The history of the milkman: Who killed him?


DID YOU STILL HAVE A MILKMAN growing up? (Do you look suspiciously like him? tee hee.) Historic New England has a really wonderful virtual-online exhibit about the history of milk home delivery from 1860-1960. The exhibit also helps explain some of the history of modern kitchens. Alas, we Retro Renovators know how the story ends. –>
I am the oldest child, born in ’59 (same year as Barbie) and I think that we actually still had a milkman delivering milk to our first little house on Buena Place in Carlsbad. The one with the countertop I once featured and mom said it was in that house! But I can’t find the post now, drats. Mom, can you verify we had a milkman?

Here in the Berkshires we still have a functional dairy, and they still do home delivery, hitting each town in the county one day per week.  High Lawn Farm, a really wonderful place, it’s like a fairy tale, more than 100 years old. The milk is wonderful, but it costs more, of course.  It comes from Jersey cows, and I think they say it has more protein and calcium and of course, none of those artificial hormones. On Saturdays in the summer I drive down (it’s just 2 or 3 miles away) and buy a half gallon of heavy cream. I then make the most delicious delectable ice cream in the world with a vintage electric (yes, I know…) ice cream churner that I got at a garage sale for five bucks.

The dairy! The milkman! The chocolate cows that make chocolate milk! All this is leading up to: Historic New England’s absolutely delightful virtual exhibit – From Dairy to Doorstep. Very interesting. For example, do you know the #1 factor that killed the milkman? I tested my history-teaching husband, and he guessed ‘industrial dairy farming.’ Hah! Gotcha! The answer: Refrigerators. These little details about how and why life changed – became “modern” – fascinate me. In fact, I think the reason I like the postwar era so much, rather than say, the Victorian era, is that in many ways we are still playing out the changes launched after WWII. Most all the elements important to life today gelled then.

The exhibit reports:

After World War II, change came to the milkman. The milkman was a familiar character in the neighborhoods of small towns and cities alike, and dairy products now held an unquestioned place in the American diet. Yet, refrigerators, supermarkets, suburban sprawl, and automobiles threatened home delivery. Consumers chose to live in different places and get milk in different ways. In fact, by the end of the 1950s, home delivery fell into a decline and never recovered. By the early 1950s, reliable power refrigeration replaced ice boxes and revised the homemaker’s job of buying and cooking for the household. Perishable foods like milk could now be bought in greater quantity and kept longer without spoiling, more meals could be made from leftovers, and frozen foods could replace fresh. The milkman did not have to arrive every day in order for the family to have unsoured milk.

Tour the wonderful Historic New England virtual exhibit here.

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  1. says

    we ddint have a milkman but we went to the milk barn with our metal carrier and got glass bottles we has to return, I still have the milk caps! well the inner circles!

    • pam kueber says

      Hi Monica, I once went to an estate sale in Pittsfield – it was a house that was part of a long defunct dairy. The dairy buildings were in the back. Inside there were hundreds of old glass quart bottles, all with the logo of the dairy still embossed on them. To this day I regret not buying them all and making some sort of display out of them. Alas.

  2. Gabbie says

    As a kid in the 70s I remember having milk delivery for a bit. We lived in Alabama and the Meadow Gold dairy would still deliver. The milk came in cardboard half gallon containers by that time.

  3. Patrick Coffey says

    The option of having your milk delivered in glass bottles is alive and living in the Washington DC area thanks to the South Mountain Creamary of Middletown Md. and yes they pick up your old bottles and give you a $1.50 on each of them as well. If you live here in the DC area go to there web site and check it out. I buy their milk at the Vienna Farmers market every Saturday and have enjoyed immensly.

  4. says

    I owned a home in San Jose, California, that was built in the 1930s and it had a little compartment in the outside wall of the house for milk. There was door on the outside of the house the milkman could open to put the milk, and a corresponding door for the homeowner to take the milk out. The inside door had a little dial where you indicated how many quarts you wanted.

