Pacific Coast Borax Company

The Pacific Coast Borax Company (PCB) was a United States mining company founded in 1890 by the American borax magnate Francis "Borax" Smith, the "Borax King".[1]


The roots of the Pacific Coast Borax Company lie in Mineral County, Nevada, east of Mono Lake, where Smith, while contracting to provide firewood to a small borax operation at nearby Columbus Marsh, spotted Teels Marsh while looking westward from the upper slopes of Miller Mountain where the only nearby trees were growing. Eventually, to satisfy his curiosity, Smith and two assistants visited Teels Marsh and collected samples, that proved to assay higher than any known sources for borate. Returning to Teels Marsh, Smith and his helpers staked claims and laid the foundation for his career as a borax miner.

With the help of his older brother, Julius, who came west from the family home in Wisconsin, and financial support from the two Storey brothers, operations began in 1872 under the name, Smith and Storey Brothers Borax Co. When the Storey brothers' interests were subsequently acquired in 1873, the name was shortened to Smith Brothers Borax Co. A few years later (circa 1884) it was changed again to Teel's Marsh Borax Co. In 1880, the separate and previously existing Pacific Borax Company (with no "Coast" in the name) was acquired by Smith. Frank Smith also developed holdings with his business associate William Tell Coleman at the Harmony Borax Works as well as the Meridian Borax Company, which were subsequently combined to form the Pacific Borax, Salt & Soda Company in 1888. The Pacific Coast Borax Co. name was not adopted until Smith acquired all of Coleman's borax interests in central Nevada and California, after Coleman's bankruptcy, and incorporated them all under the new company name in 1890.[2]

Death ValleyEdit

The Harmony Borax Works were part of what was acquired from Coleman by Smith in 1890. The borax was shipped via the Death Valley Railroad that the company built to the east, from Ryan, California to Death Valley Junction, California. It then transferred to the narrow gauge Death Valley Railroad to meet up with the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad (T&T) which ran from the Amargosa Valley south to the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway railhead in Ludlow, California. The Borax Museum, located in Death Valley National Park, has a locomotive on display from the Death Valley Railroad.[3]

Other minesEdit

As Death Valley mining ran down, Smith developed new mines in the Calico Mountains near Yermo, California, and built the Borate and Daggett Railroad to haul product to the railhead in Daggett, California. Later, the company developed methods to process material from Searles Lake in the Searles Valley, building the company town of Westend and a siding on the Trona Railway for shipping to the railhead at Searles, California.

One of the earliest reinforced concrete buildings constructed in the United States was the Pacific Coast Borax Company's refinery in Alameda, California, designed by Ernest L. Ransome and built in 1893. It was the first to use ribbed floor construction as well as concrete columns.[4]

Christian Brevoort Zabriskie joined the company in 1885, became its vice president and stayed until 1933. Zabriskie Point above Death Valley is named in his honor.

In 1926, the Pacific Coast Borax Company created a subsidiary called the Death Valley Hotel Company to construct a Mission Revival style-luxury hotel near the Furnace Creek springs in the foothills of the Funeral Mountains overlooking Death Valley. The Furnace Creek Inn opened in February 1927, with transport via the motor-coach from the Ryan station of the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad.

20 Mule Team BoraxEdit

The company established and aggressively developed and marketed the 20 Mule Team Borax trademark in order to promote the sale of its product. The name derived from the 20-mule teams that were used to transport borax out of Death Valley in the 1880s from Harmony Borax Works near Furnace Creek Ranch, owned by William Tell Coleman at that time and sold to Smith in 1890. They also produced Boraxo hand soap. The radio version of Death Valley Days ran from 1930 to 1951.[5] The TV series Death Valley Days was hosted at one point by "Borateem-pitchman" and future U.S. President Ronald Reagan.[6]

Corkhill Hall - Amargosa Opera HouseEdit

In Death Valley Junction, California in 1923-24, the Pacific Coast Borax Company constructed their Civic Center at a cost of $300,000. Designed by architect Alexander Hamilton McCulloh, the U-shaped complex of Spanish Colonial Style adobe buildings included company offices, a store, an employee dorm, a 23-room hotel, dining room, lobby, gymnasium, billiard room and ice cream parlor. At the northeast end of the complex was Corkhill Hall, a recreation hall used as a community center for dances, church services, movies, funerals and town meetings.

Remodeled in 1927, the Civic Center became the Amargosa Hotel. In 1967, Corkhill Hall became Marta Becket's renowned Amargosa Opera House.

U.S. BoraxEdit

In 1956, the Pacific Coast Borax Company merged with United States Potash Corporation to form U.S. Borax, which itself was acquired by Rio Tinto Minerals (Rio Tinto Group) in 1967. As a wholly owned subsidiary, the company now is called Rio Tinto Borax and continues to supply nearly half the world's borates. In 1988, U.S. Borax sold its flagship Boraxo, Borateem and 20 Mule Team product lines to Dial Corporation.[7] It continues to operate the Rio Tinto Borax Mine, which is the largest open-pit mine in California next to the company town of Boron, in the Mojave Desert east of Mojave, California.

The Trona operation later became part of Searles Valley Minerals.


  1. ^ George Herbert Hildebrand (1982). Borax Pioneer Francis Marion Smith. Darwin Publications. ISBN 978-0-8310-7148-6.
  2. ^ George Herbert Hildebrand (1982). Borax Pioneer Francis Marion Smith. Darwin Publications. p. 56. ISBN 978-0-8310-7148-6.
  3. ^ "Death Valley's Borax Museum: chock full of minerals!". Eccentric Roadside. 17 February 2009. Retrieved 8 May 2018.
  4. ^ Ransome, Ernest L; Saurbrey, Alexis (1912). Reinforced concrete buildings ; a treatise on the history, patents, design and erection of the principal parts entering into a modern reinforced concrete building. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co. p. 6. OCLC 24127917. Retrieved 8 May 2018.
  5. ^ Dunning, John (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (Revised ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. pp. 195–196. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3. Retrieved 2019-09-19.
  6. ^ . accessed 6/22/2010
  7. ^ Rio Tinto Borax: About Borax : History Archived March 17, 2006, at the Wayback Machine


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