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    

Half Pint Thatcher's Sugar Milk Baking Powder Fruit Jar Coble Dairy 1/2 Pint From Lexington NcDavenport Iowa American Heroes Oliver Perry Pyro Milk Bottle Rare Vintage University Of Wisconsin Acl Quart From Madison WiRare Vintage Mt. Desert Island Dairies Quart Milk Bottle Barharbor MaineGreen Acres Acl Quart 50 State Bottle From Kannapolis NcCalifornia Milks Milk Bottle Book By Donald E. LordBlown Flared Lip Milk Glass Cincinnati, Ohio Medicine Bottle Rare Rare 1947 Hy Vita Milk Company Ship Bottom Nj Cream-top QuartRare 19th C South Jersey Milk Bowl Attributed To Whitney Glass Works Open PontilHtf Vintage Cappeldale Dairy Farms One Quart Guernsey Milk Bottle Dover, Ohio World War Two Tank On A Milk Bottle Batavia Dairy Co Batavia, Ill Il Not A ReproAlpine Region Open Pontil Enameled Half-post Flask, 1780-1820...milk Glass!Rowan Dairy Salisbury, Nc Quart Milk Bottle Vintage O'dowd's Dairy Pine Brook Montville Nj 1 Pt Advertising Milk BottleNew Era Dairy Milk Bottle Jack Sprat Rhyme One QuartCrystal Springs Dairy Quart From Charlotte Nc1954 Biltmore Dairy Farm Jersey Creamline Milk 1 Qt Glass Bottle Duraglas Pa.Placerville Ca. Vintage Milk BottleRare Biltmore Dairy Milk Bottle Black & Orange Lettering Half PintTrpq 1937 2 Color Red And Green Guernsey Dairy Milk Bottle From Boise, Idaho.Quart Embossed Milk Bottle Cherry Lane Farm Fred G.ernst Chambersburg Pa.Echo Farm Acl 1/2 Pint From Wilmington NcMilk Bottle Rd Pyro 1/2pt Mackinac Island Cre Mackinac Island Michigan Mich Mi Square Painted Quart Milk Bottle Eldridge Dairy Co. Hagerstown Md.M&c Or M&g Clean Milk Bottle From Tamaqua Pa Mascoutah Illinois...bold Embossed Qt. Milk..pure Milk Dairy...pmdMarin-dell ~ Quarter Pint Pyro Western Milk Bottle ~ San Francisco, CaliforniaEarly Quirk Double Headed Bottle Crate Goshen Dairy New Philadelphia Ohio RareVintage R.s. Edmiston & Sons One Pint Milk Bottle Mooresville Nc Red LettersMiniature Borden's Glass Milk Bottles In Wood Carry BoxEarly Findlay Oh Ohio City Dairy Half Pint School Size Milk Bottle Carey LimsHillside Dairy, O.c.dennis Prop, Salisbury, Maryland Quart Milk BottleR.e. Overcash Ever Green Dairy Farm Kannapolis Nc Quart Milk Bottle Embossed OldSeymour Indiana Newby''s Guernsey Milk Bottle QuartOne Pint Liquid, Lerch Dairy, Pasteurized Milk, Hellertown, Pa.Deal Bros. Dairy Pint From China Grove NcKeyser West Virginia, Wv. Potomac State College Sq. 1/2 Pint Milk Bottle RareBurkholders Dairy, Quart, Embossed, Chambersburg, PaPearl Harbor World War Ii Spokane Bottle Exchange Hp Milk Bottle Spokane Wa Trpq 1937 Bill's Milk Depot Black Milk Bottle From Aurora, Colorado.Stoffell's Dairy 1/2 Gallon Milk Bottle..."keep'em Flying"...tennessee,tnA & M College, Ft. Collins, Colorado Old Milk/cream BottleUniversity Of Wisconsin Square Half Pint Milk BottleGold Bloom Milk Bottle War Bonds & StampsTrphp 1946 American Dairy Red Half Pint Milk Bottle From San Jose, California.Vintage Thurston's Dairy Milk Bottle Taylorsville N.c. / 1/2 Pint Nc Milk BottleStore Bottle Lynchburg Dairy 1/2 Acl Other 1/2 Embossed Quart From Lynchburg VaTreq The Leland Farm Milk Bottle East Bridgewater Mass. Ma.Vintage Milk Bottle Kyle's Dairy Farm Half Pint Glass Mackeyville Pa 1952Kalamazoo, Michigan Milk Bottle Caps Reenders Farm Dairy Quart GlassAwesome Ewald Bros Dairy Cottage Chesse Jar Mpls Minneapolis Mn Minn Superior Dairy Acl 1/2 Gallon From Statesville NcVery Rare Quart Canon Dairy Farms West Middlesex, Pa Milk Bottle Great ConditionPint Embossed Milk Bottle Cherry Lane Farm Fred G.ernst Chambersburg Pa.Pyro Milk Bottle Half Gal. Guernsey Cow Urbana Il Illinois Adair Milk FarmVintage Alamito Milk Quart Bottle Omaha's Pioneer Dairy Great Graphics NebraskaVintage Pyro Willow Farm Lagrange Illinois Quart Milk Bottle Il Guernsey CowW.l. Grant And Cedar Grove Dairies Belair Md Maryland Harford CountyHopkins Dairy #2 - Pikeville, Ky Kentucky Pyro Quart Milk Bottle Trpq