January 31, 2011

If at first…

Filed under: Uncategorized — jchatoff @ 12:16 am
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Gail Borden

Gail Borden introduced the world to condensed milk on this date in 1851.  He was yet another of the inventor/entrepreneurs that defined the Nineteenth Century.  He started out as a surveyor in Mississippi, then became a newspaper publisher in Texas, then invented a meat biscuit to feed soldiers and finally started working on a milk product.

He didn’t actually fail at anything – he got bored with surveying and although his newspaper had a good reputation, it not only didn’t make any money, the Mexican army destroyed it during an invasion of Texas.  His meat biscuit didn’t make any money either, although it won a prize at the exposition in London.

But condensed milk was the answer to everyone’s prayers.  In a world without refrigeration and poor sanitation, the diseases you could get from bad milk were legion, never mind the awful taste.  And Borden, while not vertically integrated, was vertically in control.  The process began on the farm – he set new standards of cleanliness for dairies and made sure they were followed.

The idea of condensed milk actually came from the Shakers, who had a similar process for preserving fruit juices.  Condensed milk, unlike evaporated milk, is simply milk solids with very little liquid and sugar added.  It was originally called sweetened condensed milk.

Borden was soon selling so much condensed milk that he leased his patent to others.  With the advent of the Civil War, the government bought great quantities of the stuff because of its long shelf life and nutritive value.

Gail Borden got rich, the company got huge and in the 1950s started diversifying. They soon owned snack foods, pasta (they once had 30% of the market), chemicals, adhesives (Elmer’s Glue) and so on.  In fact, they got too big not to fail and in the early 90’s went bankrupt and sold off bits.  The milk business went to Mexico’s Grupo Lala, the chemicals went to a new company that included BakeliteAG and snack foods went to Dean Foods.

Grupo Lala US owns Eagle Brand Condensed Milk, pretty much the same kind of stuff in the same kind of can that Gail Borden created a century and a half ago.

He had a girl’s name, btw, because that was his father’s name;  his mother’s name was Philadelphia.


  1. A real milk in a can story thank you , good stuff Jean, but wasn’t Gail a mans name back in the day like so many other gender changed names.


    Comment by avery — January 31, 2011 @ 8:24 am | Reply

  2. wow the whole time i was reading the top half i was thinking millions of mexicans are grateful for this invention! they loooove condensed milk…so the Lala thing makes perfect sense! Great story =)


    Comment by nina c — January 31, 2011 @ 9:31 am | Reply

  3. YOU SAY “In fact, they got too big not to fail and in the early 90′s went bankrupt and sold off bits. The milk business went to Mexico’s Grupo Lala, the chemicals went to a new company that included BakeliteAG and snack foods went to Dean Foods.”

    Borden did not go bankrupt. KKR acquired Borden in late 1994. [Had KKR not acquired Borden bankruptcy might have happened.] The milk business (Borden and Meadow Gold) was sold to Dairy Farmers of America, who immediately resold most if it to others. It was not until 2010 that Grupo Lala bought National Dairy that had 3 former Borden milk plants in Texas, and 1 in Louisiana. Dean Foods did not buy the snack foods (potato chips etc.). Borden’s main snacks company, Wise Foods, was sold to a private investment group, who later resold it to another private investment group.

    KKR kept the Borden Chemical business for awhile and finally sold that to a private investor group. That group changed it’s name from Borden, to Borden Chemical, to Hexion and most recently to Momentive.

    YOU SAY: Grupo Lala US owns Eagle Brand Condensed Milk.

    Eagle brand, Cremora non-dairy creamer, Realemon, None-Such Mince Meat, Kava Coffee, & Borden Canned Egg Nog were all sold to a private investment firm who named it “Eagle Family Foods.” I think Dean Foods bought Cremora from Eagle Family Foods, and Realemon was sold to Moots – now a part of the Dr. Pepper Snapple group. The rest including the Eagle brand sweetened condensed milk business was then sold to JM Smuckers just a few years ago.


    Comment by Jerome Schindler — May 5, 2011 @ 12:22 pm | Reply

    • AND I SAY: thanks for the additional info. you might want to update the Wikipedia.


      Comment by jchatoff — May 5, 2011 @ 9:10 pm | Reply

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