“Events of October 1962 indicated, as they had all through history, that control of the sea means security. Control of the seas can mean peace. Control of the seas can mean victory. The United States must control the seas if it is to protect your security…”
President John F. Kennedy, 6 June 1963, on board USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63).
The Power of Polaris
In the early 1960’s control of the seas also included providing an overwhelming force of submarines that would be able to project a powerful deterrent in a world increasingly filled with nuclear weapons. The missiles and long range aircraft of both Soviet and the west were an ever present threat to the very future of the world. There was no room for error or half measures in this high stakes game. And so it was that the United States pushed forward with the Polaris program.
What would end up being known as the Benjamin Franklin Class was the newest and most powerful version of the ballistic missile submarine to date. Quieter than its predecessors, these boats were built to carry heavier payloads and stay underwater for longer periods.
The name for the latest submarine would be a respected name in American history. George Washington Carver overcame incredible odds to rise to a level of prominence that surely earned him a place in the collection of Eminent Americans that Admiral Rickover wrote about in his book of the same name.
“NAMED FOR George W. Carver, a botanist and chemurgist renowned in the annals of American scientiﬁc agriculture. The child of slaves, he did not know the day of his birth. Even the year is not certain, but he thought it was 1860. Where he was born, however, is not in doubt. In 1943, shortly after he died at Tuskegee Institute, Ala., both Houses of Congress passed, without a dissenting vote, a bill authorizing erection of a national monument at his birthplace in Diamond Grove, Mo. In fourscore years, George W. Carver had come a long way and accomplished a great deal.
None of it had come easy. His start in life was most inauspicious. A sickly infant, orphaned before he was a year old, it seemed unlikely he would survive. He lost his father in an accident and soon after was kidnaped, together with his mother and sister, by marauding nightriders. Those were lawless times. Stealing slaves for sale to plantations in the Deep South was not uncommon. But George Carver was such a puny baby that the kidnapers had no use for him, and so his master was able to get him released in return for a race horse valued at $300. Of mother and sister nothing was ever heard.
Hard as it was to be a slave child without kith or kin, by great good fortune his master Moses Carver (from whom he took his surname) was not a typical planter but a plain farmer, one of the so-called “Black Republican abolitionist Germans,” or “lop-eared Dutch,” as they were contemptuously called, who had migrated to Missouri in the 1830’s. He was opposed to slavery, but he and his wife were childless and middle-aged; they needed help and servants were not to be had. So Moses bought a slave girl from a neighbor for $700. After she had been abducted, he took it upon himself to raise her small son.
Slavery ended when the boy was 4 years old but he remained with the Carvers and was treated much as any other farm boy. There was a lot of work to be done and George was expected to do his share. He was an especially apt pupil in all the domestic chores around the house and showed early that he had a way with growing things. People called him “plant doctor” for he could cure any ailing plant; he seemed to know instinctively what it needed in order to grow.
The boy was born with a keen mind, fantastically clever hands and so great a thirst for knowledge that no obstacle could bar him from obtaining an education. Of rebuffs he suffered many, but he was also often given a helping hand. The free school nearby was barred to him, whereupon Mrs. Carver gave him an old blue-back speller and with her help he taught himself to read and write. Thereafter he was hardly ever without a book in his hand. He would prop it up while he washed and ironed, these being some of the chores that earned him a living while he gradually accumulated school credits.
At 10 he decided he must ﬁnd a school and so he left the Carvers, all his possessions in a small bundle over his shoulder. Thus began an odyssey that was to take him in short stages northward geographically and upward educationally. At several critical times during his 30-year quest for an education, luck or his pleasing personality, or perhaps a combination of both, brought him into contact with warmhearted childless couples who gave him the concern and care usually found only in one’s own family. With a few he stayed but he was never a burden. He earned his keep for he was a prodigious worker, determined never to accept charity.
George Carver literally inched himself up the educational ladder, working his way not just through college but through grade and high school as well, working all the time to support himself. He was 20 before he got to high school, 25 when he graduated. Highland University accepted his credentials but when he presented himself, he was told Negroes were not admitted. He was 30 when he ﬁnally entered Simpson College in Iowa. A year later, he entered Iowa State University, graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1894. Invited to become a member of the staff in charge of systematic botany, the bacteriological laboratories and the greenhouse, he continued his studies and received a Master of Science degree in 1896. That year, he was invited by Booker T. Washington to organize and direct a new agriculture department at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. There he remained the rest of his life.”
Overcoming prejudice and poverty, he eagerly seized every opportunity to acquire an education. He studied agricultural science at Iowa State College, graduating in 1894 and receiving a Master of Science degree 2 years later. After serving briefly on the faculty there, he joined Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, where he headed the Agricultural Department.
In the ensuing years, his achievements in the fields of soil conservation, crop diversification, and utilization of southern plants and crops won him worldwide acclaim. He is remembered for the ingenuity which enabled him to discover some 300 new and useful products from the peanut, over 100 from the sweet potato, and about 60 from the pecan. He also found new uses from cotton, cowpeas and wild plums. He selflessly refused offers of fortunes for the commercial exploitation of his discoveries, choosing rather to give them freely to mankind.
An indefatigable researcher and inventor, George Washington Carver died in Tuskegee, Ala., 5 January 1943.
About the boat:
USS George Washington Carver (SSBN-656), a Benjamin Franklin class fleet ballistic missile submarine, was the second ship of the United States Navy to be named for George Washington Carver (1865–1943), an American researcher and inventor.
Name: USS George Washington Carver SSBN 656
Namesake: George Washington Carver (1865–1943), an American researcher and inventor
Awarded: 29 July 1963
Builder: Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, Newport News, Virginia
Laid down: 24 August 1964
Launched: 14 August 1965
Sponsored by: Miss Marian Anderson (1897-1993)
Commissioned: 15 June 1966
Decommissioned: 18 March 1993
Struck: 18 March 1993
Motto: Strength Through Knowledge
Class and type: Benjamin Franklin class fleet ballistic missile submarine
Displacement: 7,300 long tons (7,417 t) surfaced
8,250 long tons (8,382 t) submerged
Length: 425 ft (130 m)
Beam: 33 ft (10 m)
Draft: 33 ft (10 m)
Installed power: 15,000 shp (11,185 kW)
Propulsion: One S5W pressurized-water nuclear reactor, two geared steam turbines, one shaft
Speed: Over 20 knots
Test depth: 1,300 feet (400 m)
Complement: Two crews (Blue Crew and Gold Crew) of 100 officers and enlisted men each
Armament: 16 ballistic missile tubes with one Polaris, later Poseidon, ballistic missile each
4 × 21 inches (530 mm) torpedo tubes
Following shakedown George Washington Carver prepared for her role as one of the Navy’s nuclear-powered Polaris submarines silently and invisibly roving the seas as a mighty deterrent against aggression preserving peace and protecting freedom.
Her first patrol began 12 December 1966.
Decommissioned and stricken from the Navy list on March 18, 1993, the GEORGE WASHINGTON CARVER subsequently entered the Navy’s Nuclear Powered Ship and Recycling Program at Bremerton, Washington. Recycling was finished on March 21, 1994.
The boat played a key role in defending America. The men who sailed on her are the heroes of their age for the sacrifices they and their families made.