Once a widely-used product has been around for long enough, most people take it for granted. That’s especially true for common sayings that people repeat from mouth to mouth without any idea as to where they originated.
And in the case of the Morton Salt company, both its logo and its most famous slogan have become so recognizable that it seems like they’ve been around forever. But both came around at the same time, and they illustrate how thoroughly Morton changed the way people use salt forever.
Salt wasn’t always so convenient
Until the early 20th century, it was a common nuisance for salt to form clumps before people could use it to season their food.
While it’s easy for too much salt to come out of a salt shaker nowadays, the opposite problem used to persist.
The science behind an everyday annoyance
Indiana Public Media reported that the bond between sodium and chlorine atoms that makes table salt leaves each atom evenly spaced as they connect at right angles.
This is what gives the salt its distinct cube-like shape when it’s seen under a microscope.
Just (don’t) add water
Since those salt cubes are packed closely together at the best of times, they would naturally fuse together if parts of them were to dissolve.
And unfortunately for 19th Century cooks, the salt only needed to extract moisture from the air for that dissolution to happen.
What that means in practice
The only condition that needed to exist for pre-20th century table salt to clump was a noticeable humidity level in the air.
As such, it was practically guaranteed to happen on a rainy day.
Enter Morton Salt
According to Morton Salt, the company would devise an effective solution to this problem by 1911.
And once their innovation took hold, clumping in commercial salt was on its way to becoming a thing of the past.
What was that innovation?
According to History Daily, Morton found that adding magnesium carbonate to the salt they sold could eliminate clumping completely.
This compound would go on to become just one of the many “anti-caking agents” used throughout the food industry.
Driving the point home
As Morton Salt explained, this “free-flowing” salt was so revolutionary at the time that even the packaging needed to stand out from the competition.
This led to the creation of their now-recognizable cylindrical packaging with a patented spout on the top.
No need for a shaker
And while the cylinder was important to the branding, the spout was and continues to be the most essential aspect of the package.
That’s because it established Morton’s salt as something that could be poured, which would have been unheard of at the time.
Even the color was important
At the same time that Morton introduced their cylindrical packages, they also started incorporating this deep blue color scheme on the labels.
According to Rochester-based newspaper The Democrat and Chronicle, blue is often used in advertising to indicate dependability. That’s why banks frequently use it.
Just one missing piece
With these elements in place, all Morton needed was a logo that expressed what set them apart in a simple image.
And according to Morton Salt, they got it when they commissioned 12 different ads to run in a year’s worth of issues of Good Housekeeping.
Not the one they expected to use
When ad agency N.W. Ayer & Company presented their 12 proposed ads; they also brought three substitute options. And one of those substitutes would practically define the brand for over a century.
This image of a little girl holding an umbrella while salt spills out of the canister under her arm excited Sterling Morton, company founder Joy Morton’s son.
Exactly what they wanted to tell the world
As he would later explain, “Here was the whole story in a picture – the message that the salt would run in damp weather was made beautifully evident.”
This excitement led the Morton Salt Girl to make her first appearance on the company’s packaging in 1914.
Tying it all together
But while the little girl with the umbrella and the free-flowing canister illustrated what made Morton Salt so special, the company needed a slogan to put the message over the finish line.
And at first, it was hard to find one with just the right punch.
The company wanted to get across that its salt flows freely, runs freely, and pours. However, there were some initial hurdles in putting that together.
Their first kick at the can was the slogan: “Even in rainy weather, it flows freely.”
Tightening it up
But when he was presented with this, Sterling Morton said, “We needed something short and snappy.”
And so, the winning idea was to twist the old proverb “It never rains, but it pours” into the now famous, “When it rains, it pours.”
And the slogan has proved so effective that it remains a common saying today, albeit usually with a different meaning.
Indeed, it’s entirely possible to use the phrase to describe misfortunes piling up without realizing its purpose was to sell salt that stays usable on rainy days.
A cultural icon
Not only has the Morton Salt Girl remained a signature part of the company’s branding in the over 100 years since her creation, but her image remains as popular as ever.
As Laurie Dwyer from the Rochester Institute of Technology told The Democrat And Chronicle, the girl is one of the company’s most valuable assets.
She says it all
As Dwyer continued, the brand association she has is especially valuable for such a common product that’s often taken for granted.
In her words, “It’s salt. What can we say about it?”
A series of updates
Part of the reason the Morton Salt Girl has remained such an icon can be attributed to the company’s series of careful updates to enhance her personality.
For instance, the first updates in 1921 and 1933 gave her a little more confidence in her stride and took her art style beyond the turn of the century.
The next stage in her evolution
A 1941 update gave her pigtails, but it also brought a more enduring change in the form of a yellow dress.
And while the next update only slightly changed this redesign, she would see yet another redesign in 1968 that gave her this bob and made her dress a little chicer.
A slight update
As The Democrat And Chronicle reported, her most recent update came in 2014 and slightly simplified the 1968 redesign.
It also presented her accompanying slogan in a more contemporary typeface.
Why the yellow matters
What made the Morton Salt Girl’s yellow dress such an important part of her redesign concerned a similar positive association with the color as her original blue.
Because while blue indicates dependability, yellow is supposed to communicate likability.
And considering how she’s gone from a cute way to express the product’s defining features to “America’s favorite eight-year-old,” that color addition seemingly did its job.
As such, her fashionable bob has been recreated in embroidery, fan costumes, and on merchandise like this Funko Pop.
An industry shift
Although the use of magnesium carbonate swept the industry after Morton Salt demonstrated what it could do, recent years have seen another caking agent rise in prominence.
Based on projections reported by Yahoo Finance, its replacement is set to be an industry leader.
It’s calcium silicate’s time
According to Yahoo Finance, calcium silicate works as an anti-caking agent and has been ruled safe by the U.S. Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization.
But while magnesium carbonate is still used, one factor gives calcium silicate the advantage.
A natural image
Perhaps the most significant reason for its adoption involves a market shift towards natural alternatives to traditional products.
Since calcium silicate is a free-flowing powder derived from limestone, it fits the bill.
Minor changes, permanent themes
These anti-caking changes and the Morton Salt Girl’s redesigns see the company evolving as time goes on but staying true to its brand’s most important symbols.
It’s the best of both worlds.
Count on three things
If there’s one assurance Morton Salt has for its customers, it’s that three things will likely stay the same no matter what else changes.
Because the dark blue packaging, the patented spout, and especially the Morton Salt Girl are just too important to the brand to do otherwise.
But who was she?
According to Morton Salt, the girl with the umbrella has been one of the most popular subjects of the letters the company receives.
And while some customers notice resemblances between her and their own family members, many seek her true identity.
Not the response they wanted
Although the answer to this question is fairly simple, it may disappoint these curious customers.
Because the truth is that there wasn’t any model or specific inspiration for the original Morton Salt Girl. She was just someone that N.W. Ayer & Company made up from scratch.