For many young people today, the milkman must seem like some creaky myth from the past. In fact, it wasn’t all that long ago that milk in bottles, delivered fresh daily, was the norm across the United States and Europe—in some areas, the practice is still common.

While some are content to recall the era of the milkman, others keep the memory alive by collecting vintage milk bottles from the late 1800s through the mid-20th century, when waxed-paper cartons sold in supermarkets put many local milkmen out of business.

In the late 19th century, milk was routinely scooped directly from the farmer’s churn into jugs that customers would leave on their doorsteps. The first milk bottle in the United States is normally credited to Harvey D. Thatcher, a New York druggist who introduced his milk bottles in 1884. Legend has it that Thatcher was disgusted after watching a milkman dip from a can into which a child’s toy had dropped. Early Thatcher “milk protector” bottles are embossed with a seated Quaker farmer milking a cow. Replicas of this bottle are readily available, but originals are scarce.

Thatcher may have been the first person to put a milk bottle to use, but George Henry Lester was the first person to patent the idea, which he did with his Lester Milk Jar in 1878. In fact, there were numerous other patented milk jars prior to Thatcher’s, though Thatcher was the first to use a cap.

Most milk-bottle manufacturers embossed logos onto the bottles they produced, which makes it relatively easy for collectors to differentiate among the plethora of dairies. Both corporate and mom-and-pop dairies had their logos embossed on the outsides of what are now considered antique milk bottles. Some sellers used the exterior surface of the bottle as advertising space.

The earliest milk bottles, which tended to feature a bail-type closure (also called a swing stopper), tend to be the most collectible. Near the turn of the 20th century, bottles requiring bail closures were replaced with so-called “common sense” bottles that were fitted with paper caps at their mouths.

Each regional dairy commissioned its own bottles, but there is little variety between the bottles themselves. Milk bottles are almost exclusively cylindrical with a short- or med...

As the 20th century progressed, milk bottles got shorter and squatter, and fewer dairies went to the expense of having their bottles embossed with their logos or slogans. Instead, they followed the lead of soda bottles and used applied color labels, which are known in the trade as ACLs.

In addition to having a fairly standard shape, milk bottles are also almost unanimously clear. For a while, some amber-colored milk bottles were produced, a response to the urban legend that dark glass would keep milk from spoiling when exposed to light—in fact, heat is the culprit. On rare occasions, white milk glass and green glass were also used.

The heyday for milk bottles—in the United States, anyway—was between the two World Wars, but the era of the milk bottle was relatively short-lived. By the ’40s and ’50s, glass milk bottles were supplanted by waxed-paper cartons and, later, plastic jugs. Milk bottles survived longer in Europe, especially in the United Kingdom, than they did in the United States.

Today, when collectors want to display their vintage milk bottles, they commonly fill them with white sand or a similar substance to make them look like they are filled with milk.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Historic Glass Bottle Identification

Historic Glass Bottle Identification

Bill Lindsey's fantastic bottle identification and information site. Loaded with detailed descriptions and diagrams… [read review or visit site]

Antique Bottle Collector's Haven

Antique Bottle Collector's Haven

There's a ton of information here, but as with bottles, you have to dig to find the best stuff. Start with the famo… [read review or visit site]

Bottle Cap Index

Bottle Cap Index

Assembled by Gunther Rademacher with the help of several other contributors, this collection of over half a million… [read review or visit site]

Plopsite.de

Plopsite.de

Norbert Lamping's collection of 600+ ceramic bottle stoppers, Hutter stoppers, swingtops, swivel stoppers, and ligh… [read review or visit site]