    • Cindy says

      I know this is an old post, but I just found this page snooping around. I lived in a house in Northern Indiana in the 70’s and our house also had the milk door. I remember seeing the extra insulation inside it. We didn’t have milk delivery, but it was fun to have. I just visited that house a few months ago and the door is still there.

  5. cadman says

    While there’s no milk delivery here, one of the local dairies brought back glass-bottled milk a year or two ago and it’s available through the local supermarket chain. Cream, 1%, 2%, even fresh Goat’s Milk. Costs more, of course, but it’s worth it! Bring your bottle back and get your $2 deposit.

  6. Anita says

    I grew up in South San Francisco, born in 1955. We had Berkley Farms milk delivery twice a week for most of my childhood. I don’t remember delivery in glass bottles, I just remember the quart cartons. And we got our ice cream delivered from the milk man also.

  7. MrsErinD says

    I was born in 1970 and live in a suburb near Pittsburgh, PA and I remember we had milk delivered when I was a kid, we had a metal box with the milk decal on it on the front porch! :O)

  8. Heidi Swank says

    I grew up outside Prescott, Wisconsin, a town of about 3,000. I was born in 1968 and remember a milkman coming to our house when I was small. I think the milk was in glass bottles. I mostly remember that every now and then the milkman would give me one of those small cartons of chocolate milk. That was always a good day. I believe his name was Mr. Eggers. He lived in town and at Halloween would put out crates of “orange drink” for the trick or treaters. While the orange drink at Halloween lasted for quite some time, the milk delivery was gone by the time I was ten.

  9. sablemable says

    I remember the milkman! We had a local dairy, Producers Creamery that delivered milk, but in the Fifties, PC started delivering milk in the wax cartons. Also, my maternal grandparents, who lived in Toledo, Ohio, got milk delivered by the Babcock Dairy. Years later, I met a man from Toledo who said Babcock Dairy continued its bottled milk deliveries up until about 1980.

  10. says

    Hi Pam, nice site! Thanks for your interest in Dairy to Doorstep. Have you heard about the Historic New England “America’s Kitchens” exhibition? It’s opening June 11 at the NH Historical Society in Concord. We’ve been celebrating 2009 as “Year of the Kitchen.” Check it out:

  11. Retrocat says

    I have always lived in Texas, and my mother had our milk delivered up until the late 1970s. She thought it was much fresher off the truck. The milkman even had a key to our house. My mother insisted that he put it directly into our refrigerator, rather than leave at the doorstep. This is Texas and it does get awfully hot here. We had the same milkman for many years. That was quite a luxury, now that I think about it.

  12. says

    Thanks for your interest in Dairy to Doorstep! Have you heard about our America’s Kitchens exhibition opening June 11 at the NH Historical Society? Sounds like something you might be interested in, and Historic New England has been celebrating 2009 as the “Year of the Kitchen.” Check it out:

  13. Juju says

    I grew up in the 80s and therefore never got a milkman. But I would sure love one and gladly pay for one now.

  14. says

    I was born in the late 1960s and my mother had milk delivered once or twice a week because we consumed so much milk (as I had 3 siblings). She’d leave a sign in the window indicating whether to deliver milk and there was a milk chute near the back door so the milk/cream was protected by the elements. We initially got glass bottles, I think, but most of my memories include the standard carton. I believe my mother’s house still has this chute.

    We still have milk delivery available in our area but it is more expensive and my dh insists on purchasing milk in bulk at the store. Our 1949 house has no evidence of a milk chute but it may have been removed and drywalled over years ago.

