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]

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 1944 Wwii St. Petersburg Florida Quart Fla. Fl Dairy Milk Bottle War SloganRare - Yasgur Farms Dairy, Bethel, Ny, Square Maroon Pyro Quart, WoodstockNice Western Rothenberg Milk Glass Bitters Applied Lip Blob Seal San Francisco 1971 Copies Mason 1858 Canning Jar Midget Pint Dark Amethyst&milk Glass Old LidsVintage Purity Milk Co Baby Face 1 Quart Glass Milk Bottle Lewistown Pa Cream Separator 1930's Minersville Pennsylvania Quart Pa. Dairy Milk DentPhilipsburg Pa Purity Milk Co Deposit 10 Cents Buttermilk Gallon Milk Bottle JugRinehart's Guernsey Dairy Pyro Qt. Ohio Milk Bottle Biltmore Dairy Quart Acl Milk Bottle, Asheville, NcVintage Milk Bottle Laiterie,green-sherbrooke-dairy ,sign1940's Shaffer Walnut Creek Marion Gas City Indiana Quart Ind. Dairy Milk BottleAntique Vintage 1880s Bluebirds Milk Glass Barber Bottle "hair Oil" Excellent2) Trpq 1940's Cambridge Ohio Galena Oh. Quart Dairy Milk Bottle 2 Color BarnGeyer's Dairy Milford Delaware - One Pint Milk Bottle ~ Attic Find!3) Trpq 1940s University Of Rhode Island Cranston R.i. Dairy Milk Bottle CollegeHalf Gallon Berg's Farm Dairy Joppa Road Fullerton, Md.2) 1940-50's Creamtop Gooding Idaho Pocatello Ida. Quart Id. Dairy Milk BottleMilk Glass Cylinder Barber Bottle, Hand Painted CologneTrpq 1940's Hillcrest Des Moines Iowa Quart Ia. Dairy Milk Bottle Circus SealR. L. Spoon Dairy Co Dairy Maid Acl Quart Milk Bottle, Burlington, Nc1864 Litthauer Stomach Bitters Milk Glass Bottle~j. Loewenthal~berlin 9-1/2" EucAnderson Erickson-ae Milk Bottle Round 1 Quart~cottage Cheese ~ Des Moines Iowa Treq C.e. Kensinger Martinsburg (altoona) Pa Dairy Milk BottleReally Nice 1941 Crescent Milk, Oroville, Ca Screaming Baby Qt Milk Bottle2) 1930-40 Baker North Webster Michigan City Indiana Quart Ind Dairy Milk BottleRare Dolly Madison Buy More War Bonds La Crosse, Eau Claire, Reedsburg, Wis.Branco Dairy Milk Bottle Hilo Hawaii Half Pint Milk Bottle Quart Bordens Tin Top With EagleTrpq Shawsheen Dairy Andover Massachusetts Milk Bottle Milk Bottle Vintage Geo Gerhart Dairy Florissant Mo Rare Old Antique QuartThe Sheffield Farms Co Hobart, Ny Depot 1026 Amber Milk Bottle, Round TopFenton Turquoise Cased Milk Glass Barber Bottle3) 1940s Biltmore North South Carolina Columbia S.c. Pyro Dairy Milk Bottle N.c.Poovey Dairy Lancaster South Carolina Quart Milk Bottle Ugp Glass Maker Mark3) 1950s Cornell University Ithaca New York 1/2pt N.y. Dairy Milk Bottle CollegeAdohr Stock Farm -- Ventura Blvd. -- Van Nuys, Cal.-- Slug Plate Half Pint MilkJ. D. Daly, Hillcrest Dairy, Fredonia, Ny, Round Brown Pyro Quart1948 Broughtons Dairy Quart Embossed Milk Bottle Marietta Oh Ohio Wv1930s Portland Dairy Mich. Michigan Mi Milk Truck Bottle Porchbox Divco DeliveryExceptional 1947 Land O' Gold Redding, Ca Guard Your Health Store Qt Milk BottleTrep G. I. Phillips Alexandria (huntingdon) Pa Dairy Milk Bottle4) 1930-40's College Tubac Arizona Tucson Ariz. Az. Dairy Milk Bottle UniversityJoseph Krejci Health Permit 62 Pint Milk Bottle Possible Pa Penn Ohio Ny ??Pyro Qt Cream Land Dairy Milk Bottle New Brunswick Nj ( Fighter Plane ) LqqkR. H. Taylor Dairy, Watertown, Ny Round Orange Pyro QuartOakland Farms Pint Acl Milk Bottle, Granite Falls, NcSuper Rare Alexandria Virginia Milk Bottle - The Peoples DairyVintage Glass 1 Qt Miller Bros Creamery Milk Bottle Mt Clemens Mi Delicious IceSangamon Dairy Trpq Milk Bottle Springfield Illinois Ill IlA Rd,pyro Missouri Quart C/t Milk Bottle From Hannibal Quar Round Red Pyro Kruger's Farm Dairy Carlisle Pa Milk BottleHillcrest Dairy. Arroyo Grande, California. 1931 Vintage Meadow Gold Silver Seal Cream Top 1 Quart Milk BottleGesner & Macrorie, Heuvelton, Ny, Round Black & Orange Pyro Quart, JerseyA Rd, Pyro, Arkansas Pint Milk Bottle From Trumann Lot Of 5 - Zenda Farms, Clayton, Ny, Round Orange Pyro Pints, Golden GuernseyUrbana Illinois, Ill. Il. R.a.stipes Dairy Milk Co. Quart Dairy Milk Bottle.Sycamore Farm Dairy Rockville Md Maryland Milk Bottle 1/2 Pint Rd Green Pyro Vntg Very Rare "borden's Elsie The Cow "salesman Sample 2 Inch Tall Milk BottleVintage Guernsey Dairy Boise Idaho, Idaho's Finest