2021 A to Z: Letter M…Weird Holidays

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2021 A to Z: Letter M

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Milk in Glass Bottles Day (April 8)

On April 8, 1879, Milk is sold in glass bottles for the first time in the United States. It’s a clear improvement in hygiene and convenience.

In 1878, the first glass milk bottle was patented. It was called the Lester Milk Jar.

Two early designs of jars / bottles specifically for milk were the Lester Milk Jar (“The Lester Milk Jar was patented January 29, 1878. A screw clamp held the lid in place, but the entire container was awkward.”) [1] and the Warren Milk Jar, made from 1879 until at least 1904. [2]

A Maine Board of Agriculture report mentions these two types of jars / bottles being used to supply milk to New York City in 1881:

“There are some other methods of supplying New York with milk. There is the recent system introduced of putting milk in glass jars — the Lester Milk Co’s process or arrangement. This is a patent jar of glass which contains either one or two quarts and the milk having been cooled just in the manner I have spoken of, in tin coolers or cans, is drawn into these jars and an air-tight lid with an india-rubber band is pressed on with a screw, so that the milk shall be continually under pressure to avoid any shaking; then it is packed in boxes and if the box is kept right side up the cream rises in these jars; they are as large at the top as below and they can be opened and brought on to the breakfast table and the cream skimmed off by the lady at her own table, provided it has not been subjected to this process in the kitchen. The Warren Milk Company’s bottle is a large glass bottle with a large open mouth, and is more extensively employed than the Lester Milk Company’s jar, because the bottle is much cheaper than the jar” (pages 106-107).

Warren Milk Bottle ad (Crockery & Glass Journal 1879:16). In: Schulz, Pete, et al. The Dating Game. William Walton, the Whiteman Brothers, and the Warren Glass Works. Bottles and Extras. July – August 2010. Page 50. Access March 2021 at https://sha.org/bottle/pdffiles/Waltonwhitemanwarren.pdf

The Local news column in Canaan Connecticut Western News. [Canaan, Connecticut. 21 May 1879. Page 1, co1. 3], states: “F.R. Starr of Echo Farm, Litchfield, is sending milk to New York, where he has established his own peddlers and milk route. He is milking about 80 cows. He puts the milk in glass bottles holding about a quart, with a patent stopper, which is nicely sealed. Each quart is marked with a nicely printed label on it, of the day it was sent, and in many cases with the name of the cow from which it was drawn.”

Advertisements in: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Brooklyn, New York. Saturday, 18 January 1879. Page 1, col. 7.

The Milkman Cometh

  • First glass milk bottle patented in 1874 in the US
  • Gradually transferred to UK but until WW1 milk mainly delivered on horse-drawn “milk pram” – ladled into tin cans from a churn
  • At that time, milk was delivered three times a day – “pudding round” later dropped due to WW1 constraints
  • By 1920s and 1930s glass-bottled milk is the norm, but bottles had cardboard slips at the top, which children used to play “pogs”
  • 1935 – slender-neck bottle introduced, giving the illusion of more cream and supposedly favoured by housewives
  • Aluminium foil tops eventually replaces cardboard for hygiene concerns – but WW2 shortages mean experimentation with zinc, tin and lead-based alternatives
  • Estimated 30 million lost glass bottles a year during WW2 – some return to tin can delivery using ladles
  • 1980 – modern version of bottle introduced. Shorter and wider, initially it was nicknamed “dumpy”
An oil-field worker drinks a bottle of milk.
Russell Lee/Library of Congress

FURTHER READING

Gwinn, David Marshall. Four Hundred Years of Milk in America. New York History, vol. 31, no. 4, 1950, pp. 448–462. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23149676. Accessed 26 Mar. 2021. 

Heyden, Tom. Nostalgia for an old-fashioned milk bottle. BBC News Magazine. 26 September 2014

Featured image: “M is for Melt” from Digital Synopsis, created by UK based graphic designers Liam + Jord

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