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    

#1 Trpq Hamburg Pa Berks Smith's Modern Dairy Two Color Guernsey Milk BottleA.g.s. & Co Smalley Tin Top Patented April 5 1898 Milk Bottle With Handle#2 Trpq Hamburg Pa Berks Smith's Modern Dairy Two Color Scene Milk BottleSealtest Dairy Products-war Slogan-cream Top Quart Milk Bottle-toledo,ohio-aclWilmington Delaware De Del Fraim's Dairy War Slogan Wwii Ww2 Milk BottleVery Rare - Babyface Creamtop Riviera Dairy Santa Barbara California Milk BottleTrep Topton Pa Hamburg Berks County S.a. Geist Ayrshire Dairy Milk BottleTrpq Alexandria Pa Penna Huntingdon Reed's Dairy Two Color Milk BottleVintage Pa Milk Bottle,rare Perry County Pa Millerstown Pa,echo Glen Dairy PyroExtremely Rare Disney Dimicks Dairy Farm Round Ca Milk Bottle With Donald DuckVery Nice Winona Lake Indiana Pyroglaze Pint Milk Bottle With Picture Of Indian!Vintage 1960's Yasgur Farms Dairy Milk Bottle Vintage Heisler's Cloverleaf Dairy,tamaqua,pa.,clear, Round Pint Milk Bottle Vintage Anchorage Alaska Dairy Buttermilk Milk Bottle 9.5"Vintage Half- Pint Milk Bottle(paules Dairy In Wrightsville,pa)Anderson Erickson-ae Baby Milk Bottle Original Caps & Nipple Des Moines IowaMcclure Pa Twin Cedar Dairy Creamer Milk Bottle.snyder County.very Rare..lawverTrep Kunkletown Pa Monroe County C.e. Kuehner Spring Water Dairy Milk BottleTreq Huntingdon Pa Mill Creek L.b. Smith Meadow Vale Dairy Milk BottleRare Chocolate Milk Bottle By Krim-ko Richelieu Dairy St.jean Quebec 8 OzsJames Anzese / Columbia Dairy Farm / Manahawkin, N.j. -- Pint Milk BottleHamburg Inn Coffee Bottle - Canton Ohio 1/2 Pint Milk Borden's Pasteurized Products Grove City Pa. Quart Modern Top Milk BottleVintage Clover Farms Dairy Reading Pa Milk Bottle 9.5" - America Buy Bonds1 Gill Ennis Dairy Sandusky Ohio - 1/4 Pint Milk Zinc Milk Glass Fruit Jar Lid Lids Lot Atlas Ball Plain 68 Lids1938 2-color Adohr Farms Round 1/2 Pint Milk BottleAntique Rare Lauxmont Farms York Pa One Pint Glass Milk BottleMint 1937 Arden Dairy Magic Food Relish Spread Jar With Arden Walking BoyVintage Round Embossed Milk Bottle Seymour Bellows Canton, PaZiegler's 1 Quart Milk Bottle Reading Pa Treq Enola Pa Harrisburg Carlisle H.l. Wittle Modern Dairy Milk BottleTrq Slugplate Bailey's Dairy Middleport, Ohio OhAnderson Erickson-ae *set* Cottage Cheese Refrigerator Bowls Des Moines IowaBordens Quart Milk Bottle-war Slogan-akron,ohio-aclAnderson Erickson-ae 1 Pint Cardboard Penny Bank Des Moines IowaNice Walker Steeleville Illinois Quart Slug Plate Milk Bottle W/phone Number!Red Pyro Qt: Westover Dairy, Lynchburg, VirginiaJ. Urban (u) Wharton, N.j. Treq Quart Milk BottleE. J. Henderson & Son Spring Brook Farm Austinburg Ohio Oh O Pint Milk BottleBuehler's *hard 2 Find* Milk Bottle Wooster, Ohio OhLevering's Dairy Mansfield Ohio Oh O Round Embossed Quart Milk Bottle -very RareNice Charleston Illinois Popham's Quart Slug Plate Milk Bottle!Old Lakeview Dairy 34 Oz. Milk Creamer Bottle Oelwein Iowa Rare Ia AdvertisingBeautiful! Creamer's Dairy Red & Black Quart Milk Bottle Fairbanks, Alaska 1941 Golden State 1/2 Pint Dairy JarSterling Amherst Farms Dairy, Wisconsin Round Orange Pyro Quart Milk Bottle1937 Arden (dairy) Pint Magic Food Mayonnaise Jar With Original LidTrpp Milk Bottle Old Homestead Farm Dairy R L Squires Massena Ny 1941 PolicemanJos Krob Dairy Pasterurized Milk Lansing Ohio Embossed Half Pint Milk BottleVintage Milk Bottles, Milk Carrier, And Milk Box.Trpqct Milk Bottle Artic Milk Dairy Farm Cortland Ny Cream Top Polar Bear PicVery Nice Etherton's Dairy Carbondale Illinois Quart Slug Plate Milk Bottle!1949 Dairy Mart Farms San Ysidro, Ca Round Pyro Third (1/3) Qt Milk BottleVintage Milk Bottles And Wire CarrierVintage Quart Glass Milk Bottle* C. Sowerby *perry, N.y. El Dora Farms Lima Ohio Glass Milk Bottle 7 Inches TallVintage Superior Dairy Two Sided Orange Color Pyro Quart Milk BottleVintage Hillcrest Dairy Embossed Milk Crate Milk Box Embossed Metal Milk Box Old(3) 1950s Idlenot Farm Dairy Square Pyro Quart Milk Bottles - Springfield, Vt