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Introduction to Milk Bottles

Probably the first misconception about milk bottles is that their early use was widespread.  The first use of bottles for the delivery of milk was reported in the late 1870's and everyone is aware of the 1889 patent for the sealing of milk bottles with a paper cap.  However many dairies were hesitant to adopt the use of milk bottles for various reasons.  A 1903 publication reported the use of milk bottles in major California cities as follows:
 
City  Population Gallons Milk  Gallons Cream   Pints/person Proportion Bottled   Maximum Distance
San   Francisco  342,782  25,000  1,500    0.58  25%   60 miles
Los  Angeles  102,479  4,500  150                0.35  largely used  20 miles
Oakland   66,960  4,500   75  0.54  very small portion  40 miles
Sacramento   29,282   3,000    50   0.82 small
extent, mostly cream 
  7 miles 
San Jose  21,500  2,512  small amount  0.93  general use  7 miles
Alameda  16,464  1,760  100  0.86  30% 45 miles

In the table, the gallons of milk, cream and the pints of milk consumed per person are all per day.  The maximum distance is the farthest distance that milk was hauled from dairies to the city.  Note that in San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento and Alameda the amount of milk that was sold in bottles was very low in 1903.  However in Los Angeles glass bottles were largely used in 1903.  Interestingly on April 16, 1899, just four years earlier, the Los Angles Board of Health banned the sale of milk in glass jars due to the fact that many dairies did not properly sanitize the jars prior to their being refilled.  It appears that this ordinance was short lived.  Ironically in August of 1938, Oakland, California went the other way and proposed a milk ordinance that required milk to be sold only in clear glass bottles.  It essentially banned paper milk bottles for fear they could not be sanitized.  The ordinance met heavy opposition and was eventually changed.  Do you think we just resist change?

Here are the same numbers for some larger cities in the eastern United States:

City   Population  Gallons Milk   Gallons Cream   Pints/person  Proportion Bottled   Maximum Distance 
 Baltimore   508,957   25,000   4,000  0.39   20 concerns use, total % unknown   200 miles
 Boston    560,892   82,250      1.17    extensively 140 miles
 Chicago 1,698,575   169,465     0.80  1/3 use for part of their trade 123 miles
 New York 3,437,202  333,856  4,000 0.78 at least 33%  350 miles
 Philadelphia 1,293,697   75,000    0.46 large number    200 miles
 Saint Louis  575,238   26,375    3,000   0.37  generally used   

One will notice that the consumption of milk was not too different but the cities were larger, bottles were more commonly used and the distance that the milk had to be transported was much greater.  However, even in 1903, on the east coast there were significant milk sales being dipped out of cans a full 25 years after the introduction of the glass milk bottles.

Another way to look at the growth of milk bottle usage is shown in the table below.  This was a census prepared by the Department of Commerce in 1914.  The numbers represent the dollar value of the types of glass bottles produced in the United Stated for that year.  Note that the value of milk bottles did not break the one million dollar value until 1914.  Compared to the other classes of bottles, milk bottles were a minor product for the glass factories even in 1914.  However by 1921 a single milk bottle manufacturer, the Thatcher Manufacturing Company, recorded 7 million dollars in sales and at the same time prohibition had eliminated the manufacture of beer and liquor bottles.

 Type of Bottle

 1914

 1909

 1904

 1899

 Prescription & Druggists bottles

 $4,893,000

 $3,624,000

 $3,203,000

 $2,424,000

 Beer, Soda & Mineral bottles

$4,574,000

$2,345,000

 $2,352,000

 $1,351,000

 Packers & Preservers

  $3,271,000

 $1,237,000

 $1,237,000

 $785,000

 Liquor bottles & Flasks

 $2,689,000

 $1,887,000

 $2,158,000

 $985,000

 Fruit jars

 $1,199,000

 $1,124,000

 $1,062,000

$789,000

 Milk jars

 $1,189,000

 $440,000

 $254,000

 $146,000

 Milk jars as % of the total U.S. value

 2.3%

 1.2%

 less than 1%

 less than 1%


The bottle shape that we normally associate with milk was not unique to milk.  One can also find milk bottles that were used for honey, maple syrup, oysters, vinegar and mustard.  Probably the most unusual use for a milk bottle we have come across was for mushroom spawn or spores.

