An 'Odd Couple'

An 'Odd Couple' and Twenty Mules

The Fortune of the Sterling Borax Company in California's Santa Clarita Valley

By Edward Keebler  

In 1894 Mather was working in Chicago and was introduced to the man who would ultimately become his future partner. This was the other member of the odd couple, Thomas Thorkildsen. Thorkildsen was the son of a Norwegian immigrant lumberjack, born in Wisconsin and two years younger than Mather. He worked his way up through the ranks of Pacific Coast Borax and by the time he met Mather, he had been at the company for five years, holding the position of sales manager. Unlike Mather, Thorkildsen lacked the formal education and polish Mather possessed. This is not to say Thorkildsen lacked intelligence, quite the opposite. Thorkildsen was a brilliant salesman and an excellent strategist. He seemed to lack refinement and social boundaries, a point to be addressed later. If the two individuals held a common characteristic at all, it would be that both were visionaries and risk takers.Thomas Thorkildsen

Mather’s arrival in Chicago demanded Thorkildsen take a less prominent role with Pacific Coast Borax. Although he retained his title as sales manager, a position he had held for a year, Mather was established as the advertising manager and was clearly Thorkildsen’s new boss. In his private letters to Mather in subsequent years, Thorkildsen confessed that he tried to find fault with Mather but found him to be, “one of the brightest and truest men I had ever met.” Rather than attempt to discredit Mather, Thorkildsen attempted to convince Smith that the two should hold the position as co-managers. When this failed, Thorkildsen became friends with Mather and smoldered with disdain for his employer, Francis M. Smith. Apparently the view of Smith was one many shared.

During the four years Thorkildsen and Mather worked together at Pacific Coast Borax, they became very close friends. It was obvious, however, that Thorkildsen wasn’t happy with Smith and routinely plotted against him. Mather, who had his own issues with Smith, was his confidant in these schemes. By this time Stephen Mather had ample exposure to Smith’s questionable business practices and was also keenly aware of his father’s disgust with him. The elder Mather, Joseph, quit working for Smith about the same time Stephen left to work for Smith in Chicago. Smith had made promises to the senior Mather that he failed to keep and it placed Stephen Mather in a place of split loyalty between his father and employer. Mather was also made aware of how Smith treated other employees. In one instance, a woman of noble character and talent was paid a monthly salary of approximately $65. She was dismissed in order to cut cost and when she couldn’t find work elsewhere, Smith rehired her weeks later at $40 per month.Next Page

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The Mather Family | More Mather Family | Pacific Coast Borax | Thomas Thorkildsen | Mathers and Thorkildsen | More Mathers and Thorkildsen | Mather's Marketing Savy | Mather and National Parks | National Parks | Conclusion
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