145 Years at Rio Tinto Borates

:: Monday, January 30, 2017 :: Posted By Mary Beth Garrison

20 Mule Team appearance in 2017 Rose Parade Kicks off year celebration

U.S. Borax kicked off its 145-year anniversary celebration in style, with the 20 Mule Team® riding in the 2017 Rose Parade on January 2 in Pasadena, California, USA.

The appearance marked exactly 100 years since the team’s first ride in the Rose Parade, recognized internationally as the premiere New Year’s celebration that includes the festival of flowers, music and one of the biggest college football bowl games.

Instead of hauling a heavy load of borax, the 20 Mule Team wagons carried Tournament of Roses President Brad Ratliff and his family, along with Isabelle Brassard, Managing Director Borate Operations, and Preston Chiaro, president of the Death Valley Conservancy (DVC) and former U.S. Borax and Rio Tinto executive.

“It was an honor to ride in the Rose Parade with Preston and Brad,” Isabelle said. “The 20 Mule Team is a powerful symbol for our company. It represents courage, hard work and perseverance; three words that describe our company very well even in 2017.”

The event also celebrated an important family connection. Preston and the 20 Mule Team rode in the 1999 parade with Brad’s father when he served as president of the Tournament of Roses. Over a year ago, Brad extended an invitation to Preston and the DVC to repeat history.

The only problem was that the 1999 wagons, which sit on display at the Borax Visitor’s Center at Boron mine operations, were not in good enough condition to make the ride. That prompted the DVC to lead a fundraising effort for the construction of new replica wagons, which made their debut at the parade.

This special father-son connection to the wagons dominated the TV coverage of the 20 Mule Team during its 20 seconds of airtime, so unfortunately, U.S. Borax’s company history wasn’t mentioned during the telecast.

Building the wagons and readying the mules

It took two years for Dave Engel, owner of Engel’s Coach Shop in Joliet, Montana, to construct exact replicas of the original wagons.

A week before the parade, muleskinner Bobby Tanner led a practice run in Bishop, California. Watch a video viewed more than a million times on Facebook of the practice turn requiring a few mules to “leap the rails,” the chains that link them together.

Bobby Tanner's mule team

Our company’s history

U.S. Borax miners

Borates were discovered in Nevada 1872, and later found in Death Valley in 1881. The 20 Mule Team was responsible for transporting up to 11 tons of borax over 165 miles of terrain to the nearest railway in Mohave.

Though the team only ran from 1881 to 1883, their image has remained a symbol of pioneering, pride and determination, as well as a trademark for U.S. Borax.

Company marketing executive Stephen T. Mather came up with the 20 Mule Team Borax brand soap, which today is sold by Henkel Corporation.

Stephen helped coordinate the company’s donation of Death Valley to the federal government, which led to him being appointed the first executive director of the National Park Service in 1917. Learn more about Mather’s legacy at the National Park Service.

U.S. Borax’s current operation in Boron, California, opened in 1927 and was acquired by Rio Tinto in 1967, marking 90 years and 50 years respectively. Today, Boron is the largest open pit mine in California, supplying about 30% of the world’s borates.

Lasting legacy of Death Valley

Rio Tinto donated the mineral rights and associated surface rights to the National Park Service, and later lobbied for Death Valley to be recognized as a national park.

The company also donated land and heritage assets to the not-for-profit Death Valley Conservancy (DVC), which has full responsibility for managing the restoration of the Ryan mining camp, operated by Pacific Coast Borax from 1915-1927.

The complex project is being approached in a series of phases with a focus on preserving and restoring several buildings and structures, where possible, to their original condition. Read more here.

Today, Death Valley National Park annually hosts millions of visitors who are awed by its stark and unique beauty and landscape.



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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