Parents, perhaps hoping to spur their offspring to similar greatness, have named their children George Washington ever since the most famous George Washington rose to prominence as commander of the Continental Army and the nation’s first president. Few other George Washingtons ultimately achieved the original’s stature, although a few perhaps came close. As we mark George Washington’s birth this month (Come to our Washington’s Birthday celebration at Ferry Farm this Saturday!), we share the compelling stories of five notable Americans named George Washington.
George Washington Vanderbilt II was born in 1862 into New York’s wealthy Vanderbilt family. At the age of 27, he began buying vast tracts of land near Asheville, North Carolina. He loved the mountains and wanted to build a grand home among the Blue Ridge. Working with architect Richard Morris Hunt, Vanderbilt planned the house and oversaw construction of the $3,000,000 mansion. He named the home and estate “Biltmore.” Vanderbilt used his vast acreage to help to pioneer scientific forestry and began a forestry school on his estate. His first superintendent of forests was Gifford Pinchot, who became the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service. Vanderbilt died in 1914 in Washington, DC.
George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. was born in Galesberg, Illinois in 1859. He studied engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York. He worked for a series of railroad and mining companies in West Virginia before focusing on bridge-building and structural steel construction. He started G.W.G. Ferris & Company in Pittsburgh and helped build bridges across the Ohio River in that city as well as in Wheeling and Cincinnati. For the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, he designed the Ferris Wheel. “Rising 250 feet above the Midway, carrying thirty-six cars, each with a capacity of some forty passengers, revolving under perfect control, and stable against the strongest winds from Lake Michigan, it excited general attention.” He died in Pittsburgh in 1896.
George Washington De Long was born in New York City in 1844. An American naval officer, he organized and commanded an attempt to reach the North Pole via the Bering Strait. His expedition left San Francisco aboard the Jeanette, a coal-burning steamer also equipped with sails, on July 8, 1879. The Jeanette became trapped in the ice for 22 months before being crushed and forcing the crew to abandon ship. The crew took to three lifeboats. One was lost, one made it to shore but all of its crew died of starvation and exhaustion, and one made it to shore where its crew was rescued. De Long did not survive, dying in Siberia on October 30, 1881. Three years later, debris from the Jeanette was found nearly 3,000 miles away off Greenland’s coast, proving the polar ice was in motion.
George Washington Crile was born in Ohio in 1864. He received his M.D. from what is known today as Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. He was a leading pioneer in surgical medicine during the first half of the 20th century. He dedicated much of his wide-ranging and groundbreaking career to studying the impact of shock on patients undergoing surgery and to developing pioneering ways to treat and combat that shock. He advocated for monitoring blood pressure during surgery and, most importantly, recognized the most effective way to stave off shock was through blood transfusions during operations. He is credited with performing the first direct blood transfusion. Surgical shock’s worst outcome was death so Crile developed resuscitation methods and, in the process, discovered the brain could be deprived of oxygen for only a very few minutes before resuscitation become impossible. In 1921, he and several colleagues founded the Cleveland Clinic, considered one of the world’s foremost medical centers. Furthermore, a pressure suit he developed to prevent surgical shock was adapted to prevent blackout in pilots during World War II. He died in Cleveland in January 1943.
George Washington Carver was born a slave in Missouri in the early 1860s. He attended a series of schools in Kansas and Missouri and graduated from Minneapolis High School in Minneapolis, Kansas. He was rejected from one college because of his race but became the first black student at Iowa State Agricultural College, where he received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. In 1896, Booker T. Washington hired Carver to chair the agricultural department at the Tuskegee Institute, where he remained for half-a-century. As a agricultural scientist, Carver created methods to revive soil exhausted from planting only cotton year after year. These methods centered on rotating cotton with sweet potatoes, peanuts, soybeans, and cowpeas, which restored nitrogen in the soil and provided income for farmers as well. He trained farmers to grow these alternative crops and distributed recipes using these crops to the public to spur demand. His efforts to promote the peanut especially sparked the public’s imagination. He died on January 5, 1942 in Tuskegee, Alabama.
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 “George Washington Vanderbilt.” Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1936. Biography in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/BT2310001556/BIC1?u=crrl&xid=3822e021. Accessed 9 Feb. 2017.
 “George Washington Gale Ferris.” Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1936. Biography in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/BT2310013691/BIC1?u=crrl&xid=3144ffeb. Accessed 9 Feb. 2017.
 “George Washington De Long.” Explorers & Discoverers of the World, Gale, 1993. Biography in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/K1614000095/BIC1?u=crrl&xid=e0125245. Accessed 9 Feb. 2017.
 “George Washington Crile.” Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1973. Biography in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/BT2310015367/BIC1?u=crrl&xid=8dcc7fd9. Accessed 10 Feb. 2017.
 “George Washington Carver.” Contemporary Black Biography, vol. 4, Gale, 1993. Biography in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/K1606000443/BIC1?u=crrl&xid=3bdf1f8b. Accessed 10 Feb. 2017.