Did You Grow Up With This In Your Kitchen?

If you grew up, as I did, when salt and pepper shakers made a daily appearance on the dinner table…

Then it’s quite possible that one of these young ladies resided in your kitchen:

These are the Morton Girls, found on…

Morton Salt.

Motto:  When It Rains, It Pours.

Morton is the salt I grew up with and still use every day…

And when I opened the door to the kitchen cupboard where that iconic, cylindrical, navy blue container of Morton Salt resides, I got to thinking…

I know nothing about Morton Salt.

Time to rectify that.

First, let’s get the scientific stuff out of the way.

Healthwise, salt gets a bad rap these days; some restaurants don’t even put salt and pepper shakers on their tables and if you want salt, you have to ask for it. 

And when you use that saltshaker, sometimes other diners give you The Look – you know the one I mean – as if you were sprinkling your fries with cocaine.

But the truth is – salt is necessary for human life. 

It’s too much salt that’s the problem.  Too much salt can contribute to all sorts of health issues – high blood pressure, which is linked to conditions like heart failure and heart attack, kidney problems, fluid retention, stroke, and osteoporosis.

Here’s why salt is necessary for human life, according to this and many other articles:

“As salt dissolves in a solution or on food, it breaks into its component ions:  sodium and chloride (Na+ and Cl, respectively).  The salty flavor primarily comes from the sodium ions.

“Salt plays a crucial role in maintaining human health.  It is the main source of sodium and chloride ions in the human diet.  Sodium is essential for nerve and muscle function and is involved in the regulation of fluids in the body.  Sodium also plays a role in the body’s control of blood pressure and volume.

“Chloride ions serve as important electrolytes by regulating blood pH and pressure.  Electrolytes are compounds, often salts, which dissociate into their ionic components in solvents like water.  Chloride is also a crucial component in the production of stomach acid (HCl).  Humans excrete salt when sweating and must replenish these lost sodium and chloride ions through their diet.”

OK, Science class dismissed!

Second, something else about salt.

It’s been used by humans for thousands of years, from food preservation to seasoning.  Salt’s ability to preserve food helped eliminate dependence on seasonal availability of food, and made it possible to transport food over large distances.

Salt was often difficult to obtain, so it was a highly valued trade item, and was considered a form of currency by certain people.  Many salt roads – routes by which salt was transported to regions that lacked it – had been established by the Bronze Age (3300 BC to 1200 BC).

Nobody knew about salt’s health benefits, but the financial benefits were huge.

Third, back to Morton Salt.

According to the Made in Chicago Museum:

Meet Joy Morton (pictured), born in Nebraska Territory in 1855 (his first name was a tribute to the maiden name of his mother, Caroline Joy).  Joy’s daddy was rich, but instead of following his footsteps into the newspaper business, Joy went to work in the railroad industry.  This work brought him to Chicago, where 25-year-old Morton went into business in Chicago, eventually buying his way into a salt firm called E.I. Wheeler & Co.

The museum’s website says,

“By 1885, Joy and his brother Mark took over full financial control of Wheeler & Co. and rechristened it Joy Morton & Company.  As with hundreds of other businesses, Morton benefited from a right place/right time element, as Chicago was the rapidly growing central hub between the big salt mines of the East and the new ones in the expanding West.”

“The Morton Salt Company was already the undisputed top dog of the industry by the early 20th century…”

And the Mortons were innovators:

  • In 1911 they added magnesium carbonate to prevent their salt from caking.
  • They created a new container with a pour spout and a blue paper label.
  • The Mortons adopted the When It Rains, It Pours slogan, based on an old saying, It never rains but it pours, a clever reference to the fact that Morton’s salt wouldn’t cake together when the humidity rose.
  • From this concept, the first Morton Girl, with her yellow dress and umbrella, emerged, to look like this in 1914:

Another Morton innovation:

Goiters – an enlarged thyroid (pictured) – is something we don’t hear much about anymore, but at one time they were a major health problem. 

During the early 1920s, Dr. David Murray Cowie of the University of Michigan had championed a theory that adding iodine to common table salt could help combat goiters.  Since goiters were linked to iodine deficiencies, making small doses of iodine more readily available in an affordable, everyday food additive seemed the ideal course of action.

By the fall of 1924, Morton became the first company to sell iodized salt nationally, and it quickly emerged as a new prominent selling point.

The advertising was updated but the Morton Girl remained, though she has changed her fashions six – or possibly more – times, including this 1930s version:

Which, according to the Made in Chicago Museum,

“The full-scale Morton Girl logo on the back of this 1930s container includes far more intricate Shirley Temple-esque detailing than the simplified miniature logo on the front side.”

Morton Girl’s last fashion change was in 1968 – here are six of her iterations:

And here’s something that hasn’t changed.  Let’s go back and look at the front of that 1914 Morton Salt container:

The weight in 1914 was “26 OZ. (1 LB., 10 OZ.).”

And in 2022, it still is:

No shrinkflation here.

But of course, Morton Salt has evolved, or at least its packaging has.

The side panel now contains “Nutrition Facts”:

The Morton Girl on the back of the container has shrunk, to make room for other stuff:

And Morton Salt has a website – something not even imagined back in 1914:

It also has a Facebook page:

And an Instagram page with more than 11 thousand followers:

Now let’s circle back around to my growing-up years, for on last change.

Mom’s disposal of the empty Morton Salt box, and mine:

I’m betting Joy Morton would approve.

Now that I’ve read so much about salt, Morton-wise and otherwise, I can state unequivocally that I am an expert on the subject.

Though somehow, I’m guessing you’ll take that with a grain of…

Or, better still, with…

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