Even at the height of the Great Depression, as the United States braced for unemployment rates to surpass 25%, the milkman’s job was secure. In 1931 there were 70,000 nationwide—a veritable army of affable, white-clad emissaries dispatched from local dairies and creameries, hand-delivering 75% of all milk products consumed in America.

And we’d like to dust him of…


The milkman was so much more than a milkman.

To kids, he was a Santa Clause-ian, spectral messenger, more elusive than the mailman but more tangible than the Easter Bunny, who’d gladly retrieve a stubborn ball from a tree or, if he were ahead of schedule, shoot a quick game of “PIG” in the driveway.

To Mom, he was a lifesaver, proficient with a fuse box (both the house’s and hers), patient with pets and adept at reaching kitchen items perched upon tall shelves. A philanderer at times, but always a friend.

Before the Industrial Revolution and the dawn of milk floats, he traveled with a horse who knew the route by heart, stopping at each house while the boss made the drop. (Thus the phrase “Change the milkman… but not the horse.”)

The milk itself was ice-cold and straight from the udder, a stripe of whole cream poised at the neck of the glass bottle, the contents lacking pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, bovine somatotropin, synthetic hormones and all the other toxic muck camouflaged within the modern-day, factory-made formula sold at Stop & Shop. And Winder Farms, one of the last remaining dairy delivery services in the country, estimates that their recyclable milk bottles saved 3,068,400 plastic containers from ending up in landfills last year alone.

We won’t hold our breath for the milkman’s return, though. Like the bread truck and baker’s dozen, our old pal headed out to pasture soon after Sears came along. Sure, there’s this guy and these guys and loads of organic farms, but none of them seem to be turning the corner just as our kickball gets stuck on the roof.

And wouldn’t you know it, Dad just left for work…

—C.B.S.

CONTRIBUTORS

  • C. Brian Smith