Texas History: Gail Borden


If you lived in Galveston in 1839, there is a high probability that you saw a noted city alderman riding his pet bull downtown. Gail Borden, Jr. was known as an eccentric inventor and inspiring lover of Texas. Born in 1801 in New York, Borden eventually made it to Galveston after starting a newspaper in San Felipe, and helping to lay out the building sites of Houston along the banks of Buffalo Bayou.

In 1857, Borden founded a corporation that eventually became the world’s largest dairy operator, surpassing $7 billion in annual sales. Later, the Borden company featured such products as X-acto cutting tools, Krazy Glue, and Elmer’s Glue.

But before Gail Borden found success in condensed milk, he had some colossal failures. He invented a machine that was part wagon and part sailboat, and purportedly could operate on land and water. After naming it the “terraqueous machine,” he loaded it up with unsuspecting locals and drove it into the Gulf. It sank, and so did his tenuous reputation.

Another almost-success was Borden’s “locomotive bathhouse.” This was a moveable bathhouse that bashful women could use when they wanted to enjoy the warm Gulf waters without being observed by the public. But the city leaders opposed the idea and so he had to abandon the project.

After his wife died of yellow fever, Borden suspected that hot weather caused the deadly disease. Actually, it was the mosquitoes, but Borden pushed ahead with creating a giant refrigerator anyway. This also failed, but the community appreciated his concern for their well-being.

After the failure of his meat biscuits, Borden discovered the process of evaporating milk by vacuum. In 1853, he obtained patents in Britain and the USA. And the rest is history!

Gail Borden, Jr. was a strong Christian. It is thought that he and his wife Penelope were the first Americans to be baptized in the Gulf of Mexico west of the Mississippi. He was one of the chief organizers of Baylor University, and helped establish First Baptist church in Galveston. He served as a deacon, Sunday School teacher, and trustee.

Early Texas had its share of shady characters. And Galveston was the bawdy epicenter of ghastly slave trading, bloodthirsty pirates, and decadent businesses. Was being corrupt the only way to achieve success? No! Gail Borden, Jr. lived above the cacophony of evil, and was known as a Godly and trusted figure.

In 1834, when Stephen F. Austen was confined in a Mexican jail, he requested that Borden manage the critical land office. Austin said, “Who can I trust? I know of no one but Gail Borden. He can be trusted for he is conscientiously an honest man.”

God honors the faithful one who pursues righteousness. As it says in Proverbs 28:20 KJV, “A faithful person will be richly blessed.”

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