Searles Valley Historical Society



1850    In January the Jayhawker, Brier and Bennett-Arcane groups of Death Valley ‘49ers escape through Searles Valley.  These are the first white men in the area.

1863    While prospecting for gold and silver in the Slate Range Mountains with three partners, John W. Searles find tincal (borax) efflorescence on the dry barren surface of what is now Searles Lake. Samples are taken to a new borax company in San Francisco who assays the samples but then lies about the results. Nothing comes of the effort.

1872    A man named McGillivray, who had been to the borax works of Francis "Borax" Smith at Teel's Marsh, NV, stops by the Searles mining camp at Soledad. After seeing samples brought by McGillivray, John Searles realizes the truth about the samples 9 years earlier.

1873    Searles and 3 partners claim 640 acres of Searles Lake and form the San Bernardino Borax Mining Company. He uses long mule teams to haul borax in wagons to San Pedro.

1876    The Southern Pacific Railroad extends its tracks 120 miles from Los Angeles to Mojave.  This reduced the Searles’ mule team haul to the railhead to four days.

1895    The San Bernardino Borax Mining Company is sold to the Pacific Coast Borax Company (owned by "Borax" Smith)., Smith shuts down the Searles Lake operations the next year.

1897    John Searles dies on November 9 in St. Helena, CA.

1898    California Borax Company organizes and plans to process Searles Lake surface mud for borax. Pacific Coast Borax buys the company and development ceases.

1908    California Trona Company forms and builds a plant to recover soda ash from crude trona from the trona reefs, but the process is flawed. The company borrows extensively from Foreign Mines Development Company and is finally placed into receivership.

1910    S. W. Austin, receiver for the California Trona Company, builds roads onto the lake and drills exploration wells. He is accused of claim jumping but is later vindicated.

1913    Consolidated Gold Fields of South Africa, a British-owned company, forms the American Trona Corporation, which acquires the assets of California Trona Company.

1914    The Trona Railway Company completes 31 miles of track to Trona from the Searles Station junction with the Southern Pacific Railroad. American Trona Corporation establishes the company-owned town of Trona.

1915    Potash production begins and totals 250 tons that first year.

1916    The Solvay Process Company and Pacific Borax Company form the Borosolvay operation and boost Searles Valley’s potash output to 36,000 tons per year by 1917.

1919    American Trona Corporation introduces the Three Elephant brand name for borax. The name indicates strength relative to the competing 20 Mule Team brand.

1920    Consolidated Gold Fields sells its interests in the American Trona Corporation to a Dutch syndicate for $12 million. "Borax" Smith forms the West End Chemical Company and begins developing a process to recover borax and soda ash.

1921    Potash prices fall, and the Borosolvay plant ceases operations.

1926    American Trona becomes American Potash & Chemical Corporation. Borax production begins at the West End Chemical plant.

1927    West End Chemical Company begins soda ash production at their plant.

1932    Exploratory drilling on Searles Lake indicates the existence of a lower salt bed filled with brine, greatly increasing the lake's known reserves.

1934    American Potash & Chemical Corporation completes the project that began in 1929 to double production of potash and borax and begin producing soda ash and sodium sulfate.

1948    American Potash & Chemical Corporation develops a new operation which expands soda ash and borax production.

1955    West End Chemical Company begins sodium sulfate production.

1956    The West End Chemical Company merges with the Stauffer Chemical Company.

1961    American Potash & Chemical Corporation builds the world’s largest triple-effect evaporator to again double the production of potash and borax.

1962    American Potash & Chemical Corporation develops a novel solvent extraction process to recover boric acid and potassium sulfate from weak brines. They receive national recognition and an award for their innovative process.

1965    American Potash & Chemical Corporation begins using solar evaporation in large ponds to seasonally increase the strength of brines.

1967    Kerr-McGee Corporation acquires American Potash & Chemical Corporation on 27 December.

1969    American Potash & Chemical Corporation is renamed Kerr-McGee Chemical Corporation.

1970    Searles Lake Chemical Company, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum Corporation, attempts to develop a process to recover chemicals from lake brines using solar ponds and physical separations. The attempt fails and testing ends in 1972.

1974    Stauffer Chemical Company's holdings on Searles Lake are acquired by Kerr-McGee Chemical Corporation on October 10.

1977    Kerr-McGee Chemical Corporation begins operation of its new Argus power plant. This is the first large industrial boiler in California fired by coal.

1978    Kerr-McGee Chemical Corporation begins production in the Argus Plant, its large new soda ash operation.  This is the world’s largest plant that produces soda ash using brine carbonation.

1980    Kerr-McGee Chemical Corporation improves the borax process at Westend, increasing borax production by fifty percent. In the Trona Plant, Kerr-McGee ends soda ash production and expands sodium sulfate production.

1982    In the Trona Plant Kerr-McGee Chemical Corporation shuts down half the potash, half the borax, and all of the sodium sulfate production, as well as all of the gas fired boilers.

1988    Kerr-McGee Chemical Corporation transfers soda ash production from Westend to the more efficient Argus Facility while expanding Westend borax production by thirty percent. The soda ash transfer also ends operation of the lime kiln at the Westend Plant.

1989    ACE Company begins electric power generation and power sales to Southern California Edison Company. The ACE coal fired boiler uses a novel fluid bed to burn coal cleanly.

1990    D. George Harris and Associates acquires the Soda Products Division of the Kerr-McGee Chemical Corporation on 01 December and forms North American Chemical Company.

1994    North American Chemical Company begins using fluid bed technology to expand soda ash production and produce soda ash more efficiently.

1996    North American Chemical Company improves borax mining on Searles Lake and uses this to almost double borax production at the Westend Plant. They also increase soda ash production at the Argus Plant. Finally, they shut down all potash and borax production at the Trona Plant, bringing to an end the eighty one year history of recovering potash from Searles Lake brines.

1998    IMC Global Corporation acquired North American Chemical Company on 01 April. The North American Chemical Company facilities at Trona and Westend are renamed IMC Chemicals Incorporated to match the name of their parent corporation.

2004    On March 18, Sun Capital, LLC, purchases 80.1% of the Searles Valley holdings of IMC Global.  IMC retains the remaining 19.9% as a passive investment.  The business is renamed Searles Valley Minerals, Inc.

2007    On Dec. 27, Karnavati Holdings, a subsidiary of Nirma Limited, acquires all of Searles Valley Minerals, Inc. A steam pipeline from Argus to Westend Plant starts up in October.

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Searles Valley Historical Society
P. O. Box 630
13193 Main Street
Trona, CA 93592-0630
Phone (760) 372-5222


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