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    

Vintage Model Dairy Ogden Utah Wartime Quart Milk BottleVintage Milk Bottle Carrier For 4 Bottles, Green Plastic Coated WireAn Excellent Purdue University Creamery One Quart Milk Bottle.Rare Qt. State Farm Products Show Harrisburg Dairy Milk Bottle. Harrisburg , Pa.Vintage Hood Clear Glass Embossed One Quart Milk Bottle Lot With CarrierA One Pint Purdue University Creamery 1947 Milk BottleLincoln Dairy, Utica, Ny, Round Orange Pyro Quart, Picture Of Abraham LincolnOwensboro Ice Cream And Dairy Products - Kentucky - Velvet Ice Cream Rare Clearview Farm Winthrop Maine Milk Bottle Great Guernsey Cow Graphic Old QtQuart Curfman's Dairy Milk Bottle Three Springs Pa Huntingdon CountyAnderson Erickson-ae Dairy Cottage Cheese Jar ☆rare☆ Des Moines Iowa Yuengling Dairy Products; Pottsville, Pa (schuylkill Co) Round Hf Pt Milk BottleAntique Milk Glass Pat 1875-1886 Zink Mason Jar Lid InsertMansfield Dairy, Stowe, Vt. Round Green Pyro Half Pint W/ Matching CapVintage Antique Cloverleaf Dairy Milk Bottle Creamer Gary In Ind Indiana1937 One Qt. Milk Bottle,hob And Nob Farm, Crotched Mountain , Francestown, NhPatterson's Milk And Cream, Watertown, Ny, Round Black Pyro CreamerJudaica Sterling Silver Filigree Shabbat Spice Tower W Flag Besamim BoxJersey Dairy 1 Quart Round Milk Bottle ~ Look Here!! Spencer, IowaVintage Dairy Milk Bottle A J Tarr Geneva N Y War Wartime Planes Keep Em Flying Andrews Dairy, Canadaigua, Ny, Round Orange & Black Pyro Quart, Picture Of A CowThe Keystone Dairy Co., Ny, Brooklyn, Hoboken, Nj, Round Embossed Amethyst QuartNiles E. Oliver, Oriskany Falls, Ny, Round Orang Pyro Half PintCarnation Dairy 1 Quart Round Cream Top Milk Bottle (not Ae) Des Moines Iowa Semeran Bros. Dairy, Cortland, Ny, Round Orange Pyro Quart1 Quart Round Glass Cream Top Milk Bottle Marigold Cream When You Want It1940's Hartwell Farm One Quart Milk BottleVintage One Quart Dairy Glass Milk Bottle Prosser's Dairy Colorado Mary Lamb Spring Brook Dairy, Waynesboro Pa. Embossed 1 Quart Bottle, B.r. Barlup Prop2) 1940s Massey Granite City Illinois Ill. Il. 1/2p & Qt Dairy Milk Bottle + CapNice Ralph L. Smith Farms Chillicothe Mo Quart Pyro Milk Bottle Missouri Cow AclRare Lonce's Milk Bottle, Hanover, Pa., Ww2 Era, 9 1/2 TallLot Of 3 - Vintage Milk Bottles With Metal Caps; Quart, Pint And Half PintHuber's Dairy, Gladwin, Mich., Round Embossed QuartArmstrong's Dairy, Ogdensburg, Ny Round Blue Pyro Quart & Pint, Pure Jersey Milk1930-40's Pint Newcastle Dairy Le Gresley Painted Milk Bottle & Cap - RedMilk Glass Owl Jar, 6 1/2 Inches Tall, Incuding LidR. H. Taylor Dairy, Watertown, Ny, Round Orange Pyro QuartNaugle's Dairy Donora Pa. Pyro Quart Milk Bottle Yor Child's Best FriendNorman's Kill Farm Dairy, Albany, Ny, Orange Pyro, Round Quart & Square Half PinTrpq Milk Bottle - Walker's Dairy Somerset, PaHoak's Dairy Inc. Harrisburg Pa. Quart Pyro Cream Top Milk Bottle Use The TopSchuyler's Trpq Milk Bottle Savanna Illinois Ill Il DairyHall's Dairy, Millerstown, Pa, Square Orange Pyro; 2 - Pints & 1 - Half PintFarmers' Co-op Dairy Quart Milk Bottle, Brownsville, Pa-- $14.99Iowanola Dairy Cottage Cheese Jar (not Ae) Rare!! Des Moines Iowa Trpq 1940's Benjamin Franklin Ind. Indiana Quart Dairy Milk Bottle Blue PyroLot Of 6 - Zenda Farms, Golden Guernsey, Clayton, Ny, Round Orange Pyro PintsC. A. Dorr Dairy, Watertown, Ny Round Orange Pint & GillGatesdale Dairy, H.f. Gates & Sons, W. Winfield, Ny, Orange Pyro Quart & 1/2 PinC.e. Loson Dairy, Beaches Bridge, Ny, Round Green Pyro QuartDubois Dairy, New Paltz, Ny, Round Orange Pyro Quart, Picture Of A Cow & A BabyTrpq Somerset Creamery Milk Bottle Somerset KyBuck Hill Falls Co.; Buck Hill Falls, Pa.(monroe Co.) Pocono Mtns. Milk BottleHamburgh Dairy, Watertown, Ny, Orange Pyro, Square Quart, Round Quart & Half PinElliott's Dairy, Marion, Il Qt.milk Bottle W/black PyroRutland Hills Co-op., Inc., Watertown, Ny Orange Pyro Quart, Half Pint & GillHunt's Dairy, Schuylerville, Ny, Black Pyro, Square Quart & Round Quart2-color Trpq A.c. Petersen Farms Milk Bottle Hartfortford Conn. Ct BloomfieldLot Of 6 - Zenda Farms, Golden Guernsey, Clayton, Ny Round Orange Pyro Half Pint