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    

Miniature Flagon From The Dairy Supply Company Of London C1910Trpq Milton Pa Lewisburg Buffalo Valley Dairy Drum Major Scene Milk Bottle#37 Trpq Three Springs Huntingdon Pa Raymon Curfman's Dairy Farm Milk BottleThe Owl Drug Company Milk White Bottle Stands 4 Inches Tall Tooled Top 5" Milk Glass One Winged "the Owl Drug Co." Quart Pyro Milk Bottle Pure Milk Co Marion Huntington Gas Indiana Ind In RhymeUnh U.n.h. Dairy Collegiate Half Pint Milk Bottle University New Hampshire Nh Amber Glass Rath Bros. Pittsford New York Quart N.y. Dairy Milk BottleAntique! Martha's Vineyard Co-op Diary/ Milk Bottle! Odd Variant! Nice!Wm Gallon Milk Bottle Sanida Sanitary Dairy Erie Pa Wide Mouth Wwii War SloganKramer's Dairy, Willimantic. Conn. ( War Bond Milk Bottle )Vintage Wwii War Slogan Painted Milk Bottle Kerns Bellevue, Oh Buy Bonds StampsExcellent Figural Potato - Milk Glass!Cream Top Spoons..1924,1925..set Of 4 Cream Spoons For Milk Bottles, OriginalNice Cloverleaf Dairy Quart Pyro Milk Bottle Orrville, Ohio ~ Very Good GraphicsMilk Bottle Eaten's Dairy Eldred, Pa. Black Pyro Rare Mother & Baby GraphicsMcdonnell's Dairy Centralia, Pa. Script Embossed Ghost Town Pint Milk BottleOvercash Dairy Farm Milk Bottle Kannapolis Nc Rare! Quart North CarolinaHerman Pryor Dairy, Salisbury, Maryland, Pint Milk Bottle, Vintage Milk Bottle, Ww2 Era, Hansen Dairy, Deer Lodge, Montana. Vintage Emerich's Sunnyside Farms Tamaqua Pa 1 Quart Milk Bottle Milk Glass Bitters Hartwig KantorowiczBorden's Dairy Co. #49 Trpp Lewistown Pa Belleville Royale Crown Dairy Farm Milk BottleNice Logansport Indiana Ray & Arnold Pint Milk Bottle#28 Treq Ringtown Pa Schuylkill Haven Anthony Bernotski Dairy Farm Milk Bottle#34 Treq Hegins Pa Minersville Schuylkill Ebert's Dairy Farm Milk BottleClear Springs Farm Nc Milk Bottle Concord Kannapolis Half Pint North CarolinaSeven Gates Farm ~ North Tisbury Ma Mass Embossed Quart ~ 1914 Martha's VineyardWm Gallon Milk Bottle Poudre Valley Creamery Fort Collins Co Wide Mouth VigorScarce Blais Dairy Bottle-lewiston Maine Lamb Glass L52 "baby Face Bottle" Ob Wm Gallon Milk Bottle Ohio Valley Dairy Martins Ferry Oh Wide Mouth Butter ChurnSm Gallon Milk Bottle Van Alstine Farm Dairy Greendale Wi Full Udder Will BustVintage Sprang Bros. City Dairy Kenton Ohio Half Pint Milk BottleClear Springs Farm Milk Bottle Quart Concord Kannapolis Nc North CarolinStanly Dairies Milk Bottle Albemarle Nc North Carolina QuartVintage Grant Hendrickson Milk Bottle Creston Il Quart Cream Top Embossed Slug 1945 Adohr Red Pyro Half Gallon Milk Bottle Los Angeles California CaHarshbarger 1/2 Pint Baby Face Milk Bottle Altoona Pa. Sardis Creamery Mississippi Milk Bottle Ww2 V For Victory Airplane Keep Em FlyinMilk Bottle Norwich Conn Ct Brownings Dairy Cream TopTrpq Gold Bloom Milk Bottle Paducah Ky Kentucky War? Excellent GraphicsRare Half Pint Pinehurst Dairy, Pinehurst, N.c. Embossed, Milk Bottle NcPickler & Morton Milk Bottle Albemarle Nc North Carolina QuarDairy Creamer 1 Oz Knowlton's - Red Pyro 2 1/4"Embossed Walnut Grove Dairy Pt Milk BottleGuernsey Dairy Boise, Idaho One Quart Dairy BottleCarnation Company. Los Angeles, California. Wrightsville Pa . Lauxmont Farms Milk Bottles . York County Pa .Twm Gallon Milk Bottle Pure Milk Co Dairy Ashland Ky Wide Mouth 12" Buttermilk1940's Ginger Rogers Rogue River Ranch Quart Milk Glass Bottle Oregon RareC.m.d.a. *bottled Milk The Food Of Life* Columbus, Ohio *unlisted In Book*Pino Vista Dairy Milk Bottle Placerville, Ca 622=2201 The Eyes Have It QuartTrehp Kimmel's Dairy Milk Bottle Valley View Hegins PaGrandview Farms, Ayshire Dairy Kenton, Ohio One Quart Milk Bottle Treq E F Search Hunlocks Creek Dairy Milk Bottle Hunlock Creek Nanticoke PaQuart Pyro Milk Bottle Palmiter Dairy Battle Creek Michigan Mich MiStarbuck's Dairy - Half Pint Milk Bottle - With Cap - Salida, Colorado #19 Treq Mt. Mount Union Pa Huntingdon Sanitary Milk Co Dairy Farm Milk Bottle#50 Trep Orwin Pa Tower City Muir Bendigo's Dairy Farm Milk Bottle