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William Meyer: Syracuse Salt: The Life and Times of a Natural Resource

By Upstate Institute on January 1, 2010

The following is a faculty research project supported by the Upstate Institute:

William B. Meyer, Visiting Lecturer in Geography

The manufacture of salt from the brine springs at the foot of Onondaga Lake formed the early economic mainstay of the Syracuse area. From the late eighteenth century until well after the middle of the nineteenth, Syracuse was the United States’ leading domestic salt-producing region. Registering its peak yearly output in 1862, it declined slowly but steadily thereafter, though the brine itself remained plentiful, until the last Syracuse-area saltworks closed in 1926.

The vanished industry is a major part of the heritage of central New York, and a comprehensive history of its rise and fall would fill a gap in the region’s literature. The industry also affords an opportunity for a study of how changes in society, from technological innovations to economic and political shifts, create (and destroy) “natural resources” out of what the economist Erich Zimmermann called “neutral physical stuff.”

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