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Harmony Borax Works

Group of borax miners.
A dusty group of borax miners pose for a photo. Photo from NPS archives.

 

Desert riches

spacer image Since ancient times, borax and other borate minerals have been used in the Near East and Asia as an antiseptic, a washing agent, and welding flux. Europeans were not introduced to borates until the 13th century, when Marco Polo returned from Asia with borax crystals. However, borax remained a rare commodity until rich lakebed deposits were found in California and Nevada in the 1850's and 60's.
spacer image By the 1870's, an expanding market for borax motivated miners to search for new deposits in the desert playas of California and Nevada. In 1881, Rosie and Aaron Winters discovered borax on the Death Valley playa at the mouth of Furnace Creek wash in Death Valley.

Harmony Borax Works.
Mule team loading up at Harmony Borax Works. Photo from NPS archives.

Borax mining in Death Valley

spacer image Death Valley's first commercial borax operation began in 1881 at the Eagle Borax Works. W. T. Coleman's Harmony Borax Works followed in 1882 and the town of Greenland was built. This early outpost was later to become the modern Furnace Creek Ranch. Harmony played a central role in the opening of Death Valley and the subsequent popularity of the Furnace Creek area.
spacer image Ore production began in late 1883 or early 1884. When in full operation, the Harmony Borax Works employed forty men. These hardy workers scraped cottonball borax from the surface of the playa, producing three tons of borax daily.
Harmony Borax Works
An array of processing vats at Harmony Borax Works. Photo from NPS archives.
spacer image "Cotton ball", an ore made up of the borate minerals ulexite and proberite, was then dissolved in boiling water. As the solution cooled, borax was precipitated.
spacer image This process worked well except during Death Valley's blistering summers. In summertime, the average temperatures are so high that the borax solution would not cool enough to allow the borax to crystallize! Coleman was forced to suspend work at Harmony Borax Works until the return of cooler temperatures in the fall. Frustrated with these annual shut downs, Coleman eventually moved his work force to the Amargosa Borax Plant near present day Tecopa, California.

 

Harmony borax in time
geologic time scale
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This page was last updated on 6/20/00
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