Francis Marion Smith, also known as “Borax” Smith was a miner and business man who made a fortune in the hostile deserts of Nevada and California. He was born in Richmond, Wisconsin in 1846. He went to the public schools and graduated from Milton College. He left Wisconsin seeking his fortune in the American West. and set off for Nevada.
In 1872, while working as a woodcutter, he discovered a rich supply of ulexite at Teel’s Marsh, near the future townsite of Marietta, Nevada. Seeing his opportunity, Smith staked a claim started a company with his brother Julius Smith. The brothers established a borax works at the edge of the marsh to concentrate the borax crystals and separate them from dirt and other impurities.
In 1877, Scientific American reported that the Smith Brothers shipped their product in a 30-ton load using two large wagons with a third wagon for food and water drawn by a 24-mule team for 160 miles (260 km) across the Great Basin Desert from Marietta to the nearest Central Pacific Railroad siding in Wadsworth, Nevada.
Building upon his success, Smith grew his operations and purchased claims at Fish Lake and Columbus March. He bought his brothers shares in the venture in 1884. As he closed down his operations in Teel’s Marsh, Smith purchased the Harmony Borax works from William Tell Coleman who was financially over extended.
Smith then consolidated all of his mining operations with his own holdings to form the Pacific Coast Borax Company in 1890. The Pacific Coast Borax Company then established and promoted the 20-Mule-Team Borax brand and trademark.
In his later years, Francis Marion “Borax” Smith expanded his interest in railroads and charitable work in his hometown of Oakland, California.