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    

Trpq 1940s Miner Butte Montana Quart Mont. Mt. Dairy Bottle Not Divco Milk TruckTrpq 1951 Sokei Dairy Orange Pyroglaze Milk Bottle From Kapaa, Kauai (hawaii).Trpq 1940's Bulls Gap Tennessee Quart Tenn. Tn. Dairy Milk Bottle Picture FrontTrpq 1940's Figural Cop The Cream Butztown Pennsylvania Quart Dairy Milk BottleTrpq 1940s Baby Face Green Bros. Schenectady New York Quart Ny Dairy Milk BottleTrpq 1944 Wwii Philipsburg Pennsylvania Quart Pa. Dairy Milk Bottle War SloganTrpq 1942 Rare War Slogan Red Pyroglaze Milk Bottle From Glencliff Grade A Milk.Trpq 1940's Hridel Cleveland Ohio Quart Oh. Dairy Milk Bottle 2 Color SportsTrpq Wwii Zuschlag Greenville Pennsylvania Quart Pa Dairy Milk Bottle War SloganTrpq 1940s Hill Top Live Oak Florida Quart Fla. Fl. Dairy Milk Bottle Rain StormTrpq 1948 Deters Dairy Farms Red And Blue Milk Bottle From Quincy (illinois?) F P Bietsch Chambersburg Pa Milk Bottle Franklin Co Quart Rd Emb Early HeavyTrpq 1940s Adams Friendship Wisconsin Quart Wisc. Wi. Dairy Milk Bottle WindmillVtg Trpq 1950 Utah Dairy Co-op Products Quart Milk Bottle Layton, Utah ~beehive~Vintage Restaurant Creamer Cream Acl Bottle Grand Champion Milk Dairy Bodker Dairy Detroit Michigan Pyro War Bonds Victory Uncle Sam Wwii Bottle Ww2Rare Half Pint Square Body Embossed Milk Bottle Tonopah Dairy Co Tonopah NevadaRare Early Biltmore Dairy One Quart Milk Bottle Asheville Nc Approved Circa 1940Early Avondale (cincinnati, Ohio) Milk Bottle J.h. Weber Avondale In Slug PlateJoplin Mo..classic, Wwii, War Bond Milk, Uncle Sam With Hitler, Mussolini & TojoTrpq 1940s Davis Dairy Green Pyroglaze Milk Bottle From Lockhart, FloridaOtto's Suburban Dairy Pittsburgh Pa. Red Pyro Half Gallon Otto's Cottage CheeseWill's Dairy Baltimore Md. Quart Orange Pyro Milk Bottle Don't Destroy VitaminsVintage Quart Milk Bottles Bell-dairy And Pure Milk Inc Norwalk Ohio 1940sRhp Boswell Dairies Milk, Tx, TexasTrehp Milk Bottle Gill Gill's Dairy Farm Corning Ny Steuben County '49 Very RareRare Henderson's Dairy Malta, Montana Trq Milk Bottle Pristine Condition!Emma Bridgewater - Rare Vintage Jug - Dairy Range - 2 Pint - Mint!!!Shumadine Dairy Norfolk Va Quart Milk Bottle Embossed Virginia 9 1/2" TallRare Guernsey Dell Dairy Great Falls, Montana Milk Bottle Trq"scott - Riversdale Dairy - Yarraville" Vintage Glass Victorian Milk BottlePyro Creamtop 3¢ Deposit, Chestnut Farms Chevy Chase Dairy, Washington DcMilk Carrier Eight BottlesRare Antique Duraglas Mcelligott Dairy Farm One Quart Milk Bottle New YorkTreq Milk Bottle Schwabenbauer Dairy Farm Brockwayville Pa Jefferson County 1921Quality Smith's Dairy East Helena, Montana Trq Milk BottleLee Hall Va Milk Bottle Locust Grove Dairy Qt. RareBeautiful Ayshire Dairy Great Falls, Montana Trq Milk BottleKoenig's Dairy Or Koenig Dairy Embossed Pint Milk Bottle Chicago,ill Il Illinois1927 Costa Brothers Creamery Emb. Hp Milk Bottle Mill Valley, Ca CalUtschig Dairy Appleton, Wis Wi Wisconsin Pyroglazed Half Pint Milk BottleVintage Stevens Dairy Bottle, New York1950s - 1960s Bergey's Dairy Farm Quart Milk Bottle, Bergey, Fentress , Va, RareTrpp Milk Bottle Stock Stock's Farm Dairy Albany Ga Dougherty County 1941 BabyScarce Pyro Broughton's Cottage Cheese Jar Marietta Ohio Oh Milk BottleVintage Round Quart Milk Bottle Wolever's Dairy Delivery Exeter, Calif.Deter's Square Gallon Milk Bottle Quincy, Ill Il IllinoisWeston Wv West Virginia W Va Webber's Dairy BottleWeston Wv. West Virginia W Va. Weber's Milk Bottle 1 QuartHagan Dairy Red Letter Quart Milk Bottle Uniontown Pa A Hot Day BottlePicture, 2-color, Frear, Dover, DeChapman Dairy Pint Milk Bottle Christianburg,va VirginiaVintage Sheffield Farms Co Wood Milk Bottle Crate Box Sealtest Dairy 1956 NiceRep Milk Bottle Sundale Dairy W S Abernethy Farm Charlotte Nc Mecklenburg CountyOld Alderney Pals Cabin Milk Dairy Bottle Creamer West Orange Nj Pyro Calf CabinTrehp Milk Bottle W D Matteson Dairy Farm Renovo Pa Clinton County 1927 7 OunceEdelweiss Dairy Milk Bottle San Jose CaliforniaL H Rosenberger Dairy Norristown Pa Milk Bottle Qt Round Emb Mongomery Co EarlyHalf Pint Pyro Milk Bottle City Dairy Boyne City Michigan Mich MiTrphp Milk Bottle Borden Borden's Dairy Delivery Co California 1944 Milkman