Etched, Slug Plate and Molded Milk Bottles

One thing unique to dairy bottles is that they were reused many times.  This was probably due to the fact that milk had a short shelf life.  The consumer only needed the bottle for a couple weeks and milk was only sold locally.  A United States Department of Agriculture Survey in the early 1900's found that the average life span of a milk bottle was 22.5 trips with a range from 6 to 60 trips. 

Many dairies used plain bottles and identified their product with milk caps stating their name.  However these bottles were impossible to identify and easily stolen by competitors.  One solution was to etch the dairy name into the glass as seen in the bottle on the left above.  The most common type of etching was freehand writing but some dairies used stencils or rubber stamps to etch the letters (
picture).  An acid was used to etch the glass with a thickening agent added to keep it from running.

Much nicer was to have a milk bottle made with the dairy name embossed on the glass.  One way to do this was to use a generic mold with a round insert or slug plate that had the dairy's information on it.  All of the dairy's information had to fit in this round slug plate on the front of the bottle.  The slug plate on a quart bottle was usually just over three inches in diameter.  In 1939 Thatcher Manufacturing offered free slug plate lettering for every five gross (720 bottle) order of milk bottles.  In their 1941-42 catalog Sears, Roebuck and Company made a similar offer.  They would give free slug plate embossing of the dairy's name on orders of sixty dozen (720) milk bottles of the same size.  The milk bottle in the center is an example of a slug plate milk bottle.  Note the rings on the neck of this milk bottle to aid in gripping it. 

Larger dairies could afford to have complete molds, sometimes called private molds, made for their milk bottles.  In this case the dairy information was not limited to the slug plate.  Other areas of the bottle could be utilized and the embossing on the front could be much larger.  In 1939 Thatcher Manufacturing would furnish a free private mold for every one rail car order.  The bottle on the right is an example of a milk bottle made with a full or private mold.


Milk bottles left to right:
Soledad Dairy Products, quart, Soledad, California, Owens-Illinois, 1933
Turlock Milk Co., quart, Turlock, California, Illinois Pacific Glass Co., 1921
American Creamery Co., quart, Oakland, Hayward, Richmond, California, Illinois Pacific Glass Corp., 1929

Off page milk bottles left to right:
Granger's Dairy, quart, Sacramento, California, Owens-Illinois, 1935
Union Dairy, quart, Sacramento, California, Owens-Illinois, 1935

Quart, Pint, 12 Ounce, Half Pint and Quarter Pint Milk Bottles

Milk bottles came in many sizes.  Shown above are five of these sizes.  From left to right is a quart, pint, 12 ounce, half pint and quarter pint also known as a gill.  Quarts were the most common size that milk was sold in during the period of round milk bottles.  Pints were not popular with creameries since they cost almost as much as a quart bottle, took almost the same time to clean and fill yet only resulted in half of the milk sold.  The 12 ounce is not as common and is often marked FOR CAFE USE ONLY. These were used in restaurants and cafeterias rather than for home or store delivery.  As can be seen in the picture the 12 ounce bottle looks more like the pint milk bottle on its left rather than the half pint bottle on its right even though it holds 4 ounces less than the pint and 4 ounces more than the half pint.  Many states had laws specifying what size bottles that milk could be sold in and usually 12 ounce milk bottles were not legal because they deceived the consumer.  Dealers often charged the same for 12 ounces as they did for a pint even though the consumer received 4 ounces less milk.  To get around this the 12 ounce bottles were embossed FOR CAFE USE ONLY so that the milk was not being delivered but rather sold as part of a meal.  Half pint milk bottles were used for cream and milk for school lunches.  Quarter pints or gills, as they were sometimes called, were not as common as the half pints and were usually used for cream.  We have even seen quarter pint milk bottles labeled as one eight quart.

All these bottles are from Monterey Bay Milk Distributors Inc.  Note the bumps on the necks of four of the bottles to aid in gripping them.  The 5c embossed on these bottles is not the price but rather the deposit on the milk bottles.

