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"The little-known secrets behind the men & women who shaped America"

Transplanted Texan's name not synonymous with his many careers

By Paul Niemann

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[October 23, 2008]  This week's subject lived a pretty interesting life. Gail was born on a farm in New York in 1801, the oldest of seven kids.

His name is synonymous with a product that your mom may have given you when you were growing up. If that clue doesn't give it away, then read on. But first, let's take a look at some of Gail's other accomplishments and some of the familiar people he met.

Gail had only 18 months of formal schooling, yet he taught for two years while he was still a teenager. It just so happens that he had more education than most other people at the time.

At age 28, Gail moved to Texas to follow his brother, who was one of the state's original settlers. He would later start his own newspaper in 1835, a year before Mexican troops captured the Alamo.

But Gail's name is not synonymous with newspaper publishing.

He also worked as a surveyor, even helping lay out the site for the city of Houston.

But Gail's name is not synonymous with surveying.

Speaking of Houston, Gail worked in politics under Sam Houston. Yes, that Sam Houston, for whom the city is named.

But Gail's name is not synonymous with politics.

He got involved in mapmaking and would eventually produce the first topographical map of Texas. Could he have been a modern-day Ptolemy?


No, because Gail's name was not synonymous with mapmaking either. It is synonymous with his invention, though.

What, then, did Gail invent?

He invented a new machine that could travel on water and on land.

But Gail's name is not synonymous with machines that could travel on water and on land. In fact, this car was one of several inventions that Gail created. He also invented the meat biscuit.

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But Gail's name is not synonymous with the meat biscuit, as the meat biscuit was a failure. Apparently people didn't like the taste of it.

So, is this story over already?

No, it's not over. In the words of that great philosopher, John Belushi, it wasn't over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor, so this story isn't over yet either.

The meat biscuit did prepare him for his next invention, though, and this one had to do with milk. He set out to invent a way to keep milk fresh-tasting longer. His inspiration came from seeing immigrants in very bad condition on his way back from an overseas trip.

There's also a town in west Texas named after Gail. The town of Gail is a county seat with a population of only 202 people, located about 30 miles past the middle of nowhere. The town of Gail is in Borden County, which is also named after Gail. As in Gail Borden, who invented condensed milk in 1853.

And that is what Gail's name is synonymous with to this day, more than 150 years later.


Paul Niemann's column is syndicated to more than 70 newspapers. He is the author of the "Invention Mysteries" series of books. He can be reached at

Copyright Paul Niemann 2008

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