Great brands have great logos, and perhaps none more so than the Chicago-based Morton Salt Company, which introduced its instantly iconic little girl with the big umbrella—a.k.a. the Morton Salt Girl—in 1914. But the story of Morton Salt actually dates back more than 60 years prior, to its founding in 1848. Spice up your next dinner-party conversation with these fun facts that are totally, ahem, worth their salt.
1. MORTON INTRODUCED THE FIRST NON-CLUMPING TABLE SALT.
Back in the day, frustrated cooks and diners had to deal with salt that clumped together in humid weather. Enter Morton’s at-the-time revolutionary solution: Add magnesium carbonate, an anti-caking agent, to the mix, and voila! The first-ever free-flowing salt hits the market in 1911. (These days calcium silicate is added for the same purpose.) The company soon adopted the slogan "When it rains, it pours."
2. THE MORTON SALT GIRL WAS ORIGINALLY AN AFTERTHOUGHT.
To promote the new anti-caking feature of its salt, ad agency N.W. Ayer & Company was hired in 1914 to produce Morton’s first national advertisements, which were set to run as a series in Good Housekeeping magazine. The team developed 12 concepts, plus three alternates, to present to Morton executives. Sterling Morton, the secretary of the company, fell instead for one of the substitute ads, which showed a girl holding in an umbrella in one hand and a package of trailing salt in the other. The other 14 ideas were scrapped, and an icon was born. Of his prescient decision, Sterling Morton later said, “Here was the whole story in a picture—the message that the salt would run in damp weather was made beautifully evident.”
3. THERE HAVE BEEN SEVEN VERSIONS OF THE MORTON SALT GIRL.
Throughout the years, the perennial 8-year-old has seen updates to her image. Since her debut in 1914, her hair has been curly, then straight, then curly again. She’s sported pigtails and a windswept bob. And she’s been both a blonde and a brunette. One thing that hasn’t changed: Her yellow dress, which was first added in 1941.
4. IN 2005, SHE ATTENDED A DINNER PARTY WITH THE JOLLY GREEN GIANT AND COUNT CHOCULA.
And Chef Boyardee. And the Pillsbury Doughboy. And it was all captured for Mastercard’s “Priceless” campaign in a 2005 Super Bowl commercial. In the spot, called, simply, “Icons,” animated renditions of 10 classic brand mascots get together for a family-style dinner. It’s all quite endearing.
5. THE MORTONS HAVE A LONG RESUME OF PHILANTHROPIC WORK.
Considering that the father of founder Joy Morton was responsible for making Arbor Day a nationally recognized holiday, it’s little surprise that the company has a long history of nature conservation efforts and charitable giving. Before his death in 1934, Joy (named after his mother, Caroline Joy French) donated a large portion of his farmland in Lisle, Illinois, to create The Morton Arboretum, which has since grown to 1700 acres. His son, Sterling, also gave the deed to 1200 acres of Utah’s Salt Lake wetlands to the Nature Conservancy in 1984. That same year, he donated $1 million to the Chicago Museum of Space and Industry. Other contributions by Morton Salt have benefitted the U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, and the Art Institute of Chicago.
6. THE COMPANY PRETTY MUCH ELIMINATED GOITER IN THE U.S.
Americans in the early 20th century frequently suffered from the thyroid-growth disorder known as goiter. Once researchers discovered that upping iodine intake could prevent the disease, and that it was inexpensive to mine and had no discernible taste, Morton Salt began adding it to their products. It positioned them well ahead of the competition, and the company began touting the health benefits of their iodized salt in advertisements. Cue the dramatic drop in goiter cases.
7. THE COMPANY PLAYED A ROLE IN THE 1986 CHALLENGER DISASTER.
In the early 1980s, Morton Salt merged with Thiokol, a manufacturer of rocket-propulsion systems. The newly renamed Morton Thiokol Inc. produced the faulty part responsible for the in-flight destruction of the space shuttle Challenger on January 28, 1986. People all across the country watched live as the space shuttle caught fire and broke up in midair, killing all seven astronauts on board. Three years later, the company split, and Morton Salt was independent again.
8. IT PUT GRAND SALINE, TEXAS, ON THE MAP AS AMERICA’S SALTIEST CITY.
If you ever find yourself driving through East Texas, make a pit stop at the Salt Palace Museum, a small exhibition space about 70 miles east of Dallas in Grand Saline. The roadside attraction sits a mile away from one of the country’s largest salt mines, which has been operated by Morton Salt since 1920. It’s estimated that the sodium supply, buried 400 feet below Earth’s surface, could meet the world’s salt needs for the next 20,000 years. While in town, hit up the local Chamber of Commerce, where they’ll give you an itty-bitty blue box of Morton salt as a souvenir.
9. MORTON PRODUCTS GO WAY BEYOND THE FAMILIAR ROUND BLUE CONTAINER IN YOUR PANTRY.
They’re best known, of course, for the table salt found in your local grocery store, but over the years Morton Salt has grown into a 3000-employee-strong company that also produces chemicals for the pharmaceutical industry and salts used for ice and snow control, animal feed, and industrial production. At one point, only one-third of their profits came from the manufacture of salt; the majority was due to its sale of specialty chemicals.
10. NEARLY A DOZEN CARS WERE BURIED IN A SALT LANDSLIDE WHEN A MORTON BUILDING PARTIALLY COLLAPSED.
In December 2014, a wall at a Morton storage facility in Chicago partially collapsed, sending tons of salt spilling out onto the neighboring car dealership. “It appears to be a case of too much salt and too little wall,” a fire department spokesman said of the collapse. No injuries were reported, but 11 cars at the McGrath Acura dealership had to be dug out of the massive salt pile, proving that for Morton, when it rains, it really does pour.
11. PARKS AND RECREATION LIONIZED MORTON SALT IN A 2011 EPISODE.
Specifically, the notoriously cranky Ron Swanson (played by Nick Offerman). In an episode titled "The Fight," Ron pontificates, "I won't publicly endorse a product unless I use it exclusively and I really believe in it. My only official recommendations are U.S. Army-issued mustache trimmers, Morton's Salt, and the C.R. Laurence Fein two-inch axe-style scraper oscillating knife blade."