Old Spice Collectibles

Old Spice Collectibles

Lather up with Creighton Fricek's complete chronology of collectible Old Spice shaving products. Start with the bot… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Trpq 1940s Wwii Kansas City Missouri Quart Mo. Dairy Milk Bottle Eagle War BondsOld Copenhaver's Dairy Ramey Pa Milk Bottle Near Houtzdale Altoona JohnstownOld Pyro 1 Qt. "cop The Cream Top" Rockledge Farms Central Falls Ri. Milk BottleShrewsbury Pa Milk Bottle J.d. Smith Jr. York County One Quart Nice Dairy 2) Trpq 1940s Lincoln Tunkhannock Pensylvania Quart Wampum Pa. Dairy Milk Bottle*hawaii Bottle~lihue Dairy~lihue Kauai*Very Rare - Terrace Farm Dairy Lexington Nc North Carolina Quart Milk Bottle2) Trpq 1940s Soap Box Derby Greenville Texas Galveston Tex Tx Dairy Milk Bottle2) Trpq 1940's Trinity Fairhaven Vermont Hoxie R.i. Dairy Milk Bottle Baby FaceCute Small Cow Pictorial 'farmers Milk Supply Assn., Walkden' Cream Pot Wrights Dairy Shelby Nc North Carolina Maroon Pyro 1/2 Pint Milk BottleMilk Glass Embossed Lid Insert For Exwaco Fruit Jar Red Book #965Pickler & Morton Albemarle Sanitary Dairy Nc North Carolina Quart Milk BottleBowers Sunrise Dairy Norwood Nc North Carolina Quart Milk BottleMiniature 2oz Antique Stoneware Dundee Marmalade Jar2-color Maplewood Farm Butens Dairy Concord N.h. Nh Matching CapQueen City Dairy Inc. Cumberland Md. Western Maryland's Leading Dairy QuartCoble Dairy Products Lexington Nc North Carolina 1/2 Pint Milk BottleNice Pyro 1 Qt. "cop The Cream Top" Hillside Dairy Middletown, Ct. Milk BottleShield Variation Of 'farmers Milk Supply Association, Walkden' Cream Pot4 Vintage Copper Moscow Mule 1950's Cock N Bull MugsNice Pyro 1 Qt. Indian Head Mt. Desert Island Dairies Bar Harbor, Me Milk BottleScarce Bargeloh's Dairy Orange Pyro Quart Milk Bottle / Parkersburg, Wv.Embossed 1 Qt. "bowling Pin" Deerfoot Farm - Southborough, Ma. Milk Bottle Nr2) Trpq 1940's Lindsey Safford Arizona Clifton Ariz. Quart Az.dairy Milk BottleRare Reese Dairy Quart Milk Bottle Ada,ohio "from Farm To You"2) Trpq 1940's Senatobia Vicksburg Mississippi Quart Ms.dairy Milk Bottle Miss.Old Owl Drug Co Milk Glass Jar W/pic Of 1 Wing Owl On Tin Lid Half Pint Embossed Milk Bottle Sycamore Dairy Sycamore Illinois IllPeninsula Dairy One Quart Milk Bottle - Newport News Va Virginia - Painted BabyHalf Pint Embossed Milk Bottle Thurston's Dairy Taylorsville North Carolina NcMountain Maid Milk Bottle Hendersonville N.c. Quart Slug Plate North Carolina NcGallon Gnagey`s Dairy Meyersdale Pa. 2 Colored Milk Bottle With Great GraphicsRare Delaware Milk Dairy BottleProducer's Milk Co-op - Parkersburg, W Va - 2 Quart Milk Bottle Red Pyro Acl WvTrpq Milk Bottle Alamito Pioneer Dairy Omaha Ne 1939 Covered Conestoga Wagon PicPayne Brothers Greenville South Carolina 1/2 Pint & Quart Bottles2) Trpq 1940's Indian Greenville Anson Maine Quart Me.dairy Milk Bottle 2 ColorRare Quart Springdale Dairy T W Souder Brunswick Md Maryland Milk BottleAntique Milk Glass Klondike Figural Flask Gold Nugget W/ Ground Top Zinc CapHampden, Massachusetts J. H. Savery 1/2 Pint Cream Milk Bottle W/ Tin TopTspq Milk Bottle Elmdale Farms Dairy Benton Pa 1949 2-col Try Our Chocolate Milk Vintage Milk Bottles Lot Of 5 N.h,vt,ny, All One Quart Glass BottlesPleasant View Dairy Pearl Powell Urbana Ohio Pint Embossed Milk BottlePint Embossed Milk Bottle Thurston's Dairy Taylorsville North Carolina NcBordens Half Pint Yogurt Bottle Red Printing Very NiceTrpq Valley View Farm Dairy Manns Choice, Pa Bedford Co. Pure Jersey Milk BottleQuart Embossed Milk Bottle Je Timm & Sons Centreville Michigan Mich MiAmber Florida Dairy Multi-vitamin Milk Bottle Tampa, Fla One Quart L@@k3) 1950's Forgey Logansport Indiana 1/2pt. & Pint Ind. Dairy Milk BottleBrown's Guernsey Dairy. Capitola, California. Durham Dairy. Foley Bros. Vallejo, California. Ribbed Milk Bottle: Ringgold Dairy 3Hawaii Milk Bottle - Waihee Farm QuartVintage Cream Top Qt Milk Bottle Garden State Farms Midland Park Nj Very CleanSamuel Callet Nursing Bottle Your Angel Child Compliment Of Pine State CreameryNh Qt Milk Bottle Clover Leaf Dairy Contoocook Quart Vintage New Hampshire N.h.Nice Pyro 1 Qt. John B. Desrosiers Woonsocket, Rhode Island Milk Bottle NrImperial Creamery. G. H. Evers. Oakland, California. Dark Purple Rieck's Pure Milk And Cream Pint Milk Bottle