MV Blog


Five things about milk containers

by Dr Andi
Publish date
25 May 2011
Comments (10)

The other day when I went out for some milk, I passed by a shop window display and noticed some lovely ceramic jugs in the shape of cardboard milk cartons and a range of colourful silicon rubber versions of paper coffee cups. All these iconic containers in unexpected materials! It got me thinking about my milk and my milk carton I just purchased. Here are five things from Museum Victoria about milk containers...

1. In 1860s Europe, if you wanted milk, the only milk container was a cow or possibly a metal milk can. By the 1870s, Europe saw the emergence of large metal milk cans. I found some old milk cans in the MV collection but then I stumbled across this beautifully decorated milk can from our Immigration and Creative Practice Collection.

Milk can Milk Can, painted by Yoka Van Den Brink, 1993, using Hindeloopen craft techniques which date back to the 16th century port of Hindeloopen, in Friesland, North of Holland. (SH 931248)
Image: Taryn Ellis
Source: Museum Victoria

(I also just had to show you this intriguing image...)

Cream Separator International Harvester McCormick-Deering 3-S Cream Separator with Female Model, 1939. (MM 115002)
Source: Museum Victoria

2. Glass superseded metal. Some of you will remember the glass milk bottle. Invented in 1884, it meant milk could be stored for several days without spoilage because bottles could be sterilised, plus pasteurised milk (quickly heated and cooled) restricted bacterial contamination.

  two glass milk bottles Left: How cute is the Imperial half pint milk bottle from the Gilchrist Dairy, Fitzroy in use between 1930 and 1959? (HT 14148) Right: One imperial pint milk bottle painted white on the inside; we didn’t put the actual milk in the collection. (ST 038370).
Image: L: Cherie McKeich and Eloise Coccoli R: Unknown
Source: Museum Victoria

3. In 1915, John Van Wormer cried over split milk because it also involved broken glass (fair enough). He turned his frustration into an idea of a ‘paper bottle’ that had to be folded, glued and dipped in paraffin wax. He was granted the patent and ten years later he also had a machine to form, fill and seal the new ‘Pure-pak’ containers.


4. Plastic convenience superseded wax. In the 1940s the paraffin wax was replaced by polyethylene plastic. But the milk carton did not catch on until the 1960s when cartons included a new feature: the open-able spout.


Pura milk carton
A one litre carton of milk, branded Pura, manufactured by National Dairies Limited. Looks familiar? It only entered the MV collection in 2010. Just like the milk bottles it will be kept for future generations to marvel at. (HT 27262).
Image: Matilda Vaughan
Source: Museum Victoria

5. It's possible we've gone full circle. If John Von Wormer were alive he would chuckle at this funky domestic accessory. I don’t think he would use it as a milk jug for coffee, I reckon he’d use it as a vase.

Glass Half Pint Milk Carton - Milk Jug Glass Half Pint Milk Carton - Milk Jug
Source: Rockett St George

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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.