Here are facts about U.S. fluid milk milestones, from U.S. Department of Agriculture documents including academic reports and studies as well as summaries from U.S. dairy and processing organizations.
1785 — The first milk deliveries came in Vermont, in barrels. Consumers would meet the milk man with “jugs, pails or jars,” to be filled. Milk men would portion the milk house-by-house out of a metal milk barrel.
1878 — The Lester Milk Co. invents the the Lester Milk Jar, allowing milk sold in glass bottles in 1879.
1884 — Henry D. Thatcher of Pottsdam, N.Y., invents a new glass bottle, including a “cap.” Bottles were sealed with waxed foil caps. Milkmen would pick up empty glass bottles along their route, clean them and reuse them.
1890s — Dairies started pasteurizing milk, treating it with temperatures to reduce the threat of of bacterial diseases.
1920s — Companies etched advertisements and designs on the bottles. Without refrigeration, daily deliveries prevent spoilage. Customers would place orders with milkmen.
1930s and 1940s — Electric refrigeration replaces “ice boxes.” Grocery stores change things. Most other regular staples — produce, meat, bread and dry goods — had dedicated storefronts.
Post WWII — Populations move to suburbs, increasing costs for milk trucks. Car travel makes consumers more mobile. Matt Novak, in a 2012 Smithsonian.com article, wrote that as the milkman’s expenses increased he was forced to raise prices on his products, which caused families to just tack on milk … to their supermarket grocery lists.”
1950s — Square wax paper cartons and plastic containers replace bottles.
1963 — USDA says 29.7% of milk consumed is delivered to homes.
1976 — 6.9% of American milk sales are delivered to homes.
2005 — 0.4% of milk is delivered to homes.
2014 — A group called Drink Milk in Glass Bottles starts, to help consumers find places to sign up for local home milk delivery. Companies like Manhattan Milk and other competitors offer contracted delivery service.
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