A survey by the U. S. Department of Commerce conducted in 1922 found 12 varieties of quart milk bottles, 13 types of pint milk bottles, 14 half pint bottles and 10 varieties of quarter pint bottles.  In addition there were ten sizes of caps to fit these various milk bottles.  Up to that time milk bottles were not officially standardized among glass manufacturers although there was interest in uniform sized milk bottles of similar heights and weights to conform to milk bottle handling equipment.  In 1927, the U. S. Department of Commerce - Bureau of Standards issued recommendations to the glass industry to standardize the sizes and weights of milk and cream bottles.  Generally quarts were to be 9 1/2 inches tall, pints were 7 1/4 inches and half pints were 5 3/8 inches.  The weights were 25 1/2 ounces for quarts, 15 1/2 ounces for pints and 10 ounces for half pints.  Around 1940, due to improved glass making techniques, glass manufacturers would be able to reduce these weights to save costs.  It was also recommended in 1927 that the quarter pint or gill milk bottle be eliminated and that a single No. 2 cap (1 21/32 of an inch in diameter) be used to seal all sizes of milk bottles.  The elimination of the quarter pint milk bottle must not have been heeded as one will find many quarter pint milk bottle made after 1927.

In addition to 12 ounce bottles one will also find 10 ounce and third quart (10.67 ounces) cafe milk bottles.  Some bottles will be embossed 5/8 PINT which was the same as 10 ounces or 3/4 PINT which was the same as 12 ounces.  In California, 10 ounce milk bottles were not common.  The 12 ounce cafe bottles were most common during the period round bottles were in use and in square bottles the third quart cafe bottles became more common.  States often regulated what size bottles could be used to sell milk in the state.  Some towns taxed drinks over a certain price, such as 10 cents.  In those instances smaller size servings were more popular to avoid the tax.  Click
here for a picture comparing a pint, 12 ounce, 3/4 pint, 1/3 quart and 10 ounce milk bottle.

Some milk bottles even used weight, instead of volume, as a measure.  We have seen milk bottles that were embossed 2 LB.  A gallon of whole milk weighs about 8.6 pounds, depending on the fat and protein content.  That would make a quart of milk weigh about 2.15 pounds so you can see that a two pound milk bottle would have been a way to short the consumer if they thought they were getting a full quart.

The accuracy of a milk bottle's capacity was also very important to a dairy.  If a bottle held more than it was advertised to the dairy would be giving away milk for free.  This could really add up over a year's time and be very costly to the dairy.  On the other end of the spectrum if the bottle was undersize then consumers would be cheated and the dairy could be fined if the bottles were discovered by inspectors.  Once the word got out that a dairy was using short bottles, the dairy's reputation could be badly damaged.  A Los Angeles newspaper article from 1908 reported that 1000 dozen bottles were found to not conform to standard measure.  The article reported that even though the bottles were condemned in the city they were often sold to dairies operating outside of town.  Another report said that in 1916, 211,000 milk bottles in California were condemned for being short measure.  Accurate measure became a big selling feature among milk bottle manufacturers.  The Thatcher Manufacturing Company guaranteed the accuracy of their milk bottles to within two drams (1/4 ounce) of the actual capacity.

However early milk bottles did not start out very accurate.  Prior to bottle making machines it was the size of the glob of glass that was gathered that determined the capacity of a milk bottle.  Since the mold controlled the outside shape of the bottle, extra glass would result in a bottle with thicker walls and less capacity than desired.  The distribution of the glass when the bottle was blown also affected the capacity.  Early milk bottles had a lot of variation in capacity and the tendency was to be under capacity.  Dairies definitely did not want a bottle that was over capacity.  Some towns found that 60 to 90% of milk bottles were under capacity.  In fact some bottle companies advertised they could make milk bottles that were under capacity so the dairies could increase their profits.  The argument was that the milk bottle was not a unit of measure.  The dairy was selling a bottle of milk, not necessarily a quart of milk.  That is why most early milk bottles will not have the capacity blown into the glass.  Over time milk bottles were determined to be a unit of measure and states required the bottles to be sealed or guaranteed to be of a certain capacity.  When it became illegal for dairies to use short measure milk bottles then capacity became a big selling point between glass companies.  The use of automatic bottle making machines allowed the glass companies to greatly improve the accuracy of a milk bottles capacity.

Dairies were also very sensitive to correct capacity when they purchased milk in cans.  After years of use the milk cans would get dented in, decreasing how much milk they could hold.  On a 5 or 10 gallon can dents could lower the capacity by one or two quarts.  This meant that if a dairy bought a ten gallon can full of milk it may have held only 9 1/2 gallons.


