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Clean Milk

Much of the milk sold in the 1800s and early 1900s would be considered undrinkable by today’s standards. City people couldn’t be sure that the farms from which their milk came had healthy cows. When transported in unsealed containers, milk could easily be adulterated or contaminated. Once the connection between disease and unsanitary milk was known, individuals and municipalities learned to be more careful. Reformers considered clean milk delivered in clean milk bottles to be one answer to milkborne disease. Early glass bottles with sealed caps kept out dirt or additives. Dairies tried various strategies to ensure the return of their glass bottles. Some companies charged the milk route delivery man for every bottle that he did not retrieve.

Design for a milk bottle, 1937
Courtesy of Oakhurst Dairy, Portland, Maine
Milk bottle salesmen traveled to dairies large and small to sell bottles with unique designs. Pyroglazed bottles in the 1940s and 1950s featured colored designs made out of melted and fused glass.

Behind the common milk bottle and cap is a story of geography, governmental regulation, the fight against disease, new methods of processing, and new materials for containers. Individual sealed containers kept milk clean as it traveled from the farm to the kitchen and reassured customers that water or preservatives had not been added.

Products processed and distributed throughout New England by H. P. Hood and Sons
From The Hood Story: A Century of Progress in the New England Dairy Industry, circa 1953
Courtesy of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities
To compete with each other and supermarkets, processors had to diversify their packaging as well as their products and serving sizes during the transition from glass to paper.


Clean Milk