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MARKER DATABASE
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Near Death Valley in Inyo County, California — The American West (Pacific Coastal)
 

Borax

Harmony Borax Works

 

—Refining Borax —

 
Borax panel image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, January 23, 2015
1. Borax panel
Caption: Chinese laborers recruited from San Francisco scraped the borax off the salt flats and carried it by wagon to the refinery. They received $1.30 per day, less lodging and the cost of food they bought at the company store.
Inscription. These panels deal with how borax was mined and refined at the Harmony Borax Works in Death Valley.

Borax
Borates - salt minerals - were deposited in ancient lake beds that uplifted and eroded into the yellow Furnace Creek badlands. Water dissolved the borates and carried them to the Death Valley floor, where they recrystallized as borax.

Borax - blacksmiths used it, as have potters, dairy farmers, housewives, meat packers, and even morticians. For centuries humans have exploited borax for many important uses.

Harmony Borax Works
San Francisco businessman William T. Coleman built this plant to refine the “cottonball” borax found on the nearby salt flats. The high cost of transportation made it necessary to refine the borax here rather than carry both borax and waste to the railroad, 165 miles (265 km) across the desert.

Refining Borax
Workers refined borax by separating the mineral from unwanted mud and salts, a simple but time-consuming process.

The Process: Workers heated water in the boiling tanks, using an adjacent steam boiler.
Winching ore carts up the incline, they dumped the ore into the boiling tanks.
Workers added carbonated soda. The borax
Harmony Borax Works panel image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, January 23, 2015
2. Harmony Borax Works panel
Caption: This is how the works appeared about 1900, twelve years after the operation ceased.
dissolved, and the lime and mud settled out.
They drew off the borax liquid into the cooling vats, were it crystallized on hanging metal rods.
Borax will not crystallize at temperatures above 120 degrees, so Harmony Borax Works stopped operating during the summer. To keep the crystallizing vats cool the rest of the year, workers wrapped them with water-soaked felt padding, visible in the photograph.
Lifting the rods out, they chipped of the now refined crystallized borax. To produce “concentrated” borax, the repeated the process.
For later transport, the workers bagged and stored the refined or concentrated borax in a barn that stood behind you.

Living at Harmony
Crude shelters and tents once dotted the flat below you. Chinese workers slept and ate there; other employees lived at what is now Furnace Creek Ranch. This 1892 photo - taken after the works closed - shows the borax works in the center of the view and the company village on the flat to the left.
 
Erected by National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior.
 
Location. 36° 28.789′ N, 116° 52.526′ W. Marker is near Death Valley, California, in Inyo County. Marker can be reached from Borax Mill Road near U.S.
Refining Borax panel image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, January 23, 2015
3. Refining Borax panel
190, on the left when traveling west. Click for map. Marker is in this post office area: Death Valley CA 92328, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 11 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. White Gold (within shouting distance of this marker); Old Harmony Borax Works (approx. 0.3 miles away); Stephen Tyng Mather (approx. 0.9 miles away); 20 Mule Team Wagon Train (approx. 1.7 miles away); Furnace Creek Ranch, Death Valley (approx. 1.7 miles away); Old Dinah (approx. 1.8 miles away); Death Valley 49ers Gateway (approx. 2.5 miles away); Devils Golf Course (approx. 10.5 miles away).
 
More about this marker. These panels are located on the walking path around Harmony Borax Works exhibit.
 
Also see . . .  Borax and the 20-mule team in Death Valley - DesertUSA. he heyday of the Harmony operation was from 1883 to 1888. During those years, the teams ran like clockwork, completing the 330-mile round trip between the Harmony Borax Works and the railhead in about 20 days, despite the difficult terrain. One team loaded and left the works every four days. (Submitted on January 31, 2015, by Barry Swackhamer of San Jose, California.) 
 
Categories. Industry & Commerce
 
Living at Harmony panel image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, January 23, 2015
4. Living at Harmony panel
Death Valley where borax was mined. image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, January 23, 2015
5. Death Valley where borax was mined.
Harmony Borax Works refinery image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, January 23, 2015
6. Harmony Borax Works refinery
Harmony Borax Works boiler image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, January 23, 2015
7. Harmony Borax Works boiler
Harmony Borax Works boiling tank image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, January 23, 2015
8. Harmony Borax Works boiling tank
Harmony Borax Works out-buildings image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, January 23, 2015
9. Harmony Borax Works out-buildings
in distance.
Harmony Borax Works image. Click for full size.
By Public Domain
10. Harmony Borax Works
 
 
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by Barry Swackhamer of San Jose, California. This page has been viewed 200 times since then and 23 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. submitted on , by Barry Swackhamer of San Jose, California. • Syd Whittle was the editor who published this page. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016.
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