MATHEMATICIAN AND SCIENTIST
CLOCK AND ALAMANAC
The prevailing racist culture could not—and still does not—allow Black scientists and engineers to be credited with their invaluable contributions.
Few people know that the first clock made in the United States, which kept accurate time for 40 years, made entirely of wood, was produced by a Black man in the early 18th century. His name was Benjamin Banneker.
Born into a free family in 1731 in the colony of Maryland, Banneker led an outstanding life of keen observation and achievements, among them the most accurate almanac of its time.
From self-taught astronomical calculations using his handmade clock, he wrote a book predicting storms and seasonal patterns and recommending sowing times. The almanac became widely used throughout the early United States.
The test of his astronomical prowess came when Banneker forecast a solar eclipse for April 14, 1789. In doing so, he contradicted the two most renowned astronomers of the day, who said no such eclipse would occur. On that day, the sky darkened at precisely the time he forecast.
But another Benjamin, surnamed Franklin, is the one known in U.S. history for his almanac, although he did not make his own astronomical calculations.
These are only two of Banneker’s contributions. Until recently, there has been no statue or monument to Benjamin Banneker in the United States. A monument to him is finally due for completion in 2010 in Washington, D.C.
George Washington Carver devised over 100 products using one of these crops—the peanut—including dyes, plastics and gasoline. He died in 1943.
George Washington Carver Born into slavery in 1864 in Missouri, Because formal school was not available for Black people in that part of Diamond Missouri, Carver left on foot to find a school eight miles away at the age of 10, and later went to Kansas. Through his p rimary, secondary and college studies, Carver paid for school through various jobs, such as a janitor and a cook, graduating at the age of 20 from high school.. Most school children can recite one of his most celebrated contributions, the production of hundreds of products from peanuts. But the hardships he endured as a child are almost unknown.
Carver’s whose discoveries revolutionized agriculture, is the best known African American scientist, especially in the South. His botanical discoveries and inventions rescued farmers from ruin when he recommended the use of NITRAT-PRODUCING LEGUMES to combat soil exhaustion from growing cotton.
His deep insight into botany came from his wonderment of plants in the fields around his home. Carver best described his love of plants as a young boy: “And many were the tears I had shed because I would break the roots or flowers of some of my pets while removing them from the ground, and strange to say all sorts of vegetation seemed to thrive under my touch. … At this time I had never heard of botany and could scarcely read.”
In his 47 years’ teaching at Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute for Negroes in Alabama, Carver showed Southern farmers how to rotate crops from the nitrate-replenishing plants like peanuts, clover and peas with cotton.
For Carver’s hundreds of scientific discoveries, he sought only three patents, preferring to use his knowledge to help society. Many hundreds of African American students learned at his side in Tuskegee.
Booker T. Washington convinced Carver to move to Alabama as Director of Agriculture at the ‘Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute for Negroes’ in 1896. Arriving in Alabama in 1897, Carver advised local cotton farmers to rotate their fields with soil enriching crops; peanuts, peas, soybeans, and sweet potatoes. Farmers were unable to comply because banks would only loan seed money to grow cotton.
Cotton was king in the south until the boll weevil decimated the crop in the early 1900’s. The boll weevil invaded all USA cotton crops by 1922, forcing southern US farmers and investors to embrace peanuts, soybeans, and sweet potatoes. George Washington Carver’s inventions using these three crops created profitable new markets for them.
In 1916, Coffee County agent John Pittman, and cotton merchant/banker Moultrie Sessions encouraged farmers in Coffee County, Alabama to grow peanuts. The transition from cotton farming to peanut farming created a profitable new era in southeast Alabama that benefited the soil, farmers, consumers, and the local communities throughout the 20th century.