•COMING IN SEPTEMBER, 2015•

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

by Emery Roth

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Silo Passage


PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL - The milk bottle, almost as we used to know it, was invented in 1884. Before bottles, farmers dippered milk to customers from a can. First customers got pure cream, the last got skim milk and considerable road grit. Sanitation was unthought of. Even though Louis Pasteur had invented pasteurization 21 years earlier, commercial pasteurization didn't become common until 1895. The first bottles were plugged with glass stoppers wired in place, but the waxed paper seal that I recall soon became common. It was around the same time that railroads began supplying city dwellers with milk from farms hours away.

The bottles from my childhood came in two varieties. Old-fashioned milk came in a double-bubble bottle with a goiter-like swelling in the neck where the heavy cream could collect. Homogenized milk, invented in 1899, came with short, squat necks. Full bottles were delivered to the door by a milkman who took away the jingling empties.

Even in the early fifties a milkman still made the rounds delivering Sealtest homogenized to our apartment on the 16th floor of a building in New York City. I can still recall the sensation of lifting off the paper bonnet, like a shower cap, that wrapped over the mouth of the bottle and kept it clean, then lifting the tab in the center of the waxed, paper seal and popping the top.

The bottles are gone; the waxed cartons that succeeded them are gone; the milkmen are long gone; even the railroads that carried the milk to the city are gone, and milk in plastic jugs travels from large farms and "bottlers" in ever more distant places. The milk in my refrigerator in Connecticut bears codes that indicate it comes from Virginia. Nothing about the production of milk is the same as it was in the twentieth century.