Milk bottles left to right:
Monterey Bay Milk Distributors, quart, Monterey, California, Owens-Illinois, 1933
Monterey Bay Milk Distributors, pint, Monterey, California, Owens-Illinois, 1942
Monterey Bay Milk Distributors, 12 oz., Monterey, California, Owens-Illinois, 1945
Monterey Bay Milk Distributors, half pint, Monterey, California, Owens-Illinois, 1938
Monterey Bay Milk Distributors, quarter pint, Monterey, California, Owens-Illinois, 1942

Off page milk bottles left to right:
Burr, pint, Los Angeles, California, West Coast Glass Company, pre-1930
PEP Creameries LTD., 12 ounce, Watsonville, California, Owens-Illinois, 1939
Mare Island Cafeteria, 3/4 pint, Vallejo, California, Pacific Coast Glass Company, 1925
Henry Creamery Corp., 1/3 quart, Los Angeles, California, maker and date unknown
Jersey Farm Dairy, 10 ounce, Fresno, California, Thatcher Manufacturing Company, 1919

Half Gallon and Gallon Milk Bottles

In the 1940's and 1950's larger milk bottles became more common.  An article in the American Milk Review claimed that the first two quart milk bottles were used in the spring of 1939 in the cities of Fresno, Stockton and Los Angeles, California. 

World War II also had a hand in this change.  Prior to the war everyday delivery of milk was common.  However due to shortages of fuel, tires and repair parts during the war dairies started to deliver milk every other day or even three times each week.  This meant that the house wife needed to order more milk less often.  In addition milk sales by home delivery were decreasing and shifting to store sales.  This was helped by the fact that often the price of milk in stores was less than the price of the same milk on home delivery routes.  Since the home maker only needed to go to the store a couple times a week, as sales shifted from home delivery to stores, the amount of milk purchased at one time also increased.

Plus their were other economies for the dairy.  The weight of a half gallon was 32 percent less than 2 quarts and the half gallon took up a third less space.  A case of 8 half gallons was the same width and length as a case of 12 quarts and only one inch taller.  Also you only needed one cap instead of two so capping costs were cut in half as well as a lower bottle cost per quart since it took less glass to make a half gallon bottle compared to two quarts.

On the left is a half gallon milk bottle and on the right are a pair of gallon milk bottles with metal handles.  The gallon milk bottle in the middle is a wide mouth gallon.  It was not popular as it was awkward to use and pour.  The cap size on this bottle was just under four inches.  The bottle had two glass ears that the metal handle attached to.  The gallon bottle on the far right has a smaller mouth.  The cap size on this bottle was around 2 1/4 inches.  The metal handle on this bottle is attached by a wire ring around the bottle neck.  This bottle is embossed with a patent number for a design patent issued to Henry McKnight of Toledo, Ohio on June 25, 1940.  The patent was assigned to Owens-Illinois Glass Company of the same city.  The metal handle is stamped SNAP LOCK along with a patent number.  The patent for the metal handle was issued to Tazewell Jenkins of Chicago, Illinois on May 30, 1939.

The Thatcher Manufacturing Company also listed a three pint milk bottle in some of their early catalogs but it was not popular and never used in California.

Milk bottles didn't stop at one gallon. Around 1934-35 Owens-Illinois Glass Company introduced a 2 gallon (8 quart) and a 2 1/2 gallon (10 quart) milk bottle.  They advertised that these bottles were designed for delivery of milk to restaurants and hotels.  These bottles had glass ears similar to the middle bottle above to which was attached a metal handle and with a wood grip.  The bottles had a stippled outside surface that was intended to hide any separation of the contents.  Generally these bottle were etched with the dairy name rather than being embossed.  Click
here for a picture of a 10 quart milk bottle next to a conventional quart bottle.  This monster is 16 inches tall and weighs close to 9 pounds empty.  Full of milk it would be over 30 pounds.

Milk bottles left to right:
Bret Harte, half gallon, Nevada City & Grass Valley, California, Owens-Illinois, 1946
Sanitary Farms Dairy, Inc., gallon, Erie, Pennsylvania, Owens-Illinois, 1953
Sunshine Dairy, gallon, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, Owens-Illinois, 1948

Off page milk bottles left to right:
New Haven Dairy, 10 quart, New Haven, Connecticut, Owens-Illinois, 1934
United Milk Company, quart, San Francisco, California, Illinois Pacific Glass Co., pre-1930

