by Diana Bulls
Salt. It is one thing that all of us have in common ? we need it to survive. In pretty close to every kitchen in America, there is a salt shaker sitting on the table or next to the stove. And, I am willing to bet, that many of those shakers have been filled by a blue box with a little girl carrying an umbrella on the label.
Morton Salt, the leading salt producer in North America, is also known for introducing one of the best-known and possibly longest running advertising campaigns in the United States. Just take one look at the iconic Morton Salt Girl and the slogan “When It Rains It Pours®” pops right into your mind.
But of course, before we get to the little girl, we have to have a short history lesson.
A very brief history of salt…
Throughout history, salt has played an important part in the development of civilization. It was either mined or reclaimed from salt water evaporation, not an easy chore in either case. Towns sprang up around areas where salt was located and roads were built to make transportation of salt easier. All those cities or town located along the “salt roads” exacted heavy taxes on the salt passing through their territories.
According to Morton Salt’s History of Salt the first written reference to salt was in the Book of Job. In fact, salt is mentioned over 30 times in the Bible and we all remember what happened to Lot’s wife! In Briton, the suffix “wich” in place names means that area was once a salt location, such as Norwich or Sandwich. “He is not worth his salt” is a common expression that dates to ancient Greece when salt was traded for slaves. The superstition about spilled salt being bad luck supposedly came from the painting of the last supper by Leonardo da Vinci, who portrayed the spilled salt shaker in front of Judas Iscariot.
Salt has played a major part in determining the power and location of cities, as well as creating and destroying empires, and influencing the outcome of wars. During the American Revolution, British naval commander Lord Howe successfully captured General George Washington’s stock of salt, interfering the Continental Army’s ability to preserve food.
When the War of 1812 began, it was extremely difficult to get salt from abroad and this led to the development of commercial salt production in Syracuse, New York. During the Civil War, Syracuse salt meant the North did not have to worry about its salt supplies, while the South could not buy salt at any price.
How the Morton Salt Girl made her debut…
Morton Salt’s history dates to 1848, when the company was first started by E.I. Wheeler in Chicago, Illinois. By 1889 Joy Morton acquired a major interest in the company and renamed it Joy Morton & Company. The company was incorporated under the name Morton Salt Company in 1910.
In 1911, the company began adding magnesium carbonate to their salt to prevent it from climbing in humidity, a problem for cooks and diners (this has since been changed to calcium silicate). Back in 1911, free-flowing salt along with Morton’s patented pouring spout was cause for a national ad campaign, the company’s first venture in the advertising market.
N.W. Ayer & Company was asked to produce a series of 12 ads to run consecutively in Good Housekeeping. These were presented, along with three alternative ads, one of which depicted a little girl with an overly large umbrella, carrying an open box of salt. The initial slogan read “Even in rainy weather, it flows freely.” This was considered too long, but it did lead to the famous “When It Rains It Pours®”, now known the world over.
The Morton Salt Girl made her advertising debut in the October 1914 edition of Good Housekeeping. She looked quite a bit different back then, with her curly hair and over-sized umbrella. Over the years she has changed dresses and hairstyles, and switched to a smaller umbrella. The logo was updated in 1921, 1933, 1943, 1956, 1968 and finally in 2014 for her 100th birthday.Over the years, there have been several Morton Salt advertising collectibles issued by the company, including reissued salt boxes, coffee mugs, tins and serving trays, all with the Morton Salt Girl. On eBay, there are listings for hundreds of items ranging in price from $3 to $50. You can also find some rarities, including a small picnic basket with the 1968 Morton Salt Girl on the lid (listed for $44.95) and an original, linen-backed, store advertising sign from the 1930s (listed for $375). And, of course, you never know what you might find at your local thrift store or yard sale. There may even be an old salt box tucked away in Grandma’s cupboard.
In 2012, Ad Age named the Morton Salt Girl as the Top Ten Female Ad Icons of All Time ? just ahead of Betty Crocker and Miss Chiquita. Those two just might be the subject of another story.