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Repnow: Happy belated birthday, Morton Salt Girl!

By Staff | Jan 16, 2015

Have you ever missed someone’s birthday? You feel bad that you overlooked their birthday and the chance to wish them well. Next to SOS pads, Spray and Wash, and paper towels comes the handy convenience of a belated birthday card. Today I am sending belated happy birthday wishes to a dear gal. She has been a dinner date at our table more times than our sugar bowl, she does well in a pinch, she even goes as far as to regulate the heartbeat and the body’s balance of fluids – plus, she is willing to be tossed over your left shoulder for luck.

In 2014, the Morton Salt Girl turned 100! Yes, she is the umbrella girl who has been on the iconic dark blue, cylindrical salt package and has seen the insides of more cupboards than Corning’s cornflower casseroles. We know that salt is important in food preservation, seasoning and crafts.

Years ago, salt did not pour as we know it today. Salt is “hygroscopic,” which is a physical property that causes it to absorb water from the air around it. When water is absorbed, the salt has a habit of clumping. It came in bags and often turned hard, making it difficult for cooks to use as well as diners at the red gingham tablecloth.

Joy Morton, owner of Morton Salt, and his team solved this problem in 1911 by adding an anti-caking agent, magnesium carbonate, to their product. They also put the salt in a cylindrical package that helped keep water out. The result was a free-flowing salt that wouldn’t frustrate customers. Morton was pleased with his innovation, but still he faced another issue. Now that his salt came in a new and improved form and doing away with shaking it or baking it, he needed to transport this information to his customers. How could he get the word out to customers that Morton Salt had now transformed salt into an easy flow?

A new product required new marketing. That is where the umbrella girl came to life. Morton hired the advertising agency N.W. Ayer and Company to put together a marketing campaign that would promote the anti-caking properties of his salt. Lots of ideas were presented and many tossed away. It was Morton’s son, Sterling, who saw brilliance in one of the throwaway ideas – a little girl averting raindrops with an umbrella and who was accidentally pouring salt while walking in the rain. Yes, it is damp but salt still pours! What a mastermind – especially when they attached the catchphrase “When it rains it pours.” Customers related to this charming image.

I think of Lydia and her willingness to want to help in our kitchen. One of the first tasks I assigned her was to fill the salt shakers, which created these comments: “Oh, this metal spout is handy, and I just love that little girl with the umbrella.”

The umbrella girl first appeared in 1914. She had a ton of curls and a large blue umbrella and was not walking. She was walking by 1921, with a bow in her hair. Over the years, she has stayed fashionable by changing her dresses and hairstyles. She had pigtails, which turned into windblown hair, and in 1956 she began to carry a yellow umbrella with the complimentary shade of violet in the lining. I suppose they could have aged her, which would allow her to now appear on the container with a walker! Instead they have kept her young, and she has stood the test of time. It is interesting to note that no model was used in creating her. In 1968 came another change. They had her look away – which she still does today. Many of us know that walking in gentle rain is a bit of bliss this side of heaven. We try to imagine what whimsical thoughts cross her mind as the salt cascades behind her left shoulder.

She did have a slight update in 2014. They gave her clean lines in the face – botox so to speak – and her step influenced the original font which was bold, all-caps type style. The letter “r” in Morton now has a slight kick to copy the umbrella girl’s step. The movement is so slight that the “r” will never have to worry about dancing with the Rockettes. As the umbrella girl graces her navy round chamber on her centennial birthday, she is beloved and the recipient of a warm, belated birthday card.

Now the moral of this story is: Salt does much to flavor our food and keep us healthy. The “salt” of staying connected and maintaining meaningful relationships can be the belated birthday which pours in after the rain of cards sent early.

Salt has always reminded me of art projects. Before my very eyes, I witnessed my plain, white cardboard church sparkle as drops of glue and salt were combined to create snow. The following recipes are wonderful to make and use with children. They are sure not to disappoint them, and it will teach them that salt not only keeps us healthy, but it aids us in being creative.

EASY AND COLORFUL

PLAY-DOUGH

1 cup of flour

1/2 cup of salt

1 envelope of Kool-Aid unsweetened drink mix, any flavor (And you notice the beautiful color.)

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1 cup of water

1 tablespoon of oil

Mix the first 4 ingredients in a medium saucepan until blended. Stir in water and oil. Cook on medium heat for 5 minutes, or until mixture forms ball. You will want to stir this frequently. Once mixture has gathered, transfer it to a plate and let cool slightly. Store in a plastic bag or in an airtight container. This product is not to be eaten.

JEWELRY DOUGH

3/4 cup of flour

1/2 cup cornstarch

1/2 cup salt

Warm water

Measure and mix all ingredients except water in the mixing bowl. Add warm water, very slowly, to make stiff dough. If you add a little too much, sprinkle the mixture with a little flour. Form into jewelry, let dry and paint with tempura paints. If you want to keep your creations for a length of time, then a coat of varnish or clear shellac should be brushed onto finished creations. If you make more dough than you can use at one time, not to worry as it can be simply stored in a plastic bag inside a coffee container with a plastic lid. Add a little vanilla or lemon extract to the dough and it will smell pleasant. This product is not to be eaten.

UNCOOKED CLAY

1 cup flour

1/2 cup salt

3 teaspoons powered alum

1 cup boiling water

2 Tablespoons oil

Food coloring

Heat the water to boiling. Measure and combine the flour, salt and powdered alum in a mixing bowl. Add the boiling water and oil. Stir well and knead with your hands to form. Add food coloring in the water if it’s to be all one color, or divide the dough into as many parts as the number of colors you want. Add coloring to each and knead the coloring in well. Store each color in a plastic bag with the top twisted tightly to keep air out. The dough will keep for months. This product is not to be eaten.

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