History of the Salt Pans

Cargill Salt Bonaire N.V. is a division of Cargill, Incorporated (Cargill). The Company took over the operation of the solar salt worksite Bonaire in 1997, and now Cargill Salt Bonaire produces the mountains of white salt crystals that are sold worldwide.

The salt made at Cargill Salt Bonaire is a natural product of sea water, sunshine and wind. Sea water is pumped into condenser ponds to sit until full saturation is reached. The brine is then pumped into crystallizers where it remains under constant evaporation until crystallized to the point that it can be harvested. Each pond is harvested about once a year. The crystals are washed then dried for several months. Finally, at 2000 tons a hour, it is loaded by conveyor belt into ships.

The harvesting of salt has been a major industry on Bonaire for over 350 years. It was a laborious task first done by slaves; then after the abolition of slavery, it was done by laborers from the surrounding villages. Over the ensuing years, due to high tariffs and little capital investment, the industry fell on hard times until it was revitalized an modernized in 1963. Throughout the centuries, salt has been an important trade commodity. In early Roman days, the soldiers were paid their wages in salt - solariums- hence the English work for pay became salary. Salt was no less important to the sixteenth century Dutch- they had cornered the European market with salt that came mostly from Portugal.

Around 1550, Portugal came under the rule of Spain, a country with whom the Netherlands was already at war. Faced with the loss of their salt source, the Dutch sailors began to explore the Caribbean in search of a new supply. One of the first places they explored was Punta de Araya, Venezuela, on the South American coast. A Salt industry soon developed there, and the area became major supply center. The Dutch sailors continued to explore the Caribbean islands that lay off the South American continent, Bonaire being one of them.

In 1623, the first Dutch ships landed on Bonaire, and in 1636 the Dutch occupied the islands and began to develop the salt, dyewood and mutton industries. Possession of the island changed back and forth between the European powers until 1816, when the Dutch reclaimed it for the final time. Cargill, Incorporated began in 1865 when W.W. Cargill opened his first grain flat house - a type of storage warehouse that preceded country grain elevators - in Conover, Iowa. It was conveniently located at the terminus of the McGregor and western Railroad.

From this humble beginning, the Company has grown to one of unimaginable proportions in its depth and scope of businesses. Cargill markets, processes and distributes food, agricultural products, financial and industrial products in 65 countries. It has business activities in another 130 countries. The company has 80,000 employees spread over 1,000 locations. It may come as a surprise to most visitors that the majority of the salt that is produces on Bonaire is used in water softeners. The exception to this market for Bonaire salt occurred over the past few winters when the Northeast USA suffered some of the worst weather on record. Salt container ships were lined up at the pier, loading their valuable cargo, which was used to help make life easier to navigate the slippery road conditions for North American commuters.