August 15, 2011

Gail Borden - Renaissance Man

written by Rosa Morgan

I was like a cat with nine lives, and with each of them, I wholeheartedly pursued a different occupation. Born in Norwich, N.Y., on November 9, 1801, I lived in Indiana for a time, but a persistent cough led me to my destiny in Texas. With my new bride, Penelope, I joined the “Old 300″ in Stephen F. Austin’s colony, and became its surveyor. Amid my other duties, I created the first topographical map of Texas and represented the Lavaca District at the Texas Convention of 1833.

Days after the Revolution began in Texas, my brother, John, and I, joined Joseph Baker in starting the "Telegraph and Texas Register." We were the first to list the soldiers who died at the Alamo. Compelled to get the news out, we were literally the last to consent to leave our new homeland, and dismantled our press with Santa Anna at our heels. We retreated to Harrisburg and were about to print a new issue, when Mexican soldiers arrested us, and threw our press into Buffalo Bayou. After Texans won their independence, we set up shop in the newly established city of Houston, which I also surveyed.

I next endeavored to help form the city of Galveston, where I became the Republic's first Collector at the port, and an agent for the Galveston City Company. Baptized in the Gulf, Penelope and I were staunch church goers, putting our efforts into the temperance movement and ridding our town of gamblers. I loved the island life, but tragedy struck in 1844, when my dear wife died of yellow fever, followed to Heaven by my son, Stephen, six days later.

Grief stricken, and with my youngest, only a few months old, I turned my mind to inventions, namely, a large scale refrigeration system as a means of preventing yellow fever. I next invented a locomotive bath house for timid swimmers, and a prairie schooner for land and sea. But my most revolutionary creation, one I felt certain would alter the human race for the better, was my meat biscuit. Known as 'the Portable Dessicated Soup Bread,' it was so tasty with concentrated nutrition, that it won a gold Council Medal at London's Crystal Palace Exposition. Remarkably, it turned out to be a dismal failure.

With my life's fortune lost and a short-lived marriage to Augusta F. Stearns over, I moved to to New York, and began in earnest on my next invention. I asked myself, what product does the immigrant traveling across the sea need, and what would benefit the soldier in the field? Condensed milk was the answer. and with the Civil War and Mary Todd Lincoln's endorsement, I struggled to keep up with the demand. Stonewall Jackson ate it with canned peaches, stirring it with the point of his sword.

My third marriage to Emilene Church was a happy one, and I kept up my creative ways until I took my last breath. I'm grateful to have not lived long enough to have seen the scandal of my distant cousin, Lizzie.

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