During the middle of the nineteenth century California experienced a vast influx of new residents, many of whom were driven by the desire to strike it rich by discovering a vast fortune in gold mineral deposits or the “black gold” of oil. Another “gold,” considered by some as “white gold” and perhaps not as well known as the first two, existed in the form of a mineral by the name of borax. Borax, boric acid, and other compounds of boron were utilized a century ago for everything ranging from medicinal purposes, food preservation, glass blowing, cleaning and even personal grooming. Several fortunes were built in the borax mining industry and the wealth it generated plays a prominent role in our state and local history. This is where the partnership of two very dissimilar men come into play.
Stephen T. Mather is best known as the founder of the National Park Service. He is certainly very deserving of all the accolades he has received. Without his influence, the public may have never been afforded the opportunity to explore the vast beauty of our nation’s wilderness areas. It is unlikely that the National Park Service would have ever been founded, at least not under Mather’s leadership, had it not been for the personal wealth he generated with borax. Borax allowed Mather the time and resources to focus his attention on matters that were dear to his heart. The mining industry was only his vehicle. Mather’s passion was public service and his vision was to preserve our nation’s natural beauty, providing every citizen access to explore America’s abundant sanctuaries of nature.