Francis Marion Smith papers, 1888-1944, bulk 1902-1923

Francis M. Smith and his son Francis M. Smith Jr. at Arbor Villa, Oakland, 1916.
Francis M. Smith and his son Francis M. Smith Jr. at Arbor Villa, Oakland, 1916. Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Center.

Francis Marion Smith, better known as "Borax" Smith, was born in Richmond, Wisconsin, in 1846, and made his fortune mining a large borax deposit he discovered in the Mojave Desert in 1872. His "20 Mule Team Borax" became a household brand and made him a millionaire many times over. In 1881 he and his wife Mary settled in Oakland, California, and soon began work on their large estate, Arbor Villa, and eventually the grand central home "Oak Hall." Smith was a civic leader in Oakland, creating the Realty Syndicate, which developed many of Oakland’s neighborhoods, and the Key System, a streetcar and ferry system providing transportation in the East Bay and across the bay to San Francisco. Through his United Properties Co. of California Smith also led early efforts to consolidate water services in the Oakland area. Smith and his wife were also active philanthropists, funding hospitals, holding charity fundraisers, and founding the Mary R. Smith Trust for orphaned girls in 1901 which cared for girls in cottages built on the estate. Following Mary's death in 1905, Smith eventually remarried in 1907 to Evelyn Ellis and the couple had four children. After losing and regaining his fortune and following several strokes, Smith stepped down from his companies in 1928 and he and Evelyn left Oak Hall and Arbor Villa, moving to a smaller home near Lake Merritt. Francis Marion Smith died at Oakland's Fabiola Hospital in 1931 and is buried in nearby Mountain View Cemetery.

16 folders, .5 linear feet
Arranged in three series. Series 1. Corporate records, 1910-1923 -- Series 2. Personal papers, 1888, circa 1900-1931-- Series 3. Mary R. Smith Trust, 1902-1944.
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Available at Oakland History Center, Main Library.