Five things about milk containers

by Dr Andi
Publish date
25 May 2011
Comments (12)

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 Glass superseded metal.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 Plastic convenience superseded wax.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

Comments (12)

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Jenny 25 May, 2011 11:49
When I was little, I remember getting milk deliveries at home - in Thornbury(the milk came in the imperial pint milk bottles, as per your photo). Makes me feel old !
fay 26 May, 2011 09:24
When we were renovating our house in east Malvern, my husband dug up a pint bottle from Nirvana Dairy, a local dairy in area. Now days the Dairy Bell ice cream shop (cnr Belgrave and Malvern Road) occupies the former Nirvana Dairy. Amazingly - the bottle is intact!
Valerie Kelly 5 January, 2014 09:48
My Stepfather Frederick Spottiswood built, owned and ran the Nirvana Dairy I remember hearing the delivery horses in their stalls at night chewing their hay and stomping their hooves, our home was next to the dairy , I was allowed to takemy friends into the milkbar and shout them all milkshakes.
paul 26 May, 2011 14:49
i found an old milk bottle under the house with a phone number on it - 502 , they wont take my calls.
Caz 26 May, 2011 15:46
I remember the old glass milk bottles (pints) of the 60s and 70s. I also remember - as a kid - being a little naughty, often skimming off the yummy cream layer that was found at the top of the bottle, as a treat for myself. Poor everyobdy else in the family eh!
Claudia Funder 26 May, 2011 16:25
I remember horse drawn nightly milk deliveries in Nth Balwyn in the late 70's with the local dairy next to Kew High in burke rd. Love a milk bottle still. In fact in my bottle collection I bought one from ebay.
Kim Kavanagh 2 June, 2011 09:41
The Allansford Cheese World Museum volunteers have constructed a reproduction of an early dairy to show visitors exactly how the cows were milked at the turn of the century. Over many months they have collected old weathered timber and rusty tin sheets from local disused dairies to provide them with the authentic materials to recreate an early milking bale. It features the first mechanical milking machine surrounded by the other items that were used in what would have been considered a state of the art milking shed. They have collected an early milk cooler, which was used before refrigeration to cool the milk, separators for removing the cream from the milk, old hinges and hooks and even a three legged milking stool. This exhibit is permanent display in the Museum as a testimonial to the hard working pioneering families of the district. The Cheese World Museum is situated 15 minutes from Warrnambool on the Great Ocean Road in Allansford Vic.
dianne 25 July, 2011 21:19
my grandfather had the dairy on the corner of belgrave&malvern rd my father used to deliver the milk by horse;it was always an adventure going to my grandparents place
Caetlin Kirby 14 March, 2014 23:16
Hi I'm actually looking at writing my own pieces on Milk Bottle History and I was concerned about why they bought cardboard boxed milk bottles into our lives because can't we get very sick from them because they have plastic in them and I want to know more of what is in the cardboard carton milk bottles because I want to keep my family healthy and safe from getting sick thank you for hearing what I had to say.
Pete Granger 13 December, 2014 15:59
Glass bottles, home delivery and bottle recycling are synonymous with each other. Paperboard containers came into being for two principle reasons, 1. The advent of supermarkets - and their abhorrence of bottle/recycling, and 2. processing dairies in the 1960's (which were small-scale, Govt-protected localised mini-monopolies) could not resist the opportunity of avoiding bottle washing/recycling - a rather tedious and costly process. They initially resisted the push to cartons because it opened the opportunity for more centralised (competitive) processing of milk, but feeling protected by their territorial distribution monopoly quickly embraced the convenience of one-way cartons. They were also coerced into supplying supermarkets at the risk of the latter centralising their purchase of milk. Before long the Government deregulated the dairy processing industries, and milk processing and distribution was transformed from a decentralised activity to a centralised activity - in no small part due to the cardboard carton. This effectively ended home delivery and returnable milk bottles. There is not much evidence the polyethylene coating on milk cartons is harmful, and in any event plastic milk bottles now dominate milk sales in Australia. Glass bottles could only happen in any volume if home delivery were to return, but changing demographics (smaller family sizes) makes this a most improbable scenario.
Robert Parlan Weaver 15 June, 2016 13:30
I have been decorating milk cans since 1984, and still are.If you wish to view any please ask.Rob
Michael 2 September, 2016 19:22
Today we found a 1940s vintage milk bottle on our bush block in myrtleford,Vic. It is like new.. The bottle has the embossed writing as follows : This bottle contains milk. Bottle for sale by H.R. Richards and sons. Waratah Dairy, Wangarrata. T.B tested milk phone 410. One imperial pint. On the bottom of the bottle is the number 605.
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