuals were working together for profit and progress!

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