Q: Does the Borden Co., which we used to hear about all the time in advertisements with its Elsie the cow, still exist?
Bill Hearty, of Cahokia
A: Elsie probably had a cow as she watched her once proud company go down the drain. Founded in 1857 in Connecticut as Gail Borden Jr. and Company, Borden’s food division went bust in 2001 and its other operations soon followed suit although other companies continue to use the Borden name and milk Elsie for all she’s worth.
As you may know, the company’s initial signature product was condensed milk. In fact, after struggling early, it found new life during the Civil War by selling condensed milk to Union soldiers. By 1875, it began selling consumers processed milk, for which it pioneered the use of the glass milk bottle in 1885, according to “The International Directory of Company Histories.”
As the company grew, it began reaching into other areas. Thanks to its many herds of cattle, it used rendering plants to manufacture adhesives. (Hence, Elmer’s Glue and Krazy Glue.) During the rationing in World War II, Borden pioneered the use of non-dairy creamers, instant coffee and powdered foods. And, in the 1950s, it began making printing ink, fertilizer and polyvinyl chloride. Elsie, by the way, was born in 1936 reportedly as a symbol for “the perfect dairy product.”
But as the 1990s dawned, the milk started to go sour, figuratively speaking. It was particularly hard hit in 1992 when Borden refused to lower its prices to match the overall drop in whole milk at the time. In 1995, it finally threw in the towel and was bought out by Kohlberg Krvais Robers, a global investment firm headquartered in New York.
KKR tried to keep what was left of Borden Foods going by continuing to sell pieces of the company while concentrating on its pasta and pasta sauce products. That effort, however, failed as well, and in 2001 Borden shut down its foods division after selling It’s Pasta Anytime to Kraft. Four years later, the final piece of Borden disappeared when Borden Chemical was merged into a global chemicals firm known as Hexion, Inc.
Now, Borden dairy brands are used by Dean Foods for milk and the Dairy Farmers of America for cheese. And Elsie? Well, you might find her wearing a sombrero and enjoying a margarita these days. She and other Borden trademarks have been assigned to Grupo Lala of Durango, Mexico, although she apparently still is used by J.M. Smucker to market its Eagle Brand condensed milk.