Women Bagging Salt, c. 1900

Historical Context
Salt was commonly made by evaporating salt water from brine swamps and fields or by evaporating ocean water. In central New York, areas like Syracuse became major salt manufacturing areas due to their brine swamps. New York City also had a salt manufacturing industry due to its ocean locale.

The evaporation method for either ocean or brine water is similar. First, the water is gathered in large, flat pans. Then, depending on the method used, the water is evaporated by solar heat or by heating the pans with small fires. The salt can then be scraped from the pans and distributed.

Essential Question
How does geography impact local economies?
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and evaluate the impact of geography on the local economy.
[click to enlarge]
Bagging department at salt works, New York State Archives, NYSA_A3045-78_D47_PiS6_tif
Document Description
Women put salt into small bags at the salt works in Piffard, New York, circa 1900.
  1. What do we use salt for?
  2. Where does salt come from?
  3. In nature, what is salty?
  4. How could you get salt from the ocean?
  5. What would be some hardships of this job?
  6. Do you think this job is done the same way today as it was in the early 1900s?
  7. Do we need salt to survive?
Historical Challenge
Research how civilizations have harvested salt. How did the Egyptians, Romans, and Native Americans do it?
Interdisciplinary Connections
Science: Why do animals need salt to survive? If you boiled salt water, what would happen?
  1. Kurlansky, Mark. The Story of Salt. New York: Putnam's Sons, 2006. ISBN: 0399239987.
  2. Nelson, Robin. From Sea to Salt. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications Co., 2004. ISBN: 0822509466.