The Day the Milkman Went Away: A History of Home Milk Delivery

The Day the Milkman Went Away: A History of Home Milk DeliveryA Quick History of Home Milk Delivery in America

You might have heard about the resurgence of home milk delivery in America. That’s right- the milkman is making a comeback, and all across the country more people are joining the movement.

If this is bringing back some nostalgic feelings for you, we’re going to make them even stronger and take you down memory lane.

Remember the days when mornings were associated with the clinking of glass bottles, as the friendly milkman set them down in the milk box? We do, too.

If you’ve always wondered why it all stopped, we’re here to give you some answers.

Here’s a quick and interesting history of home milk delivery in America. Take some inspiration from the past and consider signing up for home milk delivery to join the movement.


A Time Before Glass Milk Bottles

Our history of milk delivery begins in the late 1700s, when every family had their own cow. If you were lucky, you might have even had 2 family cows.

As industrialization moved people into more urban areas, there wasn’t anywhere to keep a family cow. Houses were smaller and closer together, and people were getting busier.

That’s when people began to buy milk from local dairy farmers instead.

The first home milk deliveries occurred in Vermont in 1785.

When dairy farms began to appear more commercially, the milkman would come door to door with a metal barrel full of milk. People would bring out whatever containers they had- jugs, pails, or jars, for example- and the milkman would fill it.


The Rise of the Glass Milk Bottle

The invention of glass milk bottles changed the dairy delivery scene.

In 1878, the first glass milk bottle was patented. It was called the Lester Milk Jar. Milk was sold in glass bottles for the first time a year later, in 1879.

Henry D. Thatcher invented a different glass milk bottle design in 1884. His was the first to include a cap. Soon, more people began to create their own versions, and by the 1920s designs and advertisements were etched onto the glass.

Homes didn’t have refrigeration at this time, and milk was perishable. Daily milk delivery meant that the milk wouldn’t spoil before people could drink it.

The glass bottles made it easier for milkmen to make their deliveries, and for the dairy farms to keep track of how much their customers were paying for.


How it Worked

Customers would place their orders with the milkman, and he would bring them the next day.

Some homes had an insulated box sitting on the porch, while other homes had cubbies or milk boxes that were built into the side of the house. In fact, some older homes still have their milk boxes to this day.

The milkman would put the bottles of fresh milk inside the box, remove the empty bottles, and collect his payment.

Before cars were invented, the milk was transported on a cart. Sometimes it was pulled by a horse, and other times by the milkman himself.

After the automobile came on the scene, milk trucks replaced the carts.


What Happened to The Milkman?

So why did home milk delivery start to decline?

There were also a few other factors: mainly, refrigeration and grocery stores.

By the 1930s and 1940s, almost every home had a refrigerator. Fridges replaced iceboxes- the first step in the decline of milk delivery.

The invention of refrigeration meant that people didn’t need milk delivered to their homes as often because they could keep it cold on their own.

Grocery stores, who used large refrigerated cases to store perishable goods, entered the scene around the mid-1900s.

Until this time, bread, meat, and dry goods were all sold at specialty stores. Now, they were all sold in the same place.

After World War II, people began to move into more suburban areas as they pursued the American Dream. Milkmen had longer distances to travel, and their routes extended. This meant higher costs, and more people turned to cheaper alternatives.

Grocery stores made it easier for people to buy everything they needed all in one place. There was no longer a need for home milk delivery because they could pick it up while doing the rest of their groceries.

Additionally, after World War II more people had their own cars. This meant it was easy to get to the grocery store independently, on their own time.

Unfortunately, the convenience and cost factor also meant that glass milk bottles were soon replaced by plastic containers and wax paper cartons. By the 1950s, almost all milk in the United States was packaged in square cartons.


The Resurgence of the Milkman

Want to hear something really funny? In 1958, artist Arthur Radebaugh published an edition of his weekly comic strip, “Closer Than We Think,” that depicted mailmen of the future delivering milk to customers’ doors wearing a jetpack.

Radebaugh published an edition in 1961 that imagined a milkman in the future being followed around by an electric robot.

While Radebaugh’s visions didn’t quite play out, there are some things that have changed since then.

Right now, home milk delivery is making a slow but steady comeback. We are undergoing what a New York Times reporter called “a milkman renaissance.”

However, there are a few differences since those days.

Today’s milk delivery trucks can travel longer distances than the carts of the past. That means more areas can be included in local milk delivery.

Companies like Manhattan Milk provide contracted delivery services for a number of dairies in specific areas. Some dairies have their own delivery trucks and services, like Top O’ The Morn Farms in California.

Some home milk delivery services also deliver farm fresh items such as eggs and bread.

Instead of leaving cash for the milkman and placing an order in person, you can now order and pay online. The convenience of being able to order online means you can go on and cancel or change your order if you go on vacation.


So Why The Milkman Renaissance?

It’s easy to see how home milk delivery went into decline. So why is it making a comeback now?

In a world where many things are processed and imported by big corporations, more people are becoming sceptical about where their food comes from. People have begun to focus more on buying local food.

One of the benefits of having milk delivered to your door is the comfort of knowing exactly where your milk is coming from.

You’re supporting your local dairy farmer, a valued community member just like you. When you spend money on local businesses, that money gets put back into your local economy instead of going to an out-of-state or out-of-country conglomerate.

Your milk hasn’t been sitting on a grocery store shelf for who knows how long. When you have milk delivered, it can go from the cow to your doorstep in as little as 24 hours!

The glass milk bottles keep your milk fresher for longer, and the structure of glass helps keep the quality of your milk the best it can be.

Not only that, but it’s better for the environment. Glass can be used over and over again endlessly, so you can be part of a recycling circle that helps eliminate waste from landfills.

Want to Join The Movement? Find Your Local Dairy Now

If you want to be a part of the change, sign up for home milk delivery. Wouldn’t it be nice not to have to pile the kids in the car, fight through traffic, and wait in a cash register lineup just because you ran out of milk for your morning coffee? Our database will help you find a local dairy farmer in your area, so you can sign up for home milk delivery and support your local community.

Visit the database now!