  15. scurl says

    here in washington state, smith bros. dairy delivers to a HUGE area, including king, kitsap, snohomish, pierce, and thurston counties.
    they don’t use glass bottles though. i assume it’s related to the reason they don’t use plastic containers unless you request them.
    here’s what one of their milkmen says about the clear plastic containers :
    “Q. Is it true, milk in clear plastic containers is not as nutritional as milk in a paper carton?
    A. Yes, scientific studies have shown that milk exposed to light in clear plastic containers can destroy most of the milk’s vitamin C and half of the riboflavin. The clear plastic containers also tend to give the milk a flat oxidized flavor. Paper cartons block out 96% of the light with no flavor change. That is why Smith Brothers packages it’s milk and dairy products in paper cartons. This will ensure that no nutritional value will be lost from the light and the flavor of the milk is not affected.

    (Study by Cornell University, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.)”

    anyways, it warms my heart every time i see a milk delivery truck go by. we don’t get it delivered right now, it’s too pricy. but some day. plus, i’d like to have an excuse to put a porch box in the front of our house, it’s kinda bare out there right now.

  16. says

    I was born in Pasadena, California in 1973 and although we didn’t have a milk man making deliveries at that time, our old family home had a special milk delivery door built in that was an endless source of fascination to us as children. I’m sure there are many homes still out there today with this neat retro feature, and I’d love to see some pictures of them.

  17. DazzLynn says

    I was born in 75 in so cal, and i’m pretty sure i recall a milk man for at least a short while. i don’t remember ever having glass bottles, however.

    I am now the proud owner of a 1930’s home in northern ca and one of the best feature of the house is the little milk delivery door with the coolest ordering system. similar to this one (not my photo)

    I think i bought the house just for this!

  18. Barbara Martin says

    Growing up in the 70s in Des Moines, IA we would get milk and cream and cottage cheese delivered by the Anderson Erickson Dairy every week. I still remember the milkbox that sat on our front stoop.

    I live in the Seattle area now and, as mentioned above, Smith Bros. Dairy still delivers.

  19. maddy says

    We still have milk delivery in our area. It comes in glass bottles (returnable), and you leave a cooler out on dairy delivery day for the milk, with the empty bottles in it for collection. They deliver late at night. We don’t do the delivery anymore because it is pricey and the delivery truck wakes me up. But I liked the convenience. Besides the milk, you can buy lots of other things like sour cream, cheese, and ice cream.

    I think I have seen those milk doors on a few houses. I have wondered what they were.

  20. alja says

    oberweis diary in the midwest delivers milk if you’re in their delivery area. they’re new to southeast michigan, and i’m anxious to try out their products. local diaries offer glass milk bottles at grocery stores here, too. our milk door was painted over. I’d love to put it back to use, but at $3 per delivery, that’s a bit steep, especially when you have to go to the grocery store anyway!

  21. tailfin says

    Here in Buffalo, most of the homes were built before WWII and many still have the old milk doors, although most have been sealed or even sided over. Unfortunately, my 1930 bungalow was a very basic model and has neither a milk door nor a laundry chute.

  22. sablemable says

    My husband, who is 76, remembers the milk doors and the ice doors on the houses he lived in growing up in Chicago.

  23. Femme1 says

    We used to have milk delivery in Baltimore, Md., in the 60s. Green Spring Dairy would bring those cute little glass containers of sour cream and cottage cheese, too (and the glasses could be used for drinking when they were empty). We had a little insulted metal box that sat on our front porch.

  24. says

    Alja, do Oberweis. It’s great.
    And studies have shown returnable glass bottles are actually greener in the long run than organic milk in recyclable bottles. (I’m not sure how they do the math, but there it is.)
    We love our Oberweis — from ice cream to milk. We don’t do home delivery, but only because there are only two of us, so we don’t need milk every week.
    But growing up, everyone seemed to have an Oberweis box. I grew up in Aurora, Ill., Oberweis’ home. Now, their headquarters are in North Aurora, but I’ll never forget watching them process the milk in the factory in Aurora.

  25. sumac sue says

    Hi, haven’t had a working computer for weeks, and how exciting it is to get back on here in time to discuss the subject of milk delivery.

