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When you think of Borden’s Milk Company, you may think of Elsie the cow, Elmer’s glue, Cracker Jacks, egg nog, Eagle Brand, and other products, because at one time Borden’s was the largest manufacturer of dairy and pasta products. But you probably don’t think of Borden’s in regard to the Civil War?

Gail Borden and Company was founded in 1857. By the next year. The company starting making condensed milk in their New York plant. When the war started, the federal government became their biggest customer. The government was providing condensed milk as a ration to the Union soldiers.

Borden had discovered a way to treat milk in a partial vacuum in such a way that involved adding sugar and heating the milk and then cooling it. The process, which did not either scorch or curdle the milk, was such that most of the water content of the milk evaporated. (Milk is 87% water. By taking a large amount of the water content out – in this case around 75-80%, the milk would not spoil.) Borden patented the process in both the United States and in England. At the same time, the government was concerned because they were unable to provide fresh milk for their troops.

Borden’s (called at the time the New York Condensed Milk Company) plants in Connecticut, Maine and Wassaic, New York sold the U.S. Sanitary Commission an order of 500 pounds of condensed milk on a trial basis. Finding the milk satisfactory for the needs of the soldiers in the field, the government places orders throughout the war. Borden, in fact, had trouble producing the quantities the army required as the federal government commandeered his entire inventory.

The milk came in ten ounce cans, containing 1,300 calories. The cans were sealed air tight. It was said that the condensed milk would stay sweet in any climate for up to three months, and perhaps longer. The soldiers found the milk tasty. It was also a durable staple which could be carried nearly anywhere.

Always the inventor, Borden also provided condensed blackberry juice for the Union army. Borden received commendation because the drink was used in Union hospitals and offered relief for soldiers who had dysentery.

Because the Borden’s condensed milk plants were in the North, it was not possible for officials of the Confederacy to purchase condensed milk for their soldiers.