U.S. Borax History

History of the U.S. Borax
20 Mule Team

The history of U.S. Borax is the history of not one but multiple companies drawing on a combination of experience and knowledge, foresight and luck, hard work and perseverance to become a globally respected provider of one of the most versatile and useful materials on earth—borates.

Today, our company proudly calls Boron, California, home. But, our roots stretch from Nevada through Death Valley where the first 20 mule team hauled borax a sweeping 165 miles through the Mojave Desert. Fully loaded with two ore wagons and a 1,200-gallon water wagon, the rig weighed 36.5 tons. Though the expansion of railways led to the 20 mule team’s retirement, the mules have lived on as a symbol for U.S. Borax for more than a century and a half.

Our Commitment to Death Valley

Death Valley National Park

Stephen T. Mather created the iconic 20 Mule Team® brand when he launched his career with our company as advertising and promotion manager. He was a brilliant salesman who saw enormous untapped potential in the borax market. Mather also saw the potential of the American wilderness and helped create the National Park Service—serving as it's first director.

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Death Valley Conservancy

The Death Valley Conservancy (DVC) is a non-profit organization that provides support and funding for projects that preserve, protect, or enhance Death Valley Park by improving the area’s natural, cultural, and historic resources. The DVC has full responsibility for managing the restoration of sites such as Ryan Mining Camp, operated by Pacific Coast Borax from 1915-1927.

Learn more  ›

Learn More About U.S. BorAx History

Boron-Based Flame Retardants: Enabling Everyday Safety
Fifty years ago, U.S. Borax introduced a multifunctional, zinc borate, flame retardant we called Firebrake. Learn how we improved the fire safety of es... Read More
Turning Death Valley into a Desired Desert Destination
Home to our original operations, Death Valley will always be special to U.S. Borax. Learn about our initial efforts to promote tourism in Death Valley—a... Read More
Pioneering Progress Through Education
At U.S. Borax, we believe education is the foundation for pioneering progress. Over the course of our 150 years in operation, we have supported—and cont... Read More

Timeline

Pioneering Spirit

U.S. Borax was founded on a pioneering spirit. We are responsible for new discoveries, breaching unexplored frontiers, and uncovering new technologies.

1872

Company founder F.M. “Borax” Smith discovers borates in Nevada

1881

Borates discovered in Death Valley

1890s

Work begins to establish a true mining camp named “Borate,” serving as a model for future camps

1925

Miners discover a new borate ore deposit at current Boron site

1970

Teams conduct detailed geophysical studies to gain a deeper understanding of the Boron deposit

2004

Lithium-borate deposit discovered in Serbia

2017

Scientists start testing a new proprietary process for extracting battery-grade lithium from ore waste

Logistics

Over the years, the journey borate ore takes from mine to market has experienced incredible transformation. Let’s look at the key achievements that made logistics safer and more efficient.

1894

Railroad transportation begins with “Old Dinah,” a steam traction engine to carry borate ore coming online. Later, we helped develop and expand the Borate & Dagget, Death Valley, and Tonopah & Tidewater Railroads

1902-1922

European operations expand with the creation of Borax Français in 1902, and the construction of the Borax España refinery in Barcelona

1923

Wilmington, California refinery built

1927

Underground mine opens at current mine location in Boron, California

1957

Engineers Bob Kendall and Howard Steinberg lead the conversion of Boron Operations into a surface mine, complete with extensive refining facilities

1960

Wilmington port receives new bulk shipping terminal, improving shipping capacity to Europe

1961

The world’s largest borate ore conveyor starts running, simplifying transportation to the surface 

1980

The world’s largest boric acid plant comes online, enabling increased production of boric acid

2013

The safety award-winning Modified Direct Dissolving of Kernite (MDDK) process facility opened at Boron operations, maximizing the utilization of the ore body in order to meet marketing demands, increasing mine yield by approximately 6-8%

2019

National Mining Association awards U.S. Borax the 2019 Sentinels of Safety Award for outstanding safety performance (Large Open Pit category)

2021

The first renewable diesel-powered truck joins our fleet of haul trucks, reducing emissions 70-80% compared to standard diesel fuel

U.S. Borax in the Community

We take pride instrengthening, protecting,and advocatingfor thecommunities we operate in.

1916

Helped write the language adopted by the U.S. Congress to establish the National Park Service (NPS). One of our early directors, Stephen Mather (pictured here) became the first director of NPS

1926

Efforts to establish a tourism industry for Death Valley begin with building the first hotel at Ryan camp

1930

Death Valley Days radio show launched, marking a new advertising method and bringing the unique culture of the Wild West to audiences across the country

1933

Company donates land to the U.S. government to create Death Valley National Monument

1952

Death Valley Days adopts a visual format as it is revived for television. Ronald Regan’s host role in the mid-1960s was the last job he had as an actor before becoming governor of California.

1961

Employees help supply repurposed war planes (“Borate Bombers”) with borate compound to fight enormous wildfires near Los Angeles

1977

Star Wars films scenes for the movie trilogy at important company sites such as 20 Mule Team Canyon

1994

Death Valley becomes a national park after U.S. Borax donates land and lobbies the U.S. government

1997

Our new visitors center officially opens; voluntary admissions donations benefit local community organizations through the Borax Visitor Center Foundation

2010

Company donates more land to expand Death Valley National Park

Building a Legacy

No company endures 150 years of operation without establishing a strong culture. Hereare someof our mostnotable company memories. 

1917

The 20 Mule Team rides in first Rose Parade

1963

U.S. Borax consolidates business offices into a bigger building on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles

1967

Rio Tinto acquires U.S. Borax 

1985

Boron operations achieves 1 million human hours without a lost-time accident 

1993

Company moves headquarters in Valencia

1999

Twenty Mule Team completes last ride with its original wagons in Pasadena Rose Parade

2017

The 20 Mule Team rides again in the Rose Parade with brand new replica wagons, 100 years after their first appearance, remaining an icon of history and perseverance in California, and across the U.S.

2019

National Mining Association awards U.S. Borax the 2019 Sentinels of Safety Award for outstanding safety performance (Large Open Pit category)

2021

Nules, Spain site celebrates 25 years without a lost time incident

Innovation, Research and Development

Discover our rich history of research and developmentleadingto new products, uses, and applications of borax.

1930s

Researchers explore uses for borax in agriculture

1934

A new anhydrous form of borax is released from Baker Mine—now the site of our current Boron operations

1972

Firebrake® ZB developed, a fire retardant that is used in a variety of products, including polymers

1987

Granubor® introduced, helping farmers boost plants’ uptake of boron, an essential micronutrient

1993

Solubor® invented, a formulation that enables quick dispersion in liquids

1995

Firebrake® 500 developed, an anhydrous zinc borate product that is stable up to 600°C. Kelvin Shen (pictured here) was instrumental in U.S. Borax's development of fire retardant products.

1998

Polybor® Flow liquid borate invented, a product that’s especially effective in cleaning and flame retardancy applications

2006

Granubor® 2 released for agriculture, a pure, 100% water soluble micronutrient designed to generate a higher ROI for farmers

2021

Two new fertilizer products—Anhybor® and Zincubor®—launched to help farmers fix zinc and boron deficiency in plants

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U.S. Borax, part of Rio Tinto, is a global leader in the supply and science of borates—naturally-occurring minerals containing boron and other elements. We are 1,000 people serving 650 customers with more than 1,800 delivery locations globally. We supply around 30% of the world’s need for refined borates from our world-class mine in Boron, California, about 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles.  Learn more about Rio Tinto.

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