Gail Borden, Pioneer Inventor

A brilliant eccentric—Gail Borden reportedly rode about Galveston on a pet bull; he invented a “locomotive bath house,” a portable affair

Gail Borden

Gail Borden

that allowed women to bathe privately in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico before he was “discouraged” by the city authorities; and he worked for the Galveston City Company laying out the streets while designing a self-propelled terraqueous machine that was supposed to move on land and on water.  During the maiden voyage, it reportedly dumped its occupants in the Gulf.

Born in Norwich, New York, Gail Borden, Jr. (1801-1874) moved with his family to Indiana where he received about a year and a half of formal education.  Before coming to Texas in 1829, he began to show his lifelong concern for others by helping rescue a freedman from rustlers.

After settling in Texas, he farmed, raised stock, and began serving as a surveyor for Stephen F. Austin’s colony.  He prepared the first topographical map of Texas, and as the war for Texas independence from Mexico became a certainty, Borden and some partners started the Telegraph and Texas Register newspaper to keep the citizenry informed of the pending conflict.  Throughout the war, the Telegraph was moved across Texas just ahead of General Santa Anna’s advancing army.  Ten days before the Texas victory at the Battle of San Jacinto, the Mexican army captured the Telegraph printers and threw the press into Buffalo Bayou.  As soon as Texas won its independence Borden traveled to Cincinnati and bought a new press, which he continued to move across Texas following the new republic’s congress as it began to meet in Columbia and then on to the new capital of Houston.

Map of Houston

Map of Houston

Borden drew the map laying out the new capital on the muddy banks of Buffalo Bayou. In 1837, the year after Texas became a republic, Borden moved to Galveston to serve as the first collector at the port. Active in the Baptist church, he worked in the temperance movement, served as a local missionary to the poor and to travelers visiting Galveston.  He and his first wife, Penelope, reportedly were the first Americans to be baptized in the Gulf of Mexico west of the Mississippi River.  He served as a trustee of the Texas Baptist Education Society, which founded Baylor University, and as an alderman he helped rid Galveston of gamblers.  Temporarily.

He apparently began inventing around 1840 with a scheme to market jelly made from the horns and hooves of oxen.  He tried preserving a peach mixture using hydraulic pressure.  Penelope’s death in the yellow fever epidemic of 1844, prompted Borden to abandon his other projects and search for the cause of the disease. Recognizing that yellow fever struck during the summer heat and disappeared with the first cold front, he built a large-scale icebox, using ether to cool its interior.  He imagined a refrigerator large enough to cool the entire population of Galveston during the summer months. He abandoned his refrigerator project after hearing of the tragic fate of the Donner Party, a wagon train on the California Trail that became trapped in a snow storm in the Sierra Nevada.  Thirty-six of the eighty-one members of the train perished from starvation and exposure.  Borden devoted himself to creating a meat biscuit that he believed would provide nutrition for travelers such as the Donners and for the U.S. Army.  He boiled eleven pounds of meat to get one pound of extract, which he combined with flour and baked into a biscuit.  It was recognized for its nutritional value and earned a gold medal in London at the 1851 International Exposition.  Borden built a factory in Galveston; he introduced the meat biscuit at Texas’ first state fair in Corpus Christi; and he finally  moved to New York to be closer to distribution centers.  After seven years of struggling  to sell the ill-tasting biscuit, he suffered heavy financial losses, and finally abandoned the business.

Meat biscuits

Meat biscuits

 

Still convinced that he could improve the food supply by developing concentrated food products, Borden condensed milk by using a vacuum pan with a heating coil to remove the water without burning or souring the milk.  In this fashion he produced the first condensed milk in 1853 that could be stored and shipped long distances. He started a dairy company in Connecticut, and for the first time in his life, he was in a perfect position to capitalize on his invention.  During the Civil War, he began providing condensed milk for the Union Army, and saw his business flourish.  Still the experimenter, Borden created processes for condensing fruit juices, the extract of beef, and coffee.

Borden ad, 1899

Borden ad, 1899

After the war, he returned to Texas, founded the town of Borden west of Houston, established a meatpacking plant, a sawmill, and a copperware factory.  His Borden Milk Company with Elsie The Cow as its logo became known throughout the world.

