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“When It Rains, It Pours”: The History Of The Morton Salt Girl

1900s | May 17, 2019

Remember the Morton Salt Girl? She's been around for a long time. Source: (mortonsalt.com)

Remember the Morton Salt Girl? Of course you do, Morton table salt still puts that girl (and her umbrella) on every package of their truly iconic salt. Their slogan also goes way back. The old saying, “When it rains, it pours,” sounds like wise wisdom from Confucius or the Bible or even the moral of an Aesop’s Fable. In reality, this saying is one of the earliest and most successful advertising slogans of all time. It comes to us from the Morton Salt Company itself, and, when paired with the Morton Salt Girl, it forms the basis for one of the longest running marketing campaigns of all time. Here is the surprising history of the Mort Salt Girl and the “When it rains, it pours” slogan. 

Source: (healthconceptsltd.com)

Sticky Salt… A Real Problem

Prior to the early 1900s, housewives had a real problem to contend with in their kitchens: sticky salt. When the humidity was high or it was raining outside, the salt would clump together. Food didn't used to be as easy and fast as it is now. To use it, the frustrated housewives would have to chisel it apart, which was very, very annoying at the time.

A vintage 1920s salt ad. Source: (chairish.com)

Morton to the Rescue

Salt-clumping was such an issue that the Morton Salt Company devised a new, free-flowing salt that promised not to clump, even on a rainy day. Beginning in 1911, they added a non-caking agent made of magnesium carbonate to its salt. It worked. The salt didn’t clump. Although today’s salt contains calcium silicate as a non-caking agent, the original magnesium carbonate was a breakthrough for the table salt industry. Now, the execs at Morton just needed a way to let folks know about their new product. 

Morton Salt Company patented their unique pouring spout. Source: (vintageadbrowser.com)

First, Creative Packaging

Truly thinking outside the box, the designers at the Morton Salt Company decided to package their new, free-flowing salt in a cylindrical shaped container. They even put a spout on the top to allow for easy pouting and to reinforce the idea that their brand of salt was pourable. In fact, the Morton Salt Company patented this spout. It's something we all take for granted currently, but think about the intuition that it takes to double down on such an idea so early on. They were so sure about their "unique differential" that they based their entire product around its function. It is, really, what most companies should do with their products, and the amount of thought that every major company deserves, yet rarely gets. Not only did they innovate a packaging style, but they did it to prove a point that their invention did. The packaging, product, slogan, and branding, then, all tell one story -- which is brilliant. 

The original Morton Salt Girl. Source: (mortonsalt.com)

Next Came the Morton Salt Girl

The advertising agency, N.W. Ayers & Company was hired by the Morton Salt Company to create a series of print ads that were to run in Good Housekeeping magazine. Their goal was to explain that the salt would not clump and that it was sold in a unique, blue cylinder package with a convenient pouring spout on the top. With this end goal in mind, the ad agency presented the Morton execs with 15 possible ads. One ad stood out from all the rest. It showed a little girl. In one hand, she was holding an umbrella to protect her from the rain. In her other hand, she was holding a container of Morton Salt, tilted so that salt was pouring from the spout. Sterling Morton of the Morton Salt Company later recalled, “Here was the whole story in a picture.” The Morton Salt Girl was born. 

Source: (nowiknow.com)

Lastly, the Slogan

The original saying that went with the salt girl image stated, “Even in rainy weather, it flows freely.” Sterling Morton thought that this saying was too wordy. He asked the advertising experts to come up with something that was shorter and snappier. It took a lot of trial and error before they came up with the pithy, catchy, “When it rains, it pours.” 

Morton Salt Company, in Chicago, Illinois on MAY 10, 2011. Source: (Photo By Raymond Boyd/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Part of Our Lexicon

Since the Morton Salt Company first debuted its Salt Girl ad campaign in 1911, the saying, “When it rains, it pours”, has become a part of our lexicon. But the meaning has evolved. Instead of referring to clump-free salt, it now describes a situation when, after one negative thing happens, more bad luck follows. The saying, however, has been nothing but good luck for the Morton Salt Company. 

Source: (specialmodernblog.com)

The Salt Girl is Part of Our Pop Culture

The Morton Salt Girl is still being used by the company today, 108 years after she debuted. She has gone through six redesigns in her time, in 1921, 1933, 1941, 1956, 1968, and 2014. Although her appearance has changed slightly over the years, her message has not. Morton Salt is the name to remember, because, even though it had a much more literal meaning when it came out about humidity and the reliability of even being able to pour salt at all, the slogan remains: “when it rains, it pours.” 

Tags: morton salt company | MORTON SALT GIRL | salt

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.