Underground salt mining is a rich tradition in Western New York, dating back to 1865. But the history of salt begins far earlier with the first civilizations.
Because salt is necessary to our survival, it was a scarce and valuable commodity for centuries. Salt enhances the taste of foods, works as a preservative, and helps maintain good health by transporting nutrients and oxygen throughout the body. Before modern production methods made salt available to everyone, men had to fight, open new trade routes, or make new discoveries to get it.
According to “Salt, A World History,” the earliest written record of salt production is in China, 800 B.C. At that time, clay vessels were filled with ocean water and boiled until the salt crystals were left behind. Solar evaporation is another common method for production still in use today. In the 1600’s, Greek historians wrote of the huge Celtic salt miners who worked in the Austrian town of Salzburg (which translates as Salt Town). These are only a few of thousands of historic stories describing how different cultures searched for, secured, and used salt.
In modern times, the drama of salt has focused on its production. Vast mines are dug, deep wells are drilled, and new machines are invented – all to ensure that salt is produced in adequate quantities to meet the needs of every individual.
Over 40 million metric tons of salt are produced in the United States each year through solar evaporation, rock mining, and evaporative wells (also known as mechanical evaporation). Over half of that amount is rock salt, used for de-icing roads.