Elsie the Cow

Elsie the Cow

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Women Pilots of WWII Trained in Texas

Jackie Cochran

Jackie Cochran

When the United States entered World War II, the top brass, including General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, commander of the U.S. Army Air Forces (AAF), had doubts about women’s ability to pilot large aircraft.  In the summer of 1941 even before the United States entered the war, two famous women aviators Jacqueline “Jackie” Cochran and test-pilot Nancy Harkness Love presented separate proposals for women pilots

Nancy Harkness Love

Nancy Harkness Love

to be used in non-combat missions.  Meantime, the British government asked Jackie Cochran to recruit American women pilots to ferry aircraft for the British Air Transport Auxiliary, the first organized group of American women pilots to serve in the war.

Finally, after lobbying by Eleanor Roosevelt and the military’s realization that there were not enough male pilots, in September 1942 Nancy Love gained permission to recruit women for training in the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) at New Castle Army Air Base in Wilmington, Delaware.  Soon thereafter Jackie Cochran returned from Britain to win appointment as director of the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) headquartered at Houston’s Municipal Airport (present Hobby Airport).

Class 43-3, January 1943, Houston Municipal Airport

Class 43-3, January 1943, Houston Municipal Airport

The new recruits were classified as civil service, not military personnel.  Calling themselves “guinea pigs,” the Houston WFTD were housed in motels and private homes and transported to the airfield each day in trailer trucks. They had no life insurance; there were no crash trucks or fire trucks on the airfield, and they had no uniforms. Since there were no facilities for changing clothes they wore the same gear—GI coveralls in the standard size 52, which they called “zoot suits”—to ground school, to drill, to fly, and to march to and from the mess hall.

When they were moved in early 1943 to better quarters at Avenger Field—the only all-female air base in history—at present Sweetwater, they had to pay their own way and pay for their room and board.  If they washed out of the program, they had to pay their return fare back home.  After the WFTD and the WAFS merged in August 1943 to form the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), Jackie Cochran became the director of the program and Nancy Love headed the ferrying division.  Jackie Cochran recruited women from all over the country but excluded black pilots claiming that since the program was new, innovative, and not very popular, including black pilots might endanger the service’s status.  More than 25,000 women applied, fewer than 1,900 were accepted, and after seven months of military flight training, 1,074 earned their wings to become the first women to fly American military aircraft—a rate comparable to male cadets in the Central Flying Training Command.  The WASP were all pilots with a minimum of 100 hours when they entered the service, but they were trained to fly “the Army way.”  Their program followed the same course as male Army Air Corps pilots except for no gunnery training and very little aerobatic and formation flying.  The women received 210 hours of flying time divided equally between PT-17s, BT-13s, and AT-6s.

Shirley Slade, trainee, Avenger Field, July 19, 1943 LIFE magazine

Shirley Slade, trainee, Avenger Field, July 19, 1943 LIFE magazine

The WASP flew sixty million miles ferrying12,650 aircraft from factories to military bases and ports of embarkation.  They towed targets for live anti-aircraft artillery practice and flew simulated strafing missions, even dropping tear gas and other chemical agents during the training of ground troops.  They accepted the very dangerous task of testing damaged airplanes.  As part of bomber crew training, the WASPs flew the aircraft while male combat trainees practiced as bombardiers, navigators, and gunners.

When the AAF reached a surplus of male pilots toward the end of 1944, it was determined that the WASP was no longer needed.  By the time the WASP was disbanded on December 20, 1944, thirty-eight had been killed in accidents—eleven in training and twenty-seven during active duty.  Since they were not considered military, the dead were sent home at family expense and did not receive military honors.  Even their coffins could not be draped with the U. S. flag.

In her June 1, 1945 report Jackie Cochran wrote that WASP safety, accident and fatality rates compared favorably with male pilot records.  Despite her report, WASP records were classified secret and sealed, not to be released for thirty-five years.  Ironically, Colonel Bruce Arnold, son of General Hap Arnold who had originally been opposed to women pilots, began lobbying in 1975 to have the WASPs recognized as veterans.  With the help of Senator Barry Goldwater, who had served as a WWII ferry pilot, Congress passed the G.I. Bill Improvement Act of 1977, granting the WASP corps full military status for their service.

On July 1, 2009 President Barack Obama signed the Congressional Gold Medal into law and the following May 10th the 300 surviving WASPs came to the U.S. Capitol to accept the Congressional Gold Medal from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Congressional leaders.

July 2009, President Obama signing WASP Congressional Gold Medal into law

July 2009, President Obama signing WASP Congressional Gold Medal into law

The National WASP WWII Museum is located in Sweetwater near Avenger Field.

