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    

Wwii Era Ohleens For Victory Qt Milk Bottle Acl Lablel War Bonds Minneapolis Mn Vintage (1) Pint Milk White Glass '' Mason's '' Jar -- One Of KindQuart Milk Bottle - Newby's Guernsey Dairy - Seymour, In Indiana Green Pyro AclUniversity Of Florida One Pint Milk Bottle 1940'sVintage Ka-vee 1 Quart Cream Top Milk Bottle Belleville Pa ??Cransons Dairy Wwii 1 Qt Milk Bottle 2 Color La Junta Colorado Army & Navy Rare Early- Horlick's Diastoid- Pre Malted Milk- Infant Food- Antique JarQuart Milk Bottle - Heath - Robinson, Il Illinois Red Pyro AclUniversity Of Illinois Urbana Ill Il Embossed 1/2 Pint Milk Bottle DairyOld Vintage Porcelain Borden Dairy Products Enamel SignChina Grove Nc Deals Dairy Milk Bottle 1/2 Pint Rowan CoQuart Milk Bottle - Wilton Farm - Baltimore, Md Maryland Red Pyro AclJeffersonville Dairy Creamer Milk Bottle Shannons Jeffersonville IndianaSummey Dairy Farm Dallas Nc North Carolina Quart Milk BottleQuart Milk Bottle - Belvo's Sanitary Dairy - Miamisburg, Oh Ohio Red Pyro Antque Milk Bottle,whitemans Patent Feb.18 1890,colorado Springs Gardens Trpq Iowana Farms Davenport Iowa Ia Famous American Heroes Quart Milk BottleClearbrook Farm Round Pyroglaze Gallon Dundee, Ill Il IllinoisVintage 1930's 1940's Honolulu Hawaii Milk Bottle Moanalua Dairy Embossed QuartMansfield Dairy Stowe Vt Vermont Skiing Cow Milk Bottle Rare! Quart Size Flanders Dairy Milk Bottle Baby Face! Whipped Cream Quart Milk Bottle - City Creamery - Elwood, In Indiana Orange Pyro AclSullivans Dairy Hanover, Pa. Half Pint Milk BottleQuart Milk Bottle - Elmore's Creamery - Elwood, In Indiana Red Pyro AclHostetter's Dairy Duncannon Pa. Embossed Pint Milk BottleTwo(2)-missouri Valley Creamery/washington, Missouri "creamers"Vintage Blue Ribbon Dairy, Circleville, Ohio, Blue Pyro, Square Pint, 1952Green Bros Dairy Raleigh Nc North Carolina Quart Milk BottleVintage Hitchcox Milk Bottle Union City Michigan Barn Find Original Half Pint Vintage Lake View Dairy Co Milk Bottle Gary Ind Mary Had A Little LambFrank's Creamery. Red Bluff, California. 1940's Borden's Guernsey Farms Quart Milk BottleQuart Milk Bottle - Zapp's - New Albany, In Indiana Cream Top Orange Pyro Acl1952 Galss Milk JugTrpq College Dairy Modesto California Ca Cal Store Quart Milk Bottle Phone 2545Neat Old New Brunswick, Nj Dairy Creamer Bottle Cream Land Dairy Red Pyro AclHomestead Guernsey Farm Dairy Titusville,pa.Norman's Kill Farm Dairy Co Albany Ny Velvet Ice Cream Serving Tray Square RedMooresville Nc Creamery Milk Bottle Quart Ph 205 North CarolinaIndependent Creameries. Watsonville, Hollister, Monterey Cry, California.Drigg's Dairy, Toledo, Ohio Michigan, Fish Bottle, Vintage Quart Milk Bottle 67Fairmont, West Virginia, 1926, Round Embossed Pint Milk BottleQuart Embossed Milk Bottle Pierstorff Dairy Middleton Wisconsin Wis Dane County Quart Milk Bottle - Salem Creamery - Salem, In Indiana Dark Red Pyro AclFuniest Miniature Bottle. Milk "degerma" The Cow That Cares Of Your Health Yasgur Farms Milk Bottle From The Home Of The Woodstock FestivalA Rare Pyro Qt Oregon Milk Bottle From Enkay Dairy In La GrandeClymer Pa. Dairy Vintage Milk BottleEmbossed Cincinnati, Ohio Milk Bottle: H. Mendle 123 Fifteenth St Cin. O. Slug PQuart Pyro Cream Top Milk Bottle Parker's Dairy Montague Michigan Mich Mi Pine Hill Dairy Reidsville Nc 1 Qt Milk Bottle Rare Nice Must See Grade ADriggs Dairy, Toledo Ohio, Michigan Vintage Pint Milk Bottle 75Roosevelt Dairy Mesa Arizona Ariz Az Square Qt. Red Pyro Milk BottleVintage Milk Bottle 1 Pint - Duncan & Herr, Duncannon, PaVintage One Pt Dublin Coop Dairies Milk Bottle Buy War Bonds RareVintage Lot Of 3 T.g. Lee's Dairy Milk Bottles, Orlando, Fla. 2 Qts, 1 Half Pt.Royal Creamery. Salinas, Monterey, Castroville, California. Quart Milk Bottle - Sunlite Dairy - Soo, Mi Michigan Red Pyro AclTreq Milk Bottle P J Sackinger Co Oakdale Dairy Farm Bolivar Ny 1932 AyrshireTreq Milk Bottle May Meadow Dairy Farms Katonah Ny 1923 Very Rare