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 1949 Swan Ponds Dairy Green Milk Bottle From Morganton, North Carolina.Reynolda (village) Dairy Winston Salem Nc North Carolina 1/2 Pint Milk BottleOriginal Woodstock Festival Yasgur Farms Dairy Tall Milk Bottle Bethel N.y FairRare ** Jones Dairy ** Midland, Ontario Acl Milk BottleTrpq 1945 Chandler Dairy Green Milk Bottle From Moundville, Alabama.Trpq Colorado Dairy Milk Bottle Nursery Rhyme Colo Rare Mooresville Co Op Creamery Half Pint Acl Milk Bottle Mooresville Nc L@@k!1940s-50s Odell's Dairy Pint Milk Bottle - Liberty South Carolina ScPeninsula Dairy Quart Milk Bottle, Newport News VaMilk Bottle Norman Eckert New Ringgold,pa. Qt Rd Emb. Mcfaddens Dairy 1/2 Pint Mispelled Version From Rutherfordton NcRosedale Dairy Laramie, Wyoming Quart Milk BottleTreq Milk Bottle D E Hutchinson Sunny Crest Farm Crosswicks Nj Burlington Co Rare -- Adohr Stock Farm - Van Nuys, California - Half Pint Amethyst Milk BottleA Wwii Slogan Rpsq Utah Milk Bottle From West JordanTrpq Colorado War Milk Bottle Denver Dairy ColoTrpq 1947 Orofino Creamery Red Milk Bottle From Orofino, Idaho.Luvel Dairy Kosciusko, Mississippi 1 Quart Milk BottleSpecial War Era Uncle Sam Us Map Vtg Quart Milk Bottle Maxwell Franklinville Ny Hidden Valley Farm Milk Bottle Tryon Nc Golden Guernsey QuartMilk Cream Glass Bottles....Vintage W. Herman Pryor Glass Bottle Salisbury, MdVintage Borden's Milk Bottel/creamers/glass Lot/elsie The Cow/second 100 YearsVintage Quart Milk Bottle, Roanoke Va DairyModel Dairy N + B Chillicothe Ohio Pint Embossed Milk Bottle1 Quart Embossed Milk Bottle W. H. Snyder Of Lehighton PaQuart 1940's Ginger Rogers Rogue River Ranch Milk Glass Bottle Oregon Jack Kornman's Dairy Biloxi Mississippi Milk Bottle Raw Milk Phone # 469 PintTrpp Milk Bottle Alexandria Dairy Products Company,alexandria,va (virginia)Restaurant Coffee Creamer - 3/4 Oz - Gassholmefarms St.johnsbury Ctr Vt / Diner Yoder Dairy Amber Square Quart Milk Bottle, Newport News VaMullings Dairy Alamosa Colo Colorado Embossed Half 1/2 Pint Cream Milk Bottle ~s*pectacula*r~ 1864 Litthauer Milk Glass Stomach Bitters~berlinMilk Bottle Vintage Guernsey Dairy Farm St. Charles Mo Rare Old CollectibleSadler’s Dairy Santa Cruz Blake-hart Square Embossed QuartKainrad Farm Dairy Cottage Cheese Jar Milk Bottle Wayland Ohio Oh Ravenna - RareA Rare Tpq Oregon Milk Bottle From Myrtle CreekPair Of 2" Vintage Cream/ Milk Bottles "decoursey" Kansas City/leavenworth KsProperty Of Fort View Dairy Half Pint, Portsmouth,vaCanton, Ohio? Pyro Burgers Dairy Gallon Milk BottleSm Gallon Milk Bottle Hawthorn Mellody Farms "milk Of Champs" Libertyville Il Antique Milk Glass BottlesBeautiful Lexington Ky Kentucky Kelly's Dairy Black Pyro Quart Milk Bottle KellyBlue Bird Creamery Inc. Riverside Blake-hart Square Embossed QuartBlue Bird Creamery Inc. Riverside Blake-hart Square Embossed ½ PintRound Quart-blue Pyro-kenneth J.frye-leominster Mass.w/cow On Back-store Bottle!Central Dairy Delivery Modesto Blake-hart Square Embossed ½ PintMilk Bottle Vintage Lakehurst Dairy Farms Lebanon Illinois Rare Old CollectibleRiver Park Dairy South Bend Half Pint Milk Bottle Metal LidAntique Rare White Milk Glass Boerner-fry Co Iowa City IowaA Rare Treqt Oregon Milk Bottle From Klamath Falls Scarce Akron Oh Ohio Averill's Dairy Milk Bottle Adv Bridge Card Game ScorecardVintage Milk Bottle -fairfield Creamery, Fairfield, Illinois-one Pint -very Nice1958 Somerset Dairy Middlebush Nj Red Pyro1/2 Pint Milk Bottle CowF S Sidehamer Dairy Rfd #2 Mt Pleasant Pa 1 Qt Embossed Milk Bottle PennsylvaniaBayville Farms Dairy Virginia Beach Va Half Pint Milk Bottle Princess Anne CoVintage Brookfield Dairy Half Pint Glass Milk Bottle Hellertown PaColorado Milk Bottle Fort Collons Colo Dairy Creamery BoxerColony Farms Cooperative Dairy Inc. Milk Bottle, Denbigh VaRare Akron Oh Ohio Aj Kobetits Brewery Pre Pro Beer Bottle Soda Pop ? Canton