Gail Borden was an American innovator whose life comprised many extraordinary chapters. At various times a teacher, rancher, businessman, land surveyor, newspaper publisher, politician and, most notably, inventor, Mr. Borden lived in New York, Kentucky, Indiana, Mississippi and Texas. Despite the many failures he experienced along the way, he is remembered as a visionary whose ingenuity changed the food industry forever. Mr. Borden was the first person to develop a successful commercial method for condensing milk; however, he did not become a dairy pioneer until he was in his 40s.
Mr. Borden (1801–1874) was born in Norwich, NY, where the family lived until moving to Kentucky in 1814. There, he first learned how to survey land by helping his father plot the future city of Covington, KY. Moving again, Mr. Borden taught at schools in Indiana and Southern Mississippi, before eventually settling in Texas in 1829. Mr. Borden began his life in Texas by farming and raising cattle, but he quickly found a new calling in politics.
As a delegate at the Convention of 1833, Mr. Borden helped write the first draft of the Republic of Texas Constitution. He was also appointed the Republic of Texas Collector of Customs, for which he raised government funds. During his time in Texas, Mr. Borden co-founded the first lasting Texas newspaper in 1835, titled the Telegraph and Texas Land Register. Due to ongoing financial difficulty, Mr. Borden ultimately had to sell all of his newspaper shares. He continued his career as a surveyor while in Texas and helped lay out the city of Galveston and co-plotted Houston. He even contributed to the first topographical map of Texas.
Mr. Borden’s luck turned when he met businessman Jeremiah Milbank, who became his new investor and business partner. Together, they founded the New York Condensed Milk Company and opened the first successful plant in Wassaic, NY in 1861. Condensed milk grew in popularity with people in urban areas, who often lacked access to safe milk supplies. The business boomed when it won contracts to supply the Union Army during the Civil War. On the heels of his newfound success, Mr. Borden continued expanding and opened many new factories in New York and Illinois.
Even after the success of his condensed milk, Mr. Borden continued inventing throughout the rest of his life. He was eventually granted patents for condensing fruit and berry juices, as well as for processes for making beef extracts and for concentrating tea, coffee and cocoa — but milk remained his most lucrative venture. Later in life, Mr. Borden dedicated his time to educating dairymen in sanitation and remains famous among food safety experts for his pioneering work establishing cleanliness practices in his factories. He also engaged in philanthropy, building six churches and supporting financially struggling ministers, teachers and students.
Gail Borden’s legacy of innovations lives on today with the Borden Dairy Company and its beloved products.