Book Review: The King of California – JG Boswell and the Making of a Secret American Empire

Ian Cassel Blog, Book Reviews 1 Comment

I’ve written about JG Boswell (BWEL) a couple of times here on MicroCapClub, but I finally finished reading the only book that gives a detailed history of the company and man behind it. JG Boswell is known as the country’s largest farm (150,000 acres), which is located in California.  The intrigue with the company isn’t in the size of the farm, but how it got so large in the first place. 

The farm itself is on an old lake bottom, what used to be Tulare Lake. 100 years ago this lake was the largest lake (600 sq miles) west of the Mississippi River, and it was drained dry by farming. The farm to this day continues to tap 15% of the river system/aquifer as irrigation. The true value of the farm even today isn’t really the abundance of crops that are produced but in these water rights that are thought to be worth $10’s of billions.

The company was started in 1921 by J.G. Boswell, and later run by J.G. Boswell II who is credited for the company’s growth from 1952-1984 (died 2009). JG Boswell II was a very intelligent and influential businessman who even served on the board at General Electric (GE) when Jack Welch was CEO. Welch said of Boswell, “A very independent outside the mold thinker, just a maverick sort of a guy”.

The book gives a fascinating account of the history of JG Boswell, and how environmentalists and the US government tried to step in and stop the company several times. The fact that the company still exists today is just a testament of sheer will power and leadership by JG Boswell II.  The company is a very private company even though it is publicly traded.  As in most cases, the more private a company or person is, the more intrigued outsiders are to learn more.  The book was a great read and provides one of the only detailed accounts of this mysterious company.


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