George Washington Carver
George Washington Carver is a scientist and inventor best-known for discovering 100 uses for the peanut, but that's only the tip of the iceberg in his remarkable life. He was born to slaves on a Missouri farm at the close of the Civil War and kidnapped by raiders a week later, becoming an orphan in the process.
Carver's former owners, Moses and Susan Carver, eventually located and returned Carver to the farm of his birth. In the years that followed, Susan Carver taught him to read and write because local schools did not allow black students.
The experience sparked an interest in lifelong learning. Carver self-directed his way through high school and conducted biological experiments of his own design. Eventually, he enrolled in Iowa State Agricultural College's botany program, where he earned a master's degree -- and a reputation as a brilliant scientist, teacher and advocate for farmers. He then became an instructor at the famed Tuskegee Institute, working alongside Booker T. Washington.
In addition to developing crop rotation methods for sharecroppers, many of whom were former slaves, Carver designed a horse-drawn classroom to illustrate his methods firsthand. He also pioneered a series of practical inventions that would make farming more profitable and less dependent on cotton, including more than 100 ways to monetize sweet potatoes, soy beans and peanuts with a conversion into dyes, plastics and fuel.
Carver became an adviser on agricultural matters to President Theodore Roosevelt, and in 1916, one of the few American members of the British Royal Society of Arts. Carver died in 1943, at age 78 [source: Biography].