Embossed Milk Bottles

Pyroglazed Milk Bottles

Beginning in 1933 a form of silk screening was introduced to put colored labels on milk bottles.  The colored label was actually a mixture of lead, silica and borax fused to the glass at a temperature of 1200 degrees Fahrenheit for a period of four hours.  Initially it cost slightly more for colored milk bottles compared to embossed ones.  This was partially because the process was new and also because the dairy had already invested in the molds for the embossed milk bottles.  However as the process was perfected and dairies wanted to update what was imprinted on the milk bottle, it became cheaper and faster to use colored label milk bottles rather than cutting the new molds needed for embossed milk bottles.  It also made the labels much more prominent against the white background of the milk.  Some dairies felt that these brightly colored milk bottles reduced the temptation of other dairies to steal and reuse their milk bottles.  This was a serious problem with embossed milk bottles, resulting in added costs to dairies.  Some smaller dairies or even larger, less honest dairies would steal a competitor's milk bottle or even acquire milk bottles from a different locality and etch their name over the embossing or just use their milk cap.  It was felt that with the colored milk bottles this type of bottle theft was just too obvious and not worth the risk.

This process was called pyroglazing (pyro for short) or Applied Color Lettering.  Pyroglaze was the term used by the Thatcher Manufacturing Company of Elmira, New York.  Owens-Illinois Glass Company of Toledo, Ohio used the term Applied Color Lettering or ACL for the same process.  The Universal Glass Products Company of Parkersburg, West Virginia called the process Fire-Fused Color Lettering or Hi-Fired Color Lettering.  Liberty Glass Company of Sapulpa, Oklahoma used the term Lustro-Color for their bottles with colored lettering.

The first mention that we have seen of colored lettering by a U. S. glass manufacturer was a January 1933 newspaper article that said the Sheffield factory of the Knox Glass Bottle Company was experimenting with the process on prescription bottles.  An industry press release in May of 1933 indicated that Owens-Illinois Glass Company had developed this process for use on milk bottles at its plant in Huntington, West Virginia.  Soon after, by July of 1933, they started promoting milk bottles with fused names and trademarks in color (they did not use the term ACL at that time) in their own advertisements.  In August of 1932 they used the term "Applied Color" Bottles in their advertisements to refer to display milk bottles that had color fused to the inside of the glass bottle.  Display milk bottles were internally colored white to simulate milk and a yellow color to indicate the cream.  This was done inside the bottle and used by milk dealers in their promotional displays.  One unintended use of these display milk bottles was as a way to hide liquor.  Prohibition was still in place in 1932 and these painted milk bottles did a good job of concealing their contents, especially if it was not milk.  We are not sure if coloring the insides of the bottle was the same technology as applying colored labels to the outside of the bottle but Owens-Illinois claimed that the colors were fused to the glass by intense heat.  They said the color was an integral part of the glass and permanent and indestructible except through breakage.  The first advertisement we have seen from the Thatcher Manufacturing Company for pyroglazing was in March of 1934.  They used the term pyroglaze in that advertisement.

With the advent of color labeling, slogans and advertising were often applied to other areas of the milk bottle that had been ignored in embossed bottles.  Now some of the cost of new milk bottles could be considered as part of the dairy's advertising budget.  Pyroglazing could be applied to the front and back of the bottle body, the shoulder (except 1/4 pint) and the neck of the milk bottle.  It could also be combined with embossing.  Some dairies continued to order their embossed milk bottles with the slug plate embossing on the front but added color labeling to the backside of the bottle.  Another possibility was that the Owens-Illinois Pacific Coast Company offered to have dairies return their used embossed bottles and have color labeling added as a way to introduce the process to dairies.  The bottle capacities, state seals, patent information, mold marks and maker's marks were generally always embossed and never pyroglazed.  Pyroglazed milk bottles became very common by the 1940's.  One estimate in 1941, was that over half of the new milk bottles manufactured had colored labels.  However they did not totally replace embossed milk bottles.  Some dairies preferred the embossed milk bottles so one cannot assume that embossed milk bottles will always be older than pyroglazed milk bottles.  One downside of the color labeled milk bottles was that some chemicals used to wash the milk bottles could actually eat away at the labeling and cause it to fade or lose it's brightness.  Over time wash system chemicals were modified to reduce this problem.

