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Weird Facts about 20 Mule Team® Borax®

  • 20 Mule Team Borax is named for the twenty-mule teams used to transport borax from the mines in Death Valley during the late nineteenth century. The word borax derives from the Arabic buraq or baurach, which means to glitter or shine.
  • Borax, a naturally occurring mineral composed of sodium, boron, oxygen, and water, was mined in 2000 B.C. from salt lakes in Tibet and Kashmir. It has been used in pottery glazes since the Middle Ages and was brought to Europe by the Arabs.
  • Borax is generally found embedded deep in the ground along with clay and other substances.
  • In 1881, borax deposits were discovered in Death Valley, California. W. T. Coleman, a San Francisco-based sales agent for borax producer F. M. “Borax” Smith, promptly acquired the discovery site and other nearby properties, including one near Furnace Creak, where he established the Harmony Borax Works.
  • Beginning in 1883, famous 100-foot long twenty mule teams hauled Coleman’s borax 165 miles across the desert from Death Valley to the nearest train depot in Mojave. The twenty-day round trip started 190 feet below sea level and climbed to an elevation of over 2,000 feet before it was over.
  • In 1890, “Borax” Smith acquired Coleman’s borax properties and established the Pacific Coast Borax Company, using Coleman’s “Twenty-Mule Team” as the brand name for it’s “99½% pure” borax. In 1886, Smith joined with a British chemical firm to form Pacific Coast Borax and Redwood’s Chemical Works, Ltd., which formed Borax Consolidated, Ltd. London-based RZT Corporation (formerly Rio Tinto-Zinc), the world’s largest mining concern, acquired Borax in 1968. Twenty years later, 20 Mule Team Borax, Borateem bleach, and Boraxo brand soap were sold to the Dial Corporation.
  • Despite changes in packaging, 20 Mule Team Borax has remained unchanged for more than 125 years.
  • In some cases, the twenty mule teams of Death Valley actually consisted of eighteen mules and two horses.
  • Between 1883 and 1889, the twenty mule teams hauled more than 20 million pounds of borax out of Death Valley. During this time, not a single animal was lost nor did a single wagon break down.
  • Today it would take more than 250 mules teams to transport the borax ore processed in just one day at Borax’s modern facility in the Mojave desert.
  • Although the mule teams were replaced by railroad cars in 1889, twenty mule teams continued to make promotional and ceremonial appearances at events ranging from the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair to President Woodrow Wilson’s Inauguration in 1916. They won first place in the 1917 Pasadena Rose Parade and attended the dedication of the San Francisco Bay Bridge in 1937.
  • In 1940, MGM produced Twenty Mule Team, a popular movie that was promoted by a 40-city mule team tour. The film starred Wallace Beery, Leo Carrillo, and Anne Baxter.
  • Borax is used in the manufacture of glass and ceramic glazes, fire-retardant textiles and wood, and photographic developers.
  • Since boron is important in the calcium cycle of plants, borax is often added to boron-poor soils as a fertilizer.
  • Borax deposits in Death Valley were abandoned when richer deposits were found elsewhere in the Mojave desert, turning mining settlements into ghost towns that now help make the region a tourist attraction.
  • Borax retards flames because it melts at a low temperature and blocks diffusion of oxygen to the burning surface.
  • According to legend, borax was used by Egyptians in mummification.
  • In the furniture business, the name Borax signifies cheap, mass-produced furniture.
  • Adding borax to hard water precipitates mineral salts.
  • 20 Mule Team Borax was once proclaimed to be a “miracle mineral” and was used to aid digestion, keep milk sweet, improve the complexion, remove dandruff, and even cure epilepsy.
  • Borax sponsored Death Valley Days first on radio and later on television. This program became the longest-running serial in American broadcasting history.
  • U.S. Borax Inc. conducts mining operations at Boron in California’s Mojave desert and at four sites in the Argentine Andes.
  • Most of the world's supply of borates comes from Boron, California, and from Turkey. Borax’s mine in Boron supplies more than half of the world’s borax.
Copyright © 1995- Joey Green. “20 Mule Team” and “Borax” are registered trademarks of United States Borax and Chemical Corp.
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