Views of the Borax Industry, ca. 1898-ca. 1915

Processed by Katherine Ruiz.
The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, California 94720-6000

Views of the Borax Industry, ca. 1898-ca. 1915

BANC PIC 1905.17174--PIC

The Bancroft Library

University of California

Berkeley, California 1997
Finding aid and digital representations of archival materials funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
    Processed and encoded by:
    California Heritage Digital Image Access Project staff in The Bancroft Library and The Library's Electronic Text Unit
    Digital images processed by:
    The Library Photographic Service
    Finding aid completed:
    December 1996
© 1997 The Regents of the University of California

Collection Summary

Collection Title: Views of the Borax Industry,
Date: ca. 1898-ca. 1915
Collection Number: BANC PIC 1905.17174--PIC
Creator: Pacific Coast Borax Company
Extent: 49 photographic prints ; 20 x 25 cm. 49 digital objects
Repository: The Bancroft Library. University of California, Berkeley.
Berkeley, California 94720-6000
Languages Represented: English

Information for Researchers


Collection is available for use.

Publication Rights

Copyright has not been assigned to The Bancroft Library. All requests for permission to publish photographs must be submitted in writing to the Curator of Pictorial Collections. Permission for publication is given on behalf of The Bancroft Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.
Copyright restrictions also apply to digital representations of the original materials. Use of digital files is restricted to research and educational purposes.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], Views of the borax industry, ca. 1898-ca. 1915, BANC PIC 1905.17174--PIC, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Digital Representations Available

Digital representations of selected original pictorial materials are available in the list of materials below. Digital image files were prepared from selected Library originals by the Library Photographic Service. Library originals were copied onto 35mm color transparency film; the film was scanned and transferred to Kodak Photo CD (by Custom Process); and the Photo CD files were color-corrected and saved in JFIF (JPEG) format for use as viewing files.

Administrative Information

Acquisition Information



The Pacific Coast Borax Company was founded in 1890 by Francis Marion Smith, who created the company from an amalgamation of several holdings and mine sites in Death Valley, California, and Nevada, and other sites along the Nevada-California border. The company mined for colemanite - a type of borax which was borate of lime. Colemanite contains a higher boron oxide content than other types of borax, a material found in crystal form which is used to work and weld gold. Boron products can also be used in glass manufacturing and as a plant nutrient.
In 1889, a New York office of the Pacific Coast Borax Company was opened, run by J. W. Mather and his son, Stephen, who opened a Chicago office as well. The Mathers were deemed responsible for the use of the "20 Mule Team" as the trademark of the Pacific Coast Borax Company. Francis Marion Smith went to England in 1896 and discovered an English food preservative company which used borax and boric acid. Smith soon signed an agreement with the English company creating The Pacific Borax and Redwood's Chemical Works, Ltd., in which the Pacific Coast Borax Company agreed to sell all its assets to the new organization. The company created a factory in the New York area which proved successful as a liaison between London and the California and Nevada sites.
In 1899, Borax Consolidated, Limited was created in order to search for other sources of raw material besides those in California, and to expand the foreign refining operations. The new company had absorbed Pacific Borax and Redwood's Chemical Works. The company continued expanding operations in the southwestern United States with the construction of railroads, which began replacing the 20 Mule Teams. Improved production methods kept prices down and introduced a great variety of borate materials to the market. In 1915 the company acquired the site of the present refinery, at Wilmington, California.
( Source: Woodman, Ruth C. The Story of the Pacific Coast Borax Co. Compiled by Ruth C. Woodman ; designed by Ann Rosener. [Los Angeles]: Borax Consolidated Limited, 1951.)

Scope and Content

This collection consists of 49 photographic prints of views of the borax industry in California and New Jersey, ca. 1898-ca. 1915. The photographers are unknown. The photographs were probably produced or commissioned by the Pacific Coast Borax Company. The cover and printed captions which are included with the photographs were apparently part of an album which was disbound. Included are images of activities and facilities of the Pacific Coast Borax Co., various "20 Mule Team Borax" products, the Bayonne refinery (interiors and exteriors) in New Jersey, lab procedures, equipment, and women working in the packing room. Also included are views of the company's mine in Death Valley, California, borax miners, and 20 mule teams transporting the borax products. Typewritten captions are pasted below the photographs and are reprinted in the container listing.

Container Listing


:1 Bayonne Refinery, looking at front of building from the dock, showing warehouse in the foreground and trestle.


:2 Bayonne Refinery - north side of building.


:3 Bayonne Refinery - west view of building showing Glycerine Lye tanks in the foreground.


:4 Engine room Bayonne Refinery which develops power and light to operate the plant.


:5 Boiler room Bayonne Refinery, with a capacity of 2000 H. P.


:6 Storage bunkers Bayonne Refinery where Borate of lime and coal are received from canal boats and stored.


