I remember when we used to get milk in glass bottles, and when you finished a bottle, you would wash it out and place it in an insulated metal box you kept outside your front door. Usually, about once a week, a milk truck would stop at your home, pick up the empties, and leave whatever your family had ordered. Often you would leave the money for your order in the box (it was a simpler, more honest time before “porch pirates”). When we were home during the summer, mom would always tell us to keep an eye out for the milkman from Dawson’s (not to be confused with Lawson’s, which came later) so we could get the milk in the house before it got warm. I also remember seeing the Isaly trucks, like the one pictured above, in our neighborhood.
Various caps were used to seal the milk. I remember the ones that were made of cardboard, usually with a message on top that said something like “wash bottle before returning.” They had a little tab in the middle that you would pull up to open the bottle. I have vivid memories of this. For a while, Dawson’s had a series that featured each of the fifty states. I believe they gave you a card to use as you collected these. Eventually, I got all fifty. I wish I still had it–it would probably be a collector’s item today.
We also had an egg man, an older local farmer, who delivered our eggs. His name may have been Bill. He delivered eggs in his car as I recall, and when it was in season, we would also buy fresh corn from him. Occasionally we bought brown-shelled eggs which tasted better. You paid him each week at the time of delivery.
Milk has been delivered in the United States since 1785 when farmers started delivering raw milk in Vermont. This continued for many years, often brought in galvanized pails, but there are limits to the distances it can be transported. Eventually milk pasteurization was introduced, mandated in 1910 in New York City. In pasteurization, milk is heated to around the boiling point, which kills much, but not all, of the bacteria (there is also a double pasteurization process that kills more). Pasteurization extends the shelf life of milk to up to three weeks. The milk we received was both pasteurized and homogenized, the latter being a process by which the fat molecules in milk are broken down, instead of rising to the top as cream.
Many companies, like Isaly’s delivered a number of other dairy products like heavy cream, sour cream, cottage cheese, and buttermilk, and sometimes other grocery items like orange juice and eggs. Part of the attraction, it seems of having these items delivered, was that they were the things you tended to use up most quickly, and it wasn’t always convenient to go to the grocery store just for them.
Two things may have changed this, at least for milk. One was the opening of convenience stores like the Lawson’s just up the street from our house, and the other was the introduction of plastic jugs, which were lighter, less slippery, and easy to carry. I suspect that prices were often better. Yet I remember the fresh taste of the eggs we got from the egg man and the just picked corn. I can’t remember if the milk was better, but I do have to say, I always liked milk as a kid, much less so today, so there might have been something to this.
It is interesting how things have come full circle. I do remember, even into the 1980’s or so, some small grocers in Youngstown delivered, especially to their elderly customers. They are all but gone now and for a while none of the larger chains delivered and people didn’t seem to want that.
Even before the current virus pandemic, that has been changing. Everyone from Amazon and its Whole Foods subsidiary to our local groceries and drug store will deliver. The Community Supported Agriculture movement of local farmers also delivers fresh produce to its subscribers each week. There is even a growing movement in Ohio allowing for raw milk deliveries.
As many of us would say in Youngstown, “everything that goes around comes around.”