Salt History

Salt Through the Ages

The first written reference to salt is found in the Book of Job, recorded about 2,250 BC. There are 31 other references to salt in the Bible, the most familiar probably being the story of Lot’s wife who was turned into a pillar of salt when she disobeyed the angels and looked back at the wicked city of Sodom.

From ancient times to the present, the importance of salt to humans and animals has been recognized. Thousands of years ago, animals created paths to salt licks, and men followed seeking game and salt. Their trails became roads and beside the roads; settlements grew. These settlements became cities and nations.

Ancient Britons carried their crude salt by pack train from Cheshire to Southern England where they often were forced to delay their journey until the high tides of the Thames River subsided. A village known as Westminster grew up there and Westminster became London.

Salt has greatly influenced the political and economic history of the world. Every civilization has had its salt lore – fascinating superstitions and legends that have been handed down, sometimes reverently and sometimes with tongue-in-cheek. The purifying quality of salt has made it a part of the rituals in some religious ceremonies.

“He is not worth his salt” is a common expression. It originated in ancient Greece where salt was traded for slaves.

Roman soldiers were paid “salt money,” salarium argentum, from which we take our English word, “salary”.

The early Greeks worshipped salt no less than the sun, and had a saying that “no one should trust a man without first eating a peck of salt with him” (the moral being that by the time one had shared a peck of salt with another person, they would no longer be strangers).

The widespread superstition that spilling salt brings bad luck is believed to have originated with the overturned salt cellar in front of Judas Iscariot at the Last Supper, an incident immortalized in Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous painting.

According to an old Norwegian superstition, a person will shed as many tears as will be necessary to dissolve the salt spilled. An old English belief has it that every grain of salt spilled represents future tears. The Germans believe that whoever spills salt arouses enmity, because it is thought to be the direct act of the devil, the peace disturber. The French throw a little spilled salt behind them in order to hit the devil in the eye, to temporarily prevent further mischief. In the United States, some people not only toss a pinch of spilled salt over the left shoulder, but crawl under the table and come out the opposite side.

The United States has had its battles over salt. In 1777, Lord Howe made a successful attempt to capture General Washington’s stock of salt. Many battles and treaties took place before Western salt licks were free to be used by settlers.

During the War of 1812 with England, it became very difficult to obtain salt from abroad. Because of this, commercial production of salt began in Syracuse, New York. During the Civil War, Syracuse production freed the North of all salt problems, but by 1863, Southerners could not buy salt at any price. If the South had been able to protect its salt factories in Virginia and its salt deposits along the Louisiana gulf coast, the War between the States might have ended differently.

Transporting salt has always been a problem because it is bulky and low priced. Syracuse salt was brought to Chicago by way of the old Erie Canal and the Great Lakes. As early as 1848, the canal was known as “the ditch that salt built.” Today, Morton has solved many of the transportation problems by having salt plants located across North America.