:7 Laboratory Bayonne Refinery where analyses of the Crude material and other working tests of the process are worked out.


:8 Mill room in Bayonne Refinery where the Crude material is crushed and ground.


:9 Filler press room Bayonne Refinery where the liquor is leeched from the residue Lime which forms a part of the process.


:10 This shows Borax crystallizing tanks, the method of crystallizing and the men removing the finished product from the tanks.


:11 Showing Refined Borax in cars after it has been taken from the crystallizing tanks. It is then broken from the wire hangers, put throught [sic] rolls and run up to storage bins.


:12 Mill at the Bayonne Refinery for grinding Borax into powder which is afterwards put into barrels and packages.


:13 Borax Glass room Bayonne Refinery showing the Borax Glass in lump form in the background and the mill for grinding Borax Glass in the foreground and the finished product is shown on the left-hand side of the picture.


:14 Packing room Bayonne Refinery showing 20 Mule Team Package Borax and other cartons being folded on machines prior to being filled with the various 20 Mule Team Products.


:15 Filling and weighing machines where 20 Mule Team Borax is packed into cartons by automatic machinery.


:16 Boric Acid crystallizing room in the Bayonne Refinery showing the Boric Acid in process of crystallization and also showing the finished product in the hands of a workman.


:17 Boric Acid powdering mill in Bayonne Refinery showing the packing of powdered Boric Acid into barrels. Crystal Boric and Granulated Boric are also packed into barrels in this same room.


:18 Stripping room Soap Department Bayonne Refinery showing the method of removing the sides and ends of Soap frames after the soap has cooled.


:19 Slabbing and cutting tables Soap Dept. Bayonne Refinery showing the frames of soap cut into slabs by machine on the left, which are then sent to the cutting table shown at the right-hand side of the table, where the slabs are cut into bars and sent to the tunnels for drying.


:20 Press room Soap Dept. Bayonne Refinery showing tunnels where the soap is dried before going to the presses. The presses are in the foregound. After the soap is pressed it is put on a belt and delivered to the wrapping room.


:21 Soap Wrapping Room, Bayonne Refinery, showing automatic machine for wrapping soap. This machine wraps 115 cakes a minute. The girls place the soap in cases which are afterwards nailed up and sent down in the elevator in the background to the Shipping Room below.


:22 Soap chipping room Soap Dept. Bayonne Refinery showing man feeding soap into soap chipping machine which cuts the soap into chips which are delivered into barrels on the floor below.


:23 Stock room Bayonne Refinery showing the various products ready for shipment.


:24 Electric railway Bayonne Refinery showing a train load of 20 Mule Team Products being sent to the dock for shipment to all parts of the country.


:25 Borax Refinery at Alameda, Cal. on the shore of San Francisco Bay.


:26 Wash-pans in the Alameda refinery where the crude mineral is washed for all the Borax it contains.


:27 View of the Crystallizing Room in the Alameda refinery.


:28 Another view of the Crystallizing Room in the Alameda refinery.


:29 Showing the Mill for powdering borax and the method of preparing it for shipment in barrels.


:30 The famous 20 Mule Team crossing the desert.


:31 A fine picture of the Mojave desert in California, over which the 20 Mule Team made regular trips from the mine to the railroad.


:32 Showing the 20 Mule Team resting at one of the camps on the way.


:33 A portion of Death Valley, Cal., showing Mount Blanco, the great borax deposit. This is the white mountain in the center of the picture.


:34 The Pacific Coast Borax Company's office in Death Valley, near Mount Blanco.


:35 Showing a salt marsh in Death Valley, over which it is practically impossible to cross with safety.


:36 Showing the grave of some prospector or teamster who perished in Death Valley.


:37 A remnant of an old emigrant's outfit left by the emigrants who perished while attempting to cross Death Valley in 1850.


:38 The remains of some ill-fated ox who perished in an alkali flat.


:39 Showing the superintendent of the mines in Death Valley approaching the works. The white streak showing in the distance is alkali.


:40 This shows a pile of crude borate mineral near Death Valley Borax Works.


:41 Grease-wood material used for fuel in Death Valley.


:42 Greenland Ranch, an oasis in the desert. The property of the Pacific Coast Borax Company in Death Valley.


:43 A party of prospectors on the desert searching for Borax.


:44 A view of one of the Borax mines during the days of the 20 Mule Team.


:45 A Borax miner about to enter his home in an abandoned tunnel. Note the miner's candle in his right hand and the canteen of water by his left side.


:46 20 Mule Team unloading at railroad in Daggett, Cal., after its long trip across the desert.


:47 The cabin occupied by Mr. F.M. Smith to Nevada when he discovered Borax.


:48 The first boiling pan used by Mr. Smith in Nevada.


:49 Borax transportation in the future. A dream, but not an impossibility.