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History in a Milk Bottle

Dr. H.D. Thatcher was a druggist from Potsdam, N.Y. who helped sanitize the delivery of milk from dairies to homes in the late 19th century.

When I recently "picked" a Thatcher quart milk bottle from an acquaintance who was selling his home, it was clear that it was a copy, despite the old style closure and the embossed cow being milked by the dairy farmer. On the shoulder of the clear glass bottle are the printed, embossed words, reading "ABSOLUTELY PURE MILK," while on the reverse side appear the words "THATCHER'S DAIRY BOTTLE PATENT 1884 ONE QUART." However, when I had cleaned the base, there were printed in a circle "CROWNFORD CHINA CO. 1965" and "BOTTLE MADE IN ITALY."

This data piqued my interest in the Thatcher Company and, as usual, some research was necessary. In "Warman's Bottles Field Guide" compiled by Michael Polak and published in 2005 by KP Books of Iola, Wisc., I found that in 1884 an early milk bottle was patented by A.V. Whiteman. This bottle was secured by a dome-type tin cap "to be used with the patented Thatcher and Barnhart fastening device for a glass lid."

There were variations of the original. The earliest version depicted an embossed Quaker farmer milking his cow. The original is higly prized among collectors. In 1889 H.P. and S.L. Barnhart designed a new capping method featuring "a bottle mouth adapted to receive and retain a wafer disc or cap. The closure was eventually termed the milk bottle cap and revolutionized the milk bottling industry." My copy has this type of cap held in place by a wire fastener.

Further research revealed the 5 Ws and the H, i.e. who, what, when, where, why and how. In the July-August 2007 issue of "Bottles and Extras," there is an article entitled: "The Dating Game: Thatcher Glass Mfg. Co." by Bill Lockhart, Pete Schulz, Carol Serr and Bill Lindsey. There never was a dairy named after Dr. Hervey D. Thatcher. He was a druggist in Potsdam, New York. He also was an inventor who sought to sanitize the milk delivery system from farm to home. He first developed a milk pail preventing contamination during the milking process, and next he invented a bottle called the "Milk Protector" to provide a sanitary delivery to consumers' residences. It was also known as the "Common Sense Milk Bottle."

Originally dairy wagons delivered "loose" milk in large metal containers from which the milkman hand-dipped milk from his container using a metal dipper poured into a housewife's pitcher. Thatcher had once seen a little girl drop her filthy rag doll into an open ten gallon container. This sounds quite gross by today's standards, but not as disgusting when compared to a letter that Thatcher wrote dated July 1, 1919. After speaking to a local dairy man, he decided change would be advantageous. In the letter Thatcher wrote the following: "He said when he started to deliver milk in the morning, the cream would rise to the top (of the dip can) so that the first served got a surplus of cream, and as he each time removed the cover, some dirt from the street, some hair from the horses would each time sift into the milk, so that when he reached the last customers, they were served skim milk with all kinds of foreign matter that had sifted in while on his route."

To make a short story long, thank God for the likes of H.D. Thatcher and Louis Pasteur. Furthermore, I enjoy 2 percent in my morning instant coffee, and tales of the "good old days," otherwise known as history. Besides, Marge Piercy once wrote, "Never doubt that you can change history; you already have."

Karen Samuels September 14, 2012 at 10:07 PM
Great article, Lee! I think I'll have some milk and cookies now.
Joseph T Martin III March 11, 2013 at 05:03 AM
What was the year of the clear glass milk bottle made in Italy with the cow embossed on the other side?it also read perfectly milk on the other side. looks to measure 10 and a half inches and holds about 32 ounces.

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