    Around 1967, we moved to northern Kentucky (south of Cincinnati), and my sister became best friends with a girl whose dad drove a dairy truck for Trauth Dairy (which still is in operation, although I don’t know if they still have home delivery). Our dad was a newspaper editor, and one day my sister came home from her friend’s house and complained, “It’s not fair — Karen’s dad brings home good stuff like chocolate ice cream, and all our dad brings home is newspapers.”

  26. Susan says

    Our house, built in 1955 in Suburban Detroit, had a milk chute (that’s what we called it!) that we sometimes crawled through when we got locked out of the house (when we were very small, of course). We also had a laundry chute inside that delivered the clothes to the basement where the washer and dryer were. My dad was a Detroit and Livonia (our suburb) public school teacher/principal who drove a Twin Pines dairy truck in the summers. I remember sitting on the dashboard and riding with him sometimes. The yellow and green trucks were iconic! Does anybody remember Milky the Clown, their mascot?!?

  27. Leslie says

    I remember milk being delivered to our house in Seattle in the 1950’s. I do not recall when it ended or if it went into the 60’s but we moved in late 1963 anyway.
    I even remember the name of the delivery man. His name was Art. I recall he not only delivered milk, but also orange juice, eggs, chocolate milk and perhaps a few other things. He was a very nice man. Sometimes my mother would invite him to have coffee. I was born in 1951 so I was pretty young and did not pay much attention to it, but the fact I can remember his name and what he delivered shows the situation had some kind of impression on me. My mother would leave the bottles on the porch with a note saying what she wanted that day. I loved the 50’s and that memory for some reason is a good one. What brought me to this site was the fact I was thinking about it and so I googled the subject and found this site.
    Art has probably passed on by now but if you have not, Art, and you delivered milk in Seattle in the 1950’s (I think for the Arden Milk company), thanks for the memories. We lived on 4th NW.
    Oh and the bottles of milk came in that metal wiry container with a handle for carrying. Now I will go listen to some music from the 50’s.

  28. atomicbowler-dave says

    There was a small (ever shrinking) firm in our city until fairly recently that still did home deliveries. In the early to mid 70’s we still had at least two competing firms, although they were undoubtedly both much smaller than they once had been. I had the aquaintance of one of the owners at the last survivor and got to have a real hoot driving an old Stand-Up style (the deliveryman actually drove standing up, leaning against a butt-rest and hanging on to the steering wheel!) Divco milk truck around their lot for a while one afternoon in my twenties. Too bad we don’t have things like that in our culture anymore, indeed.

  29. Bill says

    I was a milkman in Maine for two years Aroostock Farms in Presque Isle. Then i moved to western Mass. and was one for High Lawn Farm in Lee. Mass. for thirty years. The best times of my life. got know a lot of people and watch there kids grow up.

  30. Moonlight Milk says

    Moonlight Milk has been delivering in Carlsbad and North County San Diego since 2002!! Milkman still kicking:)

  31. CouldBeVeronica says

    I was born in a small town in NE Central PA in 1969 and don’t remember milk deliveries or milk doors, although my closest neighbor was a dairy farmer. He sold all his milk to Hershey for many years. In the 70’s, however, Eppler’s Farm opened a huge farmers market where, in addition to bulk products and produce of all kinds, they sold their own milk in large plastic bags designed to fit into a special plastic pitcher. I seem to remember the pitcher being a distinctive 70’s brown–but that may just be my memory’s color palette from that era! They closed down decades ago, but it was VERY popular at the time.

  32. marjorie says

    We had a milkman in Durango, CO in the Mid- 60’s …we lived in a rural area out of the city limits…My mom bought milk, cottage cheese and ice cream and even bacon from him. We got our set of colored aluminum glasses and pitcher from him … cottage cheese came in the glasses and ice cream came in the pitcher. I think it was Meadow Gold or Bordon’s….

