February 7, 2007

Borden

And the man behind the brand is...
Gail Borden

For much of his life Gail Borden drifted through early 19th century America waiting for the times to catch up with his creative mind. Borden was born in New York state in 1801 and worked his way to Texas as a surveyor, school teacher, farmer and customs collector. In Texas he became one of the leaders along with Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin in the movement that freed the region from Mexican rule. Working as a newspaper publisher he penned the famous headline "Remember The Alamo!"

Borden was of intensely religious Puritan stock and turned to invention to better serve God by improving living conditions. He battled yellow fever with ether, invented the Lazy Susan, and devised a "terraqueous machine" - a prairie schooner with sails to use in crossing rivers. It was the forerunner of amphibious vehicles used in World War II 100 years later but when he demonstrated his sail-powered wagon it overturned, dumping his select group of guests into the Gulf of Mexico fifty feet from shore.

He developed a meat biscuit that was all but inedible but he believed it would be the ideal food for the army, navy and explorers. The tasteless biscuit was a commercial failure and he lost between $60,000 and $100,000 but it was hailed as a scientific breakthrough and Borden sailed to England to accept an award. On the journey back he watched horrified as children died from drinking contaminated milk.

While futilely promoting his meat biscuit Borden began experiments with condensing milk. In 1853 he developed a milk of good flavor with excellent keeping qualities. Borden thought it was the condensing that kept the milk fresh for long periods of time. In fact it was the high temperatures he employed that destroyed disease-carrying bacteria as the world would later learn from Dr. Pasteur. Borden had produced not only the first condensed milk but the first "pasteurized" milk as well.

He applied for a patent which was finally granted three years later. Gail Borden was 55 years old. He had a patent but he had no market, no money, no credit. He persuaded one man, on the strength of a handshake and his earnestness, to give him use of equipment in his Wolcottville, Connecticut factory. The company failed. So did another.

On a train trip home to New York the gregarious Borden struck up a conversation with the stranger sitting opposite him. By the time the two men stepped off the train Borden had a backer for the New York Condensed Milk Company. His factory was a small mill in the town of Burrville, Connecticut.

The nation was finally fed up with dangerous, unclean milk. Condensed milk caught on quickly. Borden's company, the oldest national dairy business, solidified during the Civil War with orders from the government to feed the Union Army. After the war his milk fueled a migration west, just as he himself had made 50 years earlier.
Borden was involved in every facet of his operation. He visited dairy farms, lectured plant workers on sanitation, and worked alongside the mechanics on the machinery. He solicited orders. He could often be seen sweeping floors and cleaning windows.

Borden died in 1874 at the age of 73. The next year his sons took the company into fluid milk and eventually Borden would bring milk into more homes than any other firm in the world. Gail Borden had selected his burial site several years before his death, choosing a shady knoll in Woodlawn Cemetery which he marked with a huge granite milk can. The can was replaced with his epitaph: "I tried and failed, I tried again and again, and succeeded."

1 comment:

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