Mystery of the Twin Sisters

In November 1835, three months before Texas declared its independence from Mexico, war clouds had grown into a full rebellion and the citizens of Cincinnati, Ohio, eager to lend support, began raising money to purchase two cannons for the looming battle.  Since the United States remained neutral throughout the war, the two iron six-pound cannons were secretly shipped down the Mississippi River labeled as “hollow ware.”  Stories abound about how they actually reached General Sam Houston’s volunteer army camped about seventy-five miles up the Brazos River from its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico.

Most accounts say the guns traveled from New Orleans aboard the schooner Pennsylvania to Galveston where Dr. Charles Rice’s nine-year-old twin daughters Elizabeth and Eleanor were invited to be part of the official handing over of the cannons to Texas.  Since the ceremony consisted of twins presenting the two cannons, the six-pounders became known as the “Twin Sisters.”  The Pennsylvania continued to the mouth of the Brazos River and traveled inland about eighteen miles to Brazoria.  It was still nearly sixty miles upriver to Houston’s camp and according to an account taken from General Houston’s correspondence and orders, worry over the terrible condition of the roads and concern that Santa Anna’s army might intercept the Twin Sisters, the cannons were shipped back to Galveston.  Over the next eleven days the guns moved through Galveston Bay and up Buffalo Bayou to Harrisburg (near present Houston) and then ox-carts, pulled by horses, slogged through the rain, mud and fiercely cold weather to General Houston’s campsite on the Brazos River.

As soon as the Twin Sisters arrived, nine men drew assignment to each cannon and the drilling and firing began as the Texan Army moved back east along the very route the Twin Sisters had just covered.

Sam Houston’s army of about nine hundred men set up camp on April 20 in a thick growth of timber where Buffalo Bayou flowed into the San Jacinto River.  The Twin Sisters spent the afternoon in their first combat dueling with Santa Anna’s Mexican cannon.

The following afternoon the Twin Sisters led the charge across the rise in the prairie toward Mexicans who, convinced the Texans would not dare attack, were enjoying their usual siesta.  At 200 yards the two little cannon opened fire with the Texans’ only ammunition–handfuls of musket balls, broken glass, and horseshoes.  The battle cry of the Texans’ split the air with “Remember the Alamo, Remember Goliad.”  In eighteen minutes the startled forces of Mexico’s superior army of over 1,200 men had been defeated. The carnage did not stop, however, as the Texans continued to use rifle butts and bayonets to kill the enemy in a furious retaliation for the brutal deaths of almost 600 Texans at the Alamo on March 6 and the massacre at Goliad on March 27.

Although the Twin Sisters secured their place in history, their travels did not end at San Jacinto.  After being moved to Austin, probably to help protect the frontier capital from Indian attack, the two cannons appeared again on April 21, 1841, when they were fired to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto.  Later that year as Sam Houston kissed the Bible at the conclusion of his inauguration for his second term as president of the Republic of Texas, the cannons roared to life in a salute to the new president and hero of the Battle of San Jacinto.

The Twin Sisters made no further public appearances and became part of the property—fortifications, barracks, ports, harbors, navy and navy yards, docks, magazines, and armaments–ceded to the United States in 1845 when Texas joined the union.  All Texas’ military stores were moved to the federal arsenal at Baton Rouge.

When secession talk reached full tilt with the election in 1860 of Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin McCulloch who as a young man had served on the crew manning the Twin Sisters and was destined to become a general in the Confederate Army sent a letter to then Governor Sam Houston asking him to bring the Twin Sisters back to their home in Texas.  In the years after the cannons reached the federal arsenal in Louisiana, the Twin Sisters had been sold as scrap iron to a foundry.  An investigation found that one cannon remained at the foundry in poor condition and the other had been sold to a private individual.  The Louisiana legislature purchased and repaired the cannons at a cost of $700 and returned them to Texas on April 20, 1861, the twenty-fifth anniversary of their first skirmish with the Mexicans at San Jacinto.

The Twin Sisters performed again at the January 1, 1863, Battle of Galveston in which Confederate forces regained Galveston Island.  Ironically, Lt. Sidney A. Sherman, son of Sidney Sherman one of the heroes at the Battle of San Jacinto, was killed while commanding one of the Twin Sisters.

Stories abound about what happened to the Twin Sisters after the Battle of Galveston.  One account says they were sent to Colonel John “Rip” Ford in San Antonio as he prepared to recapture the Rio Grande from federal troops, but no record exists of the cannons reaching San Antonio.  Some veterans claim to have seen the Twin Sisters at various locations around the Harrisburg area of Houston.  Another account claims that several Confederate veterans, concerned the Twin Sisters would fall into the hands of the federal troops during Reconstruction, buried the cannons in an area hugging Buffalo Bayou.  For years history buffs and souvenir hunters have searched without success for the burial site.

