Gail Borden, Jr., creator of the first commercial process of condensing milk, was born in Norwich, New York on November 9, 1801. He was educated largely at home, both in New York and later in New London, Indiana, where his family moved in 1816. He later moved to Mississippi, where he taught school and worked as a surveyor. In 1826, he was an official surveyor for Amite County and was also a deputy federal surveyor.
Borden had a truly entrepreneurial spirit. He moved to Texas in 1829, where he began farming and raising livestock. One of the earliest settlers in the state, he also continued surveying and is credited with having developed the first topographical map of Texas, as well as laying out the sites of Galveston and Houston. Meanwhile, he worked on plans to found a newspaper. He and his brother, Thomas, with partner Joseph Baker, published their first issue of the Telegraph and Texas Register in October of 1835 in San Felipe.
Borden left the newspaper business, selling off his ownership stake of the paper in 1837. He worked as a collector at the port of Galveston, and later as an agent for the Galveston City Company where he sold property in the region. Meanwhile, he had many ideas for new products. He is said to have begun inventing around 1840.
Some of the ideas Borden worked on included the “locomotive bath house,” designed for women who wanted to swim in the Gulf of Mexico; a “terraqueous machine,” a vehicle that could travel on land and on water; and various refrigeration appliances. Most of these were unsuccessful but he persevered. He was especially interested in ways to safeguard the food supply for humans through better conservation and preservation of food or by developing concentrated food products. In 1849, he concentrated his efforts on perfecting the “meat biscuit,” made with dehydrated meat and flour. He moved to New York to be closer to traders that could distribute them. However, though practical, consumers reportedly didn’t find the biscuits palatable, and they were ultimately unsuccessful.
In 1853, Borden’s persistence in inventing finally paid off. He applied for a patent on a process of evaporating milk by vacuum. He was granted U.S. and British patents, and he founded a dairy company in Connecticut. The Civil War brought a steady and very high demand for condensed milk, and sales grew rapidly, assuring Borden’s success. He opened another factory in Connecticut, two in New York, and one in Illinois. He also licensed his technology to other companies in Pennsylvania and Maine and invented processes for condensing various fruit juices, beef extract, and coffee.
After the war, Borden returned to Texas and opened a meat-packing plant there in the town of Borden, which he founded in Colorado County. He also established a sawmill and copperware factory. His Borden Milk Company would eventually become the Borden Family of Companies, including Borden Foods Corp. and Borden Chemicals Inc., and the Borden Condensed Milk logo, Elsie the cow, was known around the world.
Borden, father of seven, was a philanthropist, involved in temperance movements in the community, supporting schools, missionaries, and churches. He died in Borden, Texas, on January 11, 1874.