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  • Writer's pictureRich Honiball

Today in Brand History: Borden's and Eagle Foods

In 1856, American Gail Borden, a land surveyor, newspaper publisher, and inventor, was issued a patent for technology related to his invention of condensed milk.

Borden, a native New Yorker and surveyor at the time, settled in Texas in 1829, which was still part of Mexico. He found work as a chief surveyor for Stephen F. Austin. As a surveyor, Borden helped to plan and plotted the towns of Houston and Galveston and collaborated on drawing the first topographic map of Texas in 1835.

In February 1835, Gail and his brother partnered with Joseph Baker to publish the one of the first newspapers in Texas, known as "Telegraph and Texas Register." By the time Mexican Army moved eastward, the Telegraph was the only newspaper in Texas still operating. Their 21st issue was published on March 24, 1836 and contained the first list of names of Texans who died at the Battle of the Alamo. In April, as they were in the process of printing a new issue, Mexican soldiers seized the press and dismantled it. Borden attempted to rebuild the paper but it soon failed.

In June 1837, President Sam Houston of the newly formed Republic of Texas appointed Borden as the Collector of Customs at Galveston. He was a popular choice and was able to raise half of the government's income through the collection of taxes on imported goods. When Mirabeau Lamar replaced Houston as president in 1838, he replaced Borden as Collector of Customs but when Sam Houston returned as president in 1841, he brought back Borden.

In the 1840's, Borden began to experiment with disease cures. Frequent epidemics were prevalent across the US and his wife Penelope died of yellow fever in 1844. He started experimenting with finding a cure to the disease via refrigeration. In 1849, Borden started experimenting with beef processing. He developed a dehydrated beef product that he termed a "meat biscuit." The product, based loosely on a traditional Native American processed dried food known as pemmican, won Borden the Great Council Medal at the 1851 London World's Fair. He built a meat biscuit factory in Galveston and attempted to sell the product to hospitals and the military but people complained about the taste and texture and the US Army ultimately rejected the product. Borden filed for bankruptcy protection in 1852.

The year before he went bankrupt, Borden was returning home from the London exhibition when a disease infected both of the cows onboard the ship. At that time, ships carried livestock to provide passengers with milk. The cows died, as did several children who rank the contaminated milk. It was then that Borden became interested in developing a way to preserve milk. His inspiration was a vacuum pan that he had seen being used by Shakers to condense fruit juices. He experimented and eventually figured out a way to reduce milk without scorching or curdling it. in 1856, Borden received the patent for his process of condensing milk by vacuum.

After initial attempts to find financial backing and start up manufacturing, he met Jeremiah Milbank, a financier from New York while traveling by train. Milbank was impressed by Borden's confidence and passion in his new product and they become equal partners, founding the New York Condensed Milk Company. By 1864, demand had grown, especially from the Union Army, that Borden built the New York Condensery in Brewster, New York. This was Borden's first commercially successful manufacturing facility and the most advanced milk factory of its day. Over 200 dairy farmers supplied 20,000 gallons of milk daily to the Brewster plant as demand continued to increase.

Borden died on January 11, 1874, and in 1899, the New York Condensed Milk Company changed its name to the Borden's Condensed Milk Company to honor its founder. In 1912, they lost a court case battle against a separate company called Borden Ice Cream with a ruling that since Borden's Condensed Milk Company sold only milk. However, by 1919, the company changed its name to the Borden Company and began to diversify ranging from fresh and condensed milk, animal feeds, pharmaceuticals, and vitamins. During World War II, Borden's was one of the first to manufacture instant coffee, powdered foods, and non dairy creamer and after the war continued to diversify its holdings, including at one point in the 1960's when it was responsible for 7% of the raw PVC in the US.

In 2007, the J.M. Smucker Company purchased the canned milk business from Borden in 2007. The Eagle Family Foods Group was established after Paul Smucker Wagstaff left Smuckers in 2014 to start his own business, partnering with his friend Jeff Boyle, acquiring the Eagle Brand from J.M. Smucker Company in 2015, which traces its roots back to 1856 and Gail Borden's original patent.


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