Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/363

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351
BORAX IN AMERICA.

tionally dry season, on the contrary, it shows sometimes no water, the muddy bottom being covered with saline incrustations. When it has a length of three fourths of a mile, with a depth of four feet, being perhaps its average condition, the water holds in solution 18·75 grains of solid matter to the ounce—·039 of its own weight. This consists of salts of soda, in the following proportions: Sodium carbonate, ·618; sodium chloride, ·204; sodium biborate, ·178.

But this alkaline water, exceedingly rich as it is in borax, constitutes only a trifling part of the commercial value of the lake. In fact, it has never been turned to account at all in the manufacture of borax, though such use of it is entirely practicable, as the statements to be presently made in relation to Hachinhama will show. The muddy bottom of the lake was found, immediately on its discovery in 1856, to contain borax in crystals, in quantities most astonishing.

These crystals, being tested by various workers in iron and steel, were pronounced equal to the very best of refined borax. They are, in fact, pure biborate of soda, without any other impurities than the mud mechanically entangled with them in their process of crystallization. They correspond to the native borax of other localities, designated as tincal, but yet are decidedly distinct from it. In fact, no such crystals as those of Borax Lake have ever been found in any other locality, and there are several points in connection with their mode of formation, and even their very existence, which are by no means easy of comprehension, as we shall see.

Although the discovery was made, as already stated, in 1856, no practical development of the lake was begun until 1864. From this time it was pressed vigorously until 1868, when it ceased, not from failure of the supply, but simply from mismanagement of the work. The crystals were certainly less abundant at the last than in the earlier workings, but the lake still held and doubtless holds now an amount running to many millions of pounds, if it be not in truth practically inexhaustible.

Their abundunce was such, and the yield was so great, that within the period specified the lake had revolutionized the borax-trade of the United States; in fact, it had accomplished that work before the close of the year 1864. The annual importations since 1855, the earliest date at which the congressional reports enable us to trace them, had varied from $143,218 to $217,944. In 1864 they were suddenly reduced to $8,984, a result due entirely to the working of Borax Lake.

A statement of the manner in which the crude crystals were removed and utilized will bring to our notice the strange peculiarities of their nature, origin, and mode of crystallization.

The mud which constitutes the bottom of the lake is a smooth, even, plastic clay, of unknown depth. It has been bored through thirty feet without showing change in its structure. The upper por-