Around this time milk bottles were also getting lighter.  A quart milk bottle prior to 1935 weighed 25 1/2 ounces.  As glass makers became more precise in the distribution of glass in the mold and reducing the number of flaws the total amount of glass could be reduced to save bottle and handling costs yet have a milk bottle of comparable strength.  These light weight quart milk bottles weighed 3-4 ounces less than an older milk bottle.  The word Duraglas (often in script) is found embossed on many pyroglazed milk bottle made by the Owens-Illinois Glass Company.  Duraglas did not refer to the process of Applied Color Lettering.  Rather it was the term used to describe the improved fabrication of glass bottles allowing the manufacture of stronger, lighter weight bottles by the company.  In the company's own words:

"Duraglas is the trade-mark name of glass containers and the new, improved technique which Owens-Illinois developed for their fabrication.  This modern technique, covering every phase of manufacture from raw materials to finished bottles, makes possible a predictable result, assuring greater strength, durability and longer life.

Owens-Illinois Glass Company introduced the Duraglas name on September 4, 1940 (according to the trademark application) although work on a lighter milk bottle probably occurred even before that, possibly as early as 1937.  The Thatcher Manufacturing Company advertised a Lite-Wate milk bottle that weighed 22 ounces for a quart bottle rather than the standard 25.5 ounces in March of 1938.  These milk bottles had the same dimensions as the heavier milk bottles, just the distribution of glass as improved to allow a reduction in the total weight.

Pictured above are embossed milk bottles from four California dairies and pictured below them are pyroglazed milk bottles from the same dairies.

Milk bottles top picture left to right:
Millers Dairy, quart, Santa Cruz, California, Owens-Illinois, 1938
Peoples Dairy Co., quart, San Francisco, California, Illinois Pacific Glass, pre 1930
Clare Dell Dairy, quart, Gilroy, California, Hazel-Atlas
Golden Rule Dairy, quart, Modesto, California, Owens-Illinois, 1934

Milk bottles bottom picture left to right:
Miller Dairy, quart, Santa Cruz, California, Owens-Illinois, 1946
Peoples, quart, San Francisco, California, Owens-Illinois, 1944 
Clare Dell Dairy, quart, Gilroy, California, Owens-Illinois. 1946 
Golden Rule Dairy, quart, Modesto, California, Owens-Illinois, 1946

Various Pyroglazing colors

Pyroglazing offered dairies the choice of many colors to use on their milk bottles.  Pictured above are examples of the eight most common colors; red, orange, maroon, blue, brown, black, green, and yellow.  Red and orange would be the colors most commonly found and yellow would be the least common.  Most of these colors were available in various shades.  Borden's milk bottles were known for their light brown shade.  Also two and three color milk bottles can be found (picture).  Two color milk bottles not only added a second color but they also required that the two colors were aligned with each other.  When a single color was used the alignment on the bottle was not critical.  Collectors prefer pyroglazed milk bottles were the colored design does not over lap on a seam but this was not always the case. 

Milk bottles top row left to right:
Thomas Dairy, half pint, Auburn, California, Owens-Illinois, 1955
Dairy Products Laboratory, half pint, San Francisco, California, Owens-Illinois, 1966
Glenwood Creamery, half pint, Oakland, California, Owens-Illinois, 1948

Milk bottles bottom row left to right:
Mountain Home Creamery, pint, Lakeport, California, Owens-Illinois, 1947
Excelsior Liberty Dairy Co., half pint, San Francisco, California, Owens-Illinois, 1941
Borden's Capital Dairy, half pint, Sacramento, California, Owens-Illinois, 1945
Eureka Dairy, half pint, Monterey, California, Owens-Illinois, 1943
Bell-Brook Dairies Inc., pint, San Francisco, California, Owens-Illinois, 1946

Off page milk bottles left to right:
Sunshine Farm Dairy, half pint, Merced, California, Hazel Atlas, date unknown
Spreckles Dairy Products, pint, Burlingame, California, Owens-Illinois, 1941
Mountain Home Creamery, quart, Lakeport, California, Owens-Illinois, 1948
Dairy Industry Division (University of California, Davis), quart, Davis, California, Owens-Illinois, 1942