In 1985 two graduates of the University of Houston’s College of Technology supervised the making of replicas of the Twin Sisters.  They stand today on the San Jacinto Battlegrounds waiting for the mystery to be solved that will return the original Twin Sisters to the site where they made Texas and world history.

Replica of Twin Sisters at San Jacinto Battleground

Replica of Twin Sisters at San Jacinto Battleground

Houston: The Second Choice

Houston reigns as the largest city in Texas and the fourth largest in the United States, but it hasn’t always enjoyed top billing.

In 1832 brothers Augustus C. and John K. Allen came to Texas from New York and joined a group of land speculators.  During the 1836 Texas War for Independence from Mexico, the Allen brothers outfitted, at their own expense, a ship to guard the Texas coast and to deliver troops and supplies for the Texas army.  Their operation along the coast offered an opportunity to look for a good site for a protected deep-water port.

Some stories claim that after Texas won independence from Mexico in April 1836, the brothers tried to buy land at Texana, a thriving inland port at the headwaters of the Navidad River located between present Houston and Corpus Christi.  Despite a generous offer, the landowner countered with a demand for double the price.  One of the brothers reportedly became so angry that he climbed on a nearby stump and declared, “Never will this town amount to anything.  I curse it.  You people within the sound of my voice will live to see rabbits and other animals inhabiting its streets.”  (Today, Texana rests under an 11,000-acre lake, a recreational reservoir on the Navidad River that is part of Lake Texana State Park.)

Lake Texana State Park

Lake Texana State Park

Soon, the Allen brothers discovered a site on the west bank of Buffalo Bayou, a muddy stream that wound its way for fifty miles to Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.  They purchased about 6,500 acres for $9,500 and wisely named the new town for Sam Houston, the hero of the Texas War for Independence and the future president of the republic.  By August 1836 the brothers placed newspaper ads claiming the new town was destined to be the “great interior commercial emporium of Texas.”  The ads also said that ships from New York and New Orleans could sail to the door of Houston and that the site on the Buffalo Bayou offered a healthy, cool sea breeze.  They did not mention the heat and humidity and that Buffalo Bayou was choked with tree branches and logs.

The Allen brothers had the town laid out with wide streets on a grid pattern parallel to the bayou to accommodate their

Original Plan, 1869 map

Original Plan, 1869 map

future port, sold town lots at a brisk rate, and generously donated property for churches and other public institutions. The first small steamship arrived in January 1837 after a fifteen-mile journey that took three days during which passengers helped clear logs and snags from the channel.  The travelers found a “port city” of twelve inhabitants and one log cabin.

The Allen’s slickest advertising ploy turned out to be their bid to get the government of the new Republic of Texas to relocate in Houston by offering to construct, at their own expense, a capitol and to provide buildings for public officials at a modest rental of $75 a month. It worked.  By the time the government moved to Houston in May 1837, the town boasted a whopping population of 1,500 and 100 houses.

When travelers arriving in Houston found food and accommodations in short supply, the Allen brothers opened their large home, free of charge.  Their accountant estimated the hospitality cost the Allen brothers about $3,000 a year, but the expense brought rich returns.

The brother’s deal to provide the capitol and all the official office space carried the stipulation that if the government moved from Houston, the property reverted to the Allen brothers.  In 1839 the Texas government moved again from the bogs along the coastal prairie to Waterloo, a tiny wilderness town on the edge of Comanche country in Central Texas that was renamed Austin.

With the loss of the capital, Houston plunged into financial turmoil that threatened to bankrupt the city.  Multiple yellow fever epidemics hurt the town’s image along with a growing reputation for drunkenness, dueling, brawling, and prostitution.  In the midst of it all Houston welcomed the Masons, Presbyterians and Episcopalians organized churches, and the town became the seat of county government.   Businessmen invested in the cotton trade, small steamboats ferried supplies to and from the thriving seaport at Galveston and enterprising merchants used ox wagons to haul goods to settlers in the interior and to return with cotton and other farm commodities.jackson

Following years of regular dredging and widening of Buffalo Bayou to accommodate larger ships, the Houston Ship Channel finally opened in 1914, creating a world class waterway that helped Houston become the “great interior commercial emporium of Texas” just as the Allen brothers advertised in 1837.BuffaloBayouFile:Houston_Ship_Channel