Gateway to the Classics: Handbook of Nature Study: Earth and Sky by Anna Botsford Comstock
Handbook of Nature Study: Earth and Sky by  Anna Botsford Comstock


Teacher's Story

A "saturated solution" is an uninspiring term to one not chemically trained; and yet it merely means water which holds as much as it can take of the dissolved substance; if the water is hot, it dissolves more of most substances. To make a saturated solution of salt we need two parts of salt or a little more, for good measure, to five parts of water; the water should be stirred until it will take up no more salt.

A slip of paper placed in a saucer of this solution will prove a resting place for the crystals as they form. In about two days the miracle will be working, and the pupils should now and then observe its progress. Those saucers set in a draft or in a warm place will show crystals sooner than others, but the crystals will be smaller; for the faster a crystal grows, the smaller is its stature. If the water evaporates rapidly, the crystals are smaller, because so many crystals are started which do not have material for large growth. When the water is evaporated, to appreciate the beauty of the crystals we should look at them with a lens or microscope. Each crystal is a beautiful little cube, often with a pyramid-shaped depression in each face or side. After the pupils have seen these crystals, the story of where salt is found should be told them.


Form of a salt crystal.

Salt is obtained by two methods: by mining large deposits of rock salt, and by evaporating water containing a strong solution of salt. The oldest salt works in this country are in Syracuse, New York, where the salt comes from salt springs which were famous among the American Indians. At Ithaca, N. Y., the salt deposits are about 2000 feet below the surface of the earth. Water is forced down into the stratum of rock, which was evidently once the bottom of a briny sea; the water dissolves the salt, and it is then pumped up to the surface and evaporated, leaving the salt in crystals. In Michigan and Louisiana there are other large salt works of a similar character. The largest salt mines in the world are those in Poland, which have been used for hundreds of years. In these mines there are fifty miles of corridors, and the salt has been carved into beautiful chambers with statues and other decorations, all cut from the solid salt. One of these chambers represents a chapel beautifully ornamented.

When the United States was first settled, salt was brought over from England; but this was so expensive that people could not afford it and they soon began to make their own salt by evaporating sea water in kettles on the beach. In those countries where it is scarce, salt is said to be literally worth its weight in gold. The necessity for salt to preserve the health of both people and animals has tempted the governments of some countries to place a special tax upon it; in Italy, especially, the poor people suffer greatly on account of the high price of salt from this cause.

Salt lakes are found in natural basins of arid lands, and are always without outlets. The water which runs in escapes by evaporation, but the salt it brings cannot escape, and accumulates. A salt lick is a place where salt is found on the surface of the earth, usually near a salt spring. Animals will travel a long distance to visit a salt lick which gained its name through their attentions.

Lesson CCXII


Leading thought—Salt dissolves in water, and as the water evaporates the salt appears in beautiful crystals.

Method—Let each pupil, if possible, have a cup and saucer, a square of paper small enough to go into the saucer, some salt and water. Let each pupil take five teaspoonfuls of water and add to this two spoonfuls of salt, stirring the mixture until dissolved. When the water will take no more salt let each pupil write his name and the date on the square of paper, lay it in the saucer, pressing it down beneath the surface. Let some place their saucers in a warm place, others where they may be kept cool, and others in a draft. If it is impossible for each pupil to have a saucer, two or three pupils may be selected to perform the experiments.


1. When you pour the salt into the water, what becomes of it? How do you know when the water will hold no more salt?

2. After a saucer, filled with the salt water, stands exposed to the air for several days, what becomes of the water? From which saucers did the water evaporate fastest—those in the warm places, or those in the cold? In which did the crystals form first?

3. Which saucers contained the largest crystals—those from which the water evaporated first, or those from which it evaporated more slowly?

4. Could you see how the crystals began? What is the shape of the perfect salt crystal? Do the smallest crystals have the same shape as the largest ones?

5. What happens to people who cannot get salt to eat?

6. How is dairy salt and table salt obtained? What is rock salt? What are salt licks? Where are the salt mines found? Why is the ocean called "the briny deep?"

7. Name and locate the salt lakes. Why are lakes salt?

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