Squat Quart Milk Bottles

The next progression in milk bottle design was a further reduction in weight to 17 3/4 ounces.  These bottles are often referred to as squat quarts.  Three squat quarts are shown above compared to a conventional milk bottle on the left.  These bottles had the same body diameter as a conventional milk bottle so they would work with standard washing, filling and capping equipment.  However they were an inch shorter at 8 1/2 inches tall.  This savings was achieved by eliminating the long thin neck of the conventional milk bottle.  The long neck had originally been designed to display the cream line of the milk but with the advent of homogenization this was no longer as important as it once was.  The reduction in height allowed more cases to be stacked in a given space.  The reduction in weight increased the payloads of milk delivery trucks and reduced fuel consumption as well as tire wear.  The bottles themselves were cheaper due to the savings in glass and most reports said that breakage was reduced with this style of bottle.  Owens-Illinois advertised that 100 squat quart milk bottles could be manufactured from the same amount of glass that it took to make 76 conventional quart milk bottles.  Their were also improvements for the customer.  Eliminating the long neck made the bottles easier to pour.  These milk bottles poured with less of the gush and gurgle that occurred with a long neck milk bottle.  Also improvements in the lip reduced dripping which was always a complaint with milk bottles.  There was also a move to smaller cap sizes with the squat bottles as a way to further reduce costs.

These milk bottles were introduced in 1940.  One of the first test markets for the bottles was in the Bay area of California.  The Owens Illinois Pacific Coast Company, based in San Francisco, was advertising these squat bottles, called Handi-Quarts, in September of 1940.  However advertisements to the eastern trade did not appear until 1941.  Liberty Glass Company of Sapulpa, Oklahoma advertised their Economi-Quart in March of 1941 and Thatcher Manufacturing Company of Elmira, New York followed with their Thrifty-Quart the next month.  Owens-Illinois, based in Toledo, Ohio, advertised their Handi-Quart about the same time.  Universal Glass Products Company of Parkersburg, West Virginia followed a year later with advertisements for their Economy Weight Quart in May of 1942.  Hazel-Atlas also made a squat quart milk bottle.  Although the name mentions only the quart size, these squat milk bottles were available in all the standard sizes.

These squat quarts however did not fully replace the conventional light weight milk bottle.  Many dairies preferred to stay with the bottle shape they had used for years.  The life of the squat quart was also very short as in just a few years the square milk bottle would start to replace the round ones.  Therefore the squat quarts are not plentiful, especially in California.  We came across one reference that said Santa Monica Dairy and Mountain View Dairy were two of the first dairies in California to use the squat quart milk bottle.  One thing they have going for them is many of these milk bottle can be found with war slogans since their period of use coincided with World War II and the need to conserve raw materials for the war effort.

There were also squat Modern Top and Cream Top milk bottles that were the same height and weight as the squat quart.  Click
here to go to the page with these milk bottles.

Milk Bottles left to Right:
Blanco Dairy, quart, Salinas, California, Universal Glass Products Co., date unknown
Piers Dairy, quart, Palo Alto, California, Owens-Illinois, 1945
J. M. Thomas & Sons Dairy, quart, Ione, California, Hazel-Atlas, date unknown
Coalinga-Avenal Home Creamery, quart, Avenal & Coalinga, California, Thatcher Glass Manufacturing Co., 1947

Square, Pyroglazed milk bottles

Square milk bottles became popular after World War II, in the late 1940's.  These are the milk bottles that many people remember from when they were kids.  There were earlier square milk bottles, such as the Nightingale (patented in 1898) and the Blake-Hart (patented in 1927), but they were not common.  Square milk bottles had an advantage of being able to ship more milk in less space.  The cases were one third smaller and 20 percent lighter.  Usually three cases of square milk bottles would fit in the space taken up by two cases of round bottles.  Also bottle making technology had advanced so that a strong square milk bottle was possible.  Round bottles are inherently stronger since they do not have corners.  Another advantage of the square milk bottles was that when the conveyor lines backed up the square bottles did not sit and rotate against each other causing wear marks on the bottles.

Buck Glass Company of Baltimore, Maryland claimed that they had a square milk bottle in use at Alexandria Dairy Products Company of Alexandria, Virginia in October of 1940.  This is the first use we have found reported of a modern, square milk bottle and Buck Glass Company claimed they were the originator of the square milk bottle in many of their later ads.  In an April, 1941 industry press release Buck Glass Company referred to their square milk bottle as the Space Saver Milk Bottle and indicated that a patent had been applied for.  If there was a patent applied for in April of 1941, we can not find a record of it.  Royden Blunt of the Buck Glass Company did apply for a patent for a square milk bottle in December of 1941.  That patent was granted on February 3, 1942.  The Thatcher Manufacturing Company was advertising their T-Square milk bottle by August of 1944.  Liberty Glass Company advertised their Econotainer which was a square milk bottle in October of 1944 and Owens-Illinois was advertising their Handi-Square milk bottle by January of 1945.  However reportedly Sanitary Farm Dairies of Cedar Rapids, Iowa started using the Owens-Illinois Handi-Square milk bottle in July of 1943.  The square milk bottles quickly became popular and round bottles were replaced by square ones as new bottle orders were placed.

