Friday, March 16, 2007
Francis Marion "Borax" Smith (1846-1931) - King of Borax
[Family Mausoleum photo from Michael Colbruno]
Francis Marion Smith was an American business magnate and civic builder of Oakland, California. Smith Mountain in Death Valley is named after him.
Smith was born in Richmond, Wisconsin in 1846. At the age of 21, he left Wisconsin to prospect for mineral wealth in the American West.
In 1872, while working as a woodcutter, he discovered a rich supply of ulexite at Teel's Marsh, Nevada. He staked a claim, started a company with his brother Julius, and established a borax works at the edge of the marsh to convert ulexite into borax. In 1877, Scientific American reported that the Smith Brothers shipped their product in a 30-ton load using two large wagons with a third wagon for food and water drawn by a 24-mule team over a 160-mile stretch of desert between Teel's Marsh and Wadsworth, Nevada, some six years before similar twenty mule teams were introduced into Death Valley, California.
In 1884, Smith bought out his brother. He then gained control of all major borax production in western Nevada. In 1890, he acquired William Tell Coleman's borax holdings in Death Valley and consolidated them with his own to form the Pacific Coast Borax Company. Smith's company then established and aggressively promoted the 20-Mule-Team Borax trademark, which was named after the twenty mule teams that had been used to transport borax out of Death Valley by Coleman's company. He also formed the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad to ship his borax.
Smith married and settled in Oakland, California in 1881 where he had an estate constructed across the street from what is today the site of Oakland High School. In nearby Alameda, he built America’s first reinforced concrete building for his Pacific Coast Borax Company's refinery. He also created the Key System, a commuter train, ferry and streetcar system serving the East Bay, with a significant sideline in real estate. He also built Idora Park in Oakland to attract riders to the trolleys on weekends. With his fortune, Smith also purchased an estate on Shelter Island in New York.
Francis Marion Smith died in Oakland in 1931 at the age of 85. He is buried along "Millionaires Row"
The Western Railway Museum's library is named for "Borax" Smith.
A public park in Oakland is also named for him. It occupies a portion of his former estate.
"Borax" Smith is a character in the historical fiction novel Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold
Posted by Michael at 8:15 PM