    I live in the Twin Cities (MN) now and you can get milk delivered from Kemps

  33. Stephen Kennedy says

    I am looking for information on two former Dairys, The Fredericksburg Creamery in Fredericksburg Va. and the Crescent Dairy of N.W. Washington D.C. I collect milk bottles and have one of each and I am looking for the history of both. My Father was a Milkman for Alexandria Dairy in Alexandria Va.

    • Ed Chan says

      My friend Pat Thompson is looking for information and photos of Alexandria Dairy. If you have anything, please let me know.


      • Ken says

        I have recently acquired a “cream storage/delivery box with the words “Alexandria Dairy” I cannot find anything about this company….”Dairy Queens” have made it almost impossible to search. I did find the “Mount Vernon Dairy” in Alexandria….it would be wonderful to get more information….such a shame when a legacy is lost …..

    • Brian says

      Hi Stephen,

      My family ran Farmer’s Creamery in Fredericksburg for many years, is this the one you are looking for? I might be able to help. Many members of our family have the bottle, crates, signs, pictures and tools from the creamery.

      • Kelley Farmer Smith says

        I am a collector of Farmers Creamery in Fredericksburg, VA. As I live in the area I have been looking for historical information and have not been able to find anything at all. Can you please give me any insight as to where to look or information that would help. Thank you!!

        • Brian says

          Hi Kelley,

          I have quite a bit of information actually, if I don’t have what your looking for I might be able to locate it. What are you looking for?


          • Krissy says

            Hi! I am also searching for information on Farmer’s of Fredericksburg. I am looking for pictures of polls bottles, so when I search, I know that it Ida from the creamery here and not in another state. Is there a database or website that would show logos throughout the years?

      • Sherri says


        Two of my grandparents worked at the Farmer`s Creamery and I collect memorabilia. Do you have any items for sale? I am particularly interested in finding a sign.


  34. says

    Back in the early 50’s in Mass I can remember the Hood milkman stopping at our house every other day and leaving milk. As kids we used to ask him for some slivers of ice on a hot summer day. Now I have my own milk truck and I am outfitting it to look like it used to. Sure brings back a lot of memories.

  35. dory m says

    I was born in Detroit Mi. in the 40s and as a young girl I remember the milkman brought the milk every day and he had a horse pulling the milk truck. Does anyone remember this. I would love to prove it to my older brother and husband.

  36. roger price says

    I was born in 1956 in ca. and we had a milk man that used to bring milk to the house. we also had a butter and egg man. and a bread man that would deliver bread and he also had great donuts on his truck! I really miss those donuts!!

  37. Lauren says

    Thanks so much for this post & link to Historic New England! REALLY enjoyed the read, and I love this quote from the virtual exhibit:

    “It seems strange to one not intellectually soaked in milk propaganda that whole races can live and thrive and acquire strength and endurance without ever touching a drop of milk, or without using any other products of dairy animals.” —F. J. Schlink, Eat, Drink, and Be Wary, 1935

  38. Caroline says

    I was raised on a Jersey farm and Jerseys have more protein and butterfat in their milk-Jerseys really are the best! I’m also studying Dairy Science in college right now! Honestly don’t worry about the dairy industries use of artificial hormones (rBST), studies have shown absolutely no difference between milk from cows treated with rBST and rBSt-free cows. As in no difference like we can’t even test for it because there is no difference-the use of this awesome biotechnology just lets us make milk with less of a carbon foot print and less resources! So don’t worry and drink up!

  39. greg schrimpf says

    I was a milkman for Carnation Company, Oakland California in 71 and 72.. that was the last of home delivery. All the companies, challenge/williams/producers/crystal/foremost/arden farms/berkeley farms/foster farms had home deliveries. I stayed in the dairy business for 40 years. Now there are only 3 major companies left in northern california.

  40. says

    When I was 10 – 12ish in the early 1990’s my mom used to get milk delivery to our house.. we lived then in a subburb of seattle. The milk came in half gallon wax cartons in one of those plastic crates. I remember thinking it was odd but cool. No one else I knew had milk delivered.

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