Carver is best known for promoting wide-ranging uses for peanuts and sweet potatoes, but he tinkered with and developed new uses for virtually anything at hand. For example, on the ground beneath his feet he saw more than just fertile soil; he also saw potential in the rich color of the Alabama clay. Carver extracted pigments from those native red clays, producing natural and inexpensive paints. He shared instructions for making paint from local clays in his extension bulletins, hoping that Southern farmers would use them to help beautify their homes. From native clays, Carver also developed wood stains, face powder and ceramics, according to a 1959 list compiled by the George Washington Carver Museum [source: Iowa State University].
Another crop that interested Carver, perhaps from his days studying at the Iowa State Agricultural College, was the soybean, and his work with the bean foreshadowed the many ways that soy is used in the marketplace today. Carver reportedly produced nondairy cheeses, several baking flours and a collection of other foods from soy.
While much of Carver's work was devoted to promoting alternatives to cotton for Southern farmers, he didn't completely dismiss the plant. At Tuskegee, he experimented with different varieties of cotton and issued bulletins instructing farmers on crop rotation to rejuvenate cotton fields. He also developed cotton fiber for rope, twine and paper, and he even made a road-paving surface from cotton stalks [source: Iowa State University]. A runway at Fort McClellan, Ala., was paved with a cotton surface in 1935, but it's unknown whether Carver deserves credit for that [source: McMurry].
Indeed, few things missed Carver's gaze, as he is credited with making a range of products as varied as concrete reinforcing built from sawdust and wood shavings, synthetic marble and vegetable dyes.
Want to learn even more about George Washington Carver? Read on for lots more information on the man and his inventions.