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Borax

BORAX

BORAX (sodium tetraborate) became important in the European Middle Ages as a flux for soldering—that is, for cleaning the surfaces of metal pieces to be joined by being melted together. Native European sources were un-known, and the nature and origin of this mysterious material was long a puzzle to chemists. Borax was ultimately traced to Tibet—almost the only source known until the discovery (1776) and exploitation (1820) of Italian springs of boric acid (hydrogen tetraborate), which could be converted by the addition of soda (sodium carbonate) into borax. Italy became the principal source of borax until the 1860s, when desert areas now in Chile began to supply borax.

The key figure in the discovery of borax in North America was John A. Veatch, who found it in California in 1856, first in springs at the north end of the Sacramento Valley (Tehama County) and then in larger quantities in a cutoff bay of Clear Lake (Lake County). Veatch himself stated that the discovery was accidental, sparked by the presence in the region of an Englishman who had formerly worked for a London borax company. The California Borax Company was organized to exploit this source, and the company struggled for a decade to extract and purify a material encrusted on the bottom of an isolated wilderness lake. In 1857 Veatch's explorations took him to southern California, where he found borax in the waters of mud volcanoes in the Colorado desert. Within the next decade, borax was found in surface encrustations in more convenient locations in Nevada and southern California. In 1871 the Mining and Scientific Press of San Francisco reported borax to be "all the rage," with production in progress at Columbus, Fish, and Teal marshes in Esmeralda County, Nevada. In 1880 production began in Death Valley, California, where the famous twenty-mule-team wagons carried it out of this below-sea-level depression to the railroad junction at Mojave, 160 miles away.

These surface deposits of borax were largely sodium calcium tetraborate (ulexite), known from their appearance as cotton balls. Their conversion to true borax was chemically simple but difficult in practice. American producers mastered the conversion process by the mid-1880s and supplied the domestic and international markets. However, they drove the price down to a level that caused most producers to fail. The principal survivor, Francis "Borax" Smith, employed Stephen Mather to promote borax in 1896, starting with a pamphlet advertising two hundred "recipes" for borax. This successful advertising campaign greatly expanded the demand for borax, which had become relatively inexpensive, especially in washing powders, glass, and ceramic glazes.

Although Smith controlled nearly all American sources of borax, financial troubles with his other investments forced him to merge with the English borax company Redwood and Sons in 1896 to form a company known in the early 2000s as U.S. Borax. Exploitation of shallow deposits terminated once drilling began in the Mojave Desert, at a site marked by the company town, Boron. In the 1970s production there and at Searles Lake, California, exceeded one million tons per year and satisfied the borax demands of the United States, western Europe, Japan, and many other parts of the world.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Coolidge, Dane. Death Valley Prospectors. Morongo Valley, Calif.: Sagebrush Press, 1985.

Spears, John R. Illustrated Sketches of Death Valley and Other Borax Deserts of the Pacific Coast. Morongo Valley, Calif.: Sagebrush Press, 1977.

Travis, Norman J., and E. J. Cocks. The Tincal Trail: A History of Borax. London: Harrap, 1984.

Robert P.Multhauf/h. s.

See alsoDeath Valley ; Soap and Detergent Industry .

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borax

borax or sodium tetraborate decahydrate (sō´dēəm tĕ´trəbôr´āt dĕk´əhī´drāt), chemical compound, Na2B4O7·10H2O; sp. gr. 1.73; slightly soluble in cold water; very soluble in hot water; insoluble in acids. Borax is a colorless, monoclinic crystalline salt; it also occurs as a white powder. It readily effloresces, especially on heating. It loses all water of hydration when heated above 320°C and fuses when heated above 740°C; a "borax bead" so formed is used in chemical analysis (see bead test). Borax is widely and diversely used, e.g., as a mild antiseptic, a cleansing agent, a water softener, a corrosion inhibitor for antifreeze, a flux for silver soldering, and in the manufacture of enamels, shellacs, heat-resistant glass (e.g., Pyrex), fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, and other chemicals. It is sometimes used as a preservative but is toxic if consumed in large doses. Naturally occurring borax (sometimes called tincal) is found in large deposits in the W United States (Borax Lake in Death Valley, Calif.; Nevada; and Oregon) and in the Tibet region of China. Borax can also be obtained from borate minerals such as kernite, colemanite, or ulexite. California is the chief source of borate minerals in the United States.

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borax

borax evaporite mineral, Na2B4O7.10H2O; sp. gr. 1.7; hardness 2.0–2.5; monoclinic; white, sometimes greyish or tinged blue; white streak; vitreous to resinous lustre; cleavage good {100}, {110}; occurs as a sediment of saline lakes, and in association with halite, sulphates, carbonates, and other borates such as colemanite (Ca2B6O11.5H2O) and ulexite (NaCaB5O9.8H2O). Soluble in water. It is a source mineral for boric compounds.

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borax

borax The most common borate mineral (hydrated sodium borate, Na2B4O7.10H2O), used to make heat-resistant glass, pottery glaze, water softeners in washing powders, fertilizers, and pharmaceuticals. It is found in large deposits in dried-up alkaline lakes in arid regions as crusts or masses of crystals. It may be colourless or white, transparent or opaque.

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borax

bo·rax / ˈbôraks/ • n. a white mineral, Na2B4O7(OH)4.8H2O, in some alkaline salt deposits, used in making glass and ceramics, as a metallurgical flux, and as an antiseptic.

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borax

borax biborate of sodium. XIV (boras; borax, after medL., from XVI). — OF. boras — medL. borax, borac- — Arab. būraq — Pers.
So boracic XIX.

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borax

borax The sodium salt of boric acid.

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borax

boraxaxe (US ax), Backs, Bax, fax, flax, lax, max, pax, Sachs, sax, saxe, tax, wax •co-ax • addax • Fairfax • Ceefax •Halifax • Telefax • Filofax • banjax •Ajax •pickaxe (US pickax) • gravlax •gravadlax • poleaxe • toadflax •parallax •battleaxe (US battleax) •minimax • climax • Betamax • anthrax •hyrax •borax, storax, thorax •syntax • surtax • beeswax • earwax •Berks, Lourenço Marques, Marks, Marx, Parks, Sparks •annex, convex, ex, flex, hex, perplex, Rex, sex, specs, Tex, Tex-Mex, vex •ibex • index • codex • tubifex •spinifex • pontifex • Telex • triplex •simplex • multiplex •ilex, silex •complex • duplex • circumflex • Amex •annexe • Kleenex • apex • Tipp-Ex •haruspex • perspex • Pyrex •Durex, Lurex, murex •Middlesex • unisex • Semtex • latex •cortex, Gore-tex, vortex •vertex • Jacques •breeks, idée fixe, maxixe, Weeks

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