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    

Iowana Farms 1 Quart Round Milk Bottle Famous American Hero - Davenport Iowa Dairy Creamer Hunkydory Dairy Mendota IllinoisTrpq 1940's Noll's Clifton New Jersey Quart N.j. Dairy Bottle Milk & SunshineTrpq 1940s Ideal Farms Frederick Maryland Quart Md Dairy Bottle Divco Milk TruckTrpq 1940s Blakeslee Stroudsburg Pennsylvania Pa. Dairy Milk Bottle Ayrshire CowRare Dolly Madison Buy More War Bonds La Crosse, Eau Claire, Reedsburg, Wis.Trpq 1940s Ayrshire Cow Torrington Connecticut Quart Conn. Ct. Dairy Milk BottleMint! Trpq 1940's Vesmar Goat Dairy Dayton Ohio Quart Oh. Milk Bottle Blue Pyro3) 1940s Biltmore North South Carolina Columbia S.c. Pyro Dairy Milk Bottle N.c.1864 Litthauer Stomach Bitters Milk Glass Bottle~j. Loewenthal~berlin 9-1/2" EucHalf Pint Fat Butter - Cream Jar Weber Dairy Joliet IllHalf Gallon Berg's Farm Dairy Joppa Road Fullerton, Md.Rare Coble Dairy Half Pint Nc Milk Bottle Acl Quart F.s. Schellenger Cape May, N.j.The Sheffield Farms Co Hobart, Ny Depot 1026 Amber Milk Bottle, Round Top3/4 Oz Lockwoods Dairy Creamer - Plainfield Illinois - Rare!!4) 1930-40's College Tubac Arizona Tucson Ariz. Az. Dairy Milk Bottle UniversityHigh-ground Dairy Brooklyn N. Y. Embossed Quart Tin Top Milk Bottle Elk Picture4) 1940s Lake Placid Aurora Asgaard Ithaca New York 1/2pt N.y. Dairy Milk BottleSuper Rare Alexandria Virginia Milk Bottle - The Peoples Dairy3) 1950s Cornell University Ithaca New York 1/2pt N.y. Dairy Milk Bottle College1931 Vintage Meadow Gold Silver Seal Cream Top 1 Quart Milk Bottle4) 1940's Troy Rome Plattsburgh New York 1/2pint N.y. Dairy Milk Bottle 2colorLot Of Two Different Deal Milk Bottles China Grove Nc N.c. North CarolinaVntg Very Rare "borden's Elsie The Cow "salesman Sample 2 Inch Tall Milk BottleC. Graves & Sons, Clayton, Ny, Ayshire Milk, Round Orange Pyro QuartTrep H.h. Nash Camden Maine Not Nj Dairy Milk BottleOld Homestead Farm, R. L. Squires, Massena, Ny, Round Orange Pyro Quart3 Glass Milk Bottles Maple Park Himes 5 Cents Store Middletown Ohio Quart Baby Face Ferland's For Mothers Who Care Mexico,me. In Orange Pyro Trpq Werner's Dairy Farm Auburn Pa Quart Milk BottleCedelmoak Dairy Farm (augusta Ga) Half Pint.....rare!Green Acres Farm 1/2 Pt Milk Bottle, Kannapolis, Nc L.n. Overcash Vintage Meadow Gold Cream Top 1 Quart Milk BottleStouts Dairy Millheim Pa Milk Bottle Hard To FindBiltmore Half Pint Painted Milk Bottle Bedford Pa Mcgirr & Donahoe Dairy Milk Bottle Everett Reynoldsville Belden Quart Baby Face Haywood Dairy Thats Good Milk Emnbossed Pint Doxey's Dairy Kalamazoo, Michigan Milk BottleMetal Carrier W/ 4 - Lynde Dairy, Gouvereur, Ny, Square Black Pyro Half GallonsThurston's Dairy 1/2 Pt Milk Bottle, Taylorsville, NcVintage Stainless Steel-pet Milk Can Opener The First Evaporated Milk Pic-canSanitary Dairy Co Pint Milk Bottle Dover Del DelawarePint Triangle Farm W.r. White Harding, N.j.2) Amber Glass 1920's Buffalo N.y. / Rochester New York Quart Dairy Milk BottleHillcrest Dairy. Arroyo Grande, California. Miniature Creamer Bottle - Lakeside Dairy - Houghton Lake Michigan3) 1940-50's Shurr Seiberg Jamestown Oswego New York Pint N.y. Dairy Milk BottleTsphp Wsc Washington State College Milk Bottle Pullman Wa Washington Cap MatchesTrphp Rhode Island College Milk Bottle Ri College Or University 1 Qt. Clinch Haven Farms, Milk Bottle Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Rare W/ Blue !1940's Wilson Arkansas Squat Quart Ark. Ar. Dairy Milk Bottle Full Standing CowRare Holly Meadows Parsons Wv Milk Bottle Tucker County West Virginia DairyVery Rare Vintage Reichard Dairy 2 Color Pyro Crying Baby 1 Qt. Milk BottleWauregan Connecticut Quart Cop The Cream Top Round Milk Bottle RareAmber Glass 1905-10 F.f. Knaisch Buffalo New York Quart N.y. Dairy Milk BottleSodom Lane View Dairy, Derby, Ct-rd Vintage Quart Milk Bottle-farm Graphics-rareTurner Dairies Milk Bottle & Bag Anniston Alabama Talladega AlaCameo Dairy Farm, El Monte, Ca. Beautiful Imprinted Quart Milk Bottle C. S. Ackley, Alexandria Bay, Ny, Round Embossed Quart