Jewel on the Baylor Campus

Boundless Life: A Biography of Andrew Joseph Armstrong, by Dr. Scott Lewis

Baylor University boasts a claim to fame that has nothing to do with its football team. The world’s largest collection of works pertaining to the Victorian poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning reside in the elegant Armstrong Browning Library. The unlikely repository of

A.J. Armstrong
Wikipedia

the English poets’ books, letters, and manuscripts on a campus in Central Texas happened because of the sheer determination of the Chair of the English Department–– Andrew Joseph Armstrong (1873-1954) ––a moving force at Baylor.

McLean Foyer of Meditation. The light coming through the windows offer a feeling of sunrise and sunset.

Dr. A. J. Armstrong began his collection of Browning books about 1905. Four years later, he spent several days in Italy visiting with the poets’ son. Unfortunately, Robert Wiedeman Barrett Browning, whom the family called Pen, died in 1912 without a will. The estate was sold at auction, which sent Armstrong on a lifelong mission to raise money in every way he could to acquire items associated with the Brownings. He challenged donors and former students for gifts. He and his wife developed one of the first college “travel courses” hosting over thirty European tours. His deep Baptist faith and the wisdom he found in Browning’s poems led to his philosophy of life that he imparted to his students with challenges like “Don’t be colorless; be somebody!” and “No man should attain his ideal-–it should be his starting point for tomorrow.”

He gave his personal Browning works to Baylor in 1918, and the growing collection needed a building of its own. In 1943, Baylor President Pat N. Neff donated $100,000 for a new structure and challenged Armstrong to raise the balance.

Armstrong, at age seventy, had always worked an eighteen-hour day, teaching classes on Robert Browning, Dante, Shakespeare, the Bible as Literature, and a modern poetry class. On Sundays, he taught the largest men’s college class at the First Baptist Church, and he lectured weekly for a large women’s literature class.  He sponsored an honorary English society and pushed the carefully selected members to strive toward their own creativity. Still, he drove the fundraising forward and amid grand fanfare the 1.75 million-dollar Armstrong Brown Library opened on December 1, 1951. When questioned about the cost of the structure, Dr. Browning said, “If we can create a place where young people can meditate on great thoughts and by that means give the world another Dante, another Shakespeare, another Browning, we shall count the cost a bargain.”

Hankamer-Treasure-Room

Pied Piper of Hamelin, stain glass illustrates Robert Browning poem.

On all three floors, visitors find sixty-two stained glass windows, believed to be the largest collection of secular stained glass, forty-seven of which follow the themes of Robert Browning’s poetry. Eight windows illumine Elizabeth Barrett Brownings Sonnets from the Portuguese. Of the more than 500 books, about 300 are from the personal libraries of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning or their immediate family. Some of the pages bear notations made by the poets.

Although Andrew Joseph Armstrong died on March 31, 1954, his grand legacy continues to thrive.

Armstrong Browning Library, Baylor University.

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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