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The Milkman Cometh No More

May 24, 2019

A milkman was a person who delivered milk directly to customers’ houses, usually in bottles. He also delivered butter, eggs and other dairy products. These people largely disappeared from the American landscape by the early 1960’s. They are an important part of our past yet today most young people are not acquainted with the simple concept of the milkman.

Years ago, people needed fresh dairy products delivered daily to their homes owing to the lack of sophisticated refrigeration systems that are so abundant today. Many from the turn of the century through the 1950’s had no refrigerator or at best poor models in which dairy products would often spoil. Hence, there was a great need for home delivery of dairy products. Even as post-war euphoria swept the nation in the 1950’s with the advent of supermarkets, many people preferred to get their milk delivered at home. My parents were in that group.

I remember very well as a small child recovering the milk from our front porch. It always seemed to have arrived before I was out of bed. Each bottle had its own little cardboard cap inserted into the top of the bottle indicating whether it was milk or buttermilk. There was no low-fat and non-fat milk available back then. In fact, the cream always rose to the top of the bottle, unlike today’s hormonal concoctions.  All of the bottles were in a wire frame holder that usually held six quart bottles. It was pure enjoyment in an era that had not yet heard of cholesterol. My job as a child at home was to take the empty bottles and place them on the front porch with a rotating tab gadget inserted in one of the bottle necks to tell the milkman what we wanted delivered next. This gadget consisted of colored tabs that said things like “one quart”, “two quarts,” “butter milk”, “One Dozen Eggs,” etc. It was a simple but highly effective method of ordering your milk and dairy products. The empties went out and the refills came in without so much as a word.

We seemed to have had loads of empty bottles to put out for the milkman. I guess we drank a lot of milk back then. I do remember friends coming over to my house and guzzling a quart or two, much to my mother’s chagrin. Even back in the 1950’s, milk wasn’t cheap enough to waste and we were constantly told not to waste because “children were starving in Europe.” That was the mentality then and so most of us went forward in life never wasting a drop of milk, or any other food product for that matter.

Milk in a glass bottle was just plain better than today’s stuff that comes in a cardboard or plastic carton. The feel of that ice-cold quart in your hand seemed to give you power. Today, it takes an origami specialist or piping engineer just to open a half-gallon of milk and the taste is flat at best. True, you can travel to a local dairy in some parts of our country but you’re still apt to get the paper carton or plastic container.

In the same past era there was also the Helms Bakery truck that would drive slowly up and down neighborhood street tweeting a high-pitched whistle to let you know he had arrived, usually parking in front of a neighbor who displayed the “H” in their window. The trucks had wooden slide-out shelves filled with bread, donuts and other baked goodies. These have faded into the sunset of Americana as well. These things are important to our history as a people but now they are largely forgotten by all but a few of us old geezers.

But hark! Ironically, the milkman in its modern form is beginning to make a small come back to certain parts of America. If you’d like a bit of nostalgia or just a glass of fresh milk, you may want to check online to see if such a service exists near you. But for the rest of us, the milkman cometh no more.

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From → America, History

  1. “no milk today, my love is gone away…”
    I remember the milkman in Holland. Mid sixties.
    Or in the summer in Normandy, going to the nearby farm with my metal milkpot to bring back raw milk. Which had to be boiled over and over again.
    Back to the milkman. You can only do that in a culture that frowns upon stealing. I know many cultures where you just couldn’t do that.
    Thanks for the memories. Merci beaucoup.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Sweet trip down memory lane. I remember the milkman and the mailman in 1950s Lakewood, California. The ice cream man doesn’t come around much anymore either.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I like the whole concept of having fresh goods delivered to my door, but I’ve never liked drinking milk! In Guatemala, the school cafeteria served all beverages in mini milk bottles with the cardboard lids. I loved those!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Wonderful post, I love it! Thank you for all the facts.. we still have milkman in our city and we really enjoy fresh and wonderful milk he delivers. And you are absolutely right, I wish it would be in the glass bottles, not anymore 😦

    Liked by 1 person

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