The shortages of World War II probably helped the transition to square milk bottles.  Raw materials, trucks, tires, fuel and new equipment were in short supply because of the war effort.  In addition to requiring less glass for a similar sized bottle, square bottles allowed existing equipment to become more efficient.  Older trucks could haul more milk with less fuel and cramped cold storage facilities could now hold more milk without modification.
 
We are aware of two design patents during this time frame for square milk bottles.  Royden Blunt was granted a patent on February 3, 1942 for a square milk bottle as mentioned above.  He would later invent the tooth ache milk bottle.  Blunt was associated with the Buck Glass Company but the filing of his patent would have been after Buck's claim to already have had square milk bottles in use in 1940.  

Also William Teunisz was granted a patent for a square milk bottle that was referred to as the E-Z Grip (picture).  His design patent was dated October 31, 1944.  This patented milk bottle was marketed by the E-Z Grip Bottle Company of Grand Rapids, Michigan.  William Teunisz had invented the Modern Top milk bottle in the previous decade and the address for the E-Z Grip Bottle Company was the same as the address used by the Modern Top Milk Bottle Company.  We have seen this patent number on milk bottles.  Advertisements for the E-Z Grip milk bottle claimed that it was a tall package that would emphasize the cream line of the milk.

In 1952 the Buck Glass Company advertised a square mini pint and mini half pint milk bottle.  These were exceptionally light weight milk bottles.  In fact the mini half pint weighed less than half the weight of a round half pint.  The body of the bottle was square and transitioned into a round shape near the lip.  Click here for a picture of a Buck Glass Company mini half pint next to a conventional round half pint.  We have only seen these milk bottles advertised in the pint and half pint size.  Possibly the glass was too light to make a quart bottle that would not break.  This bottle is embossed PATENT APPLIED FOR but we have never found a patent for this milk bottle.

Bottles also became shorter during this period as shown by the first three bottles pictured above.  These are all quart bottles.  The first bottle on the left is the height of a normal round quart.  The second and third bottles still held a quart but are noticeably shorter.  This again allowed more milk to be stacked in the same space.  Also since homogenization was becoming the norm, the need for a long, slender neck to show off the cream line was no longer necessary.  Interestingly the diagonal measurement of a square milk bottle was the same as the diameter of a round milk bottle.  This allowed washing, filling and capping equipment designed for use on round milk bottles to work with the square bottles with minor modifications.

The common disc cap which was around 1 5/8 inches in diameter also became less common.  The middle bottle used a smaller disc that was 1 3/8 inches in diameter.  Bottle washing machines had improved so the larger mouth was no longer necessary and with homogenized milk there was no need to try and remove cream from the bottle.  The Dacro closure was also used on many square milk bottles like the last bottle on the right.  As knowledge of food safety increased it became much more common for milk bottle caps to cover and protect the pouring lip.  The gill or quarter pint milk bottle disappeared from the scene.


Milk bottles left to right:
Bayview Dairy, quart, Hayward, California, Owens-Illinois, 1949
Lone Star Dairy, quart, Auburn, California, Owens-Illinois, 1957
Toyon creamery, quart, Palo Alto, California, Owens-Illinois, 1955
Santa Clara Creamery, pint, Santa Clara, California, Owens-Illinois, 1954
Carnation Milk Company, half pint, Liberty Glass Company, 1962

Off page milk bottles left to right:
Embassy Dairy, half pint, Washington D. C., Buck Glass Company, 1956
Echo Glen Dairy, half pint, Los Gatos, California, Owens-Illinois, 1935

Click here to go to the page that covers Nightingale and Blake-Hart square milk bottles.

Half Gallon Square, Pyroglazed Milk Bottles

Larger size milk bottles, like half gallons and full gallons, became much more common during the era of square milk bottles.  Maybe this was the super size effect or more likely consumers were willing to purchase more milk at one time.  This was possible since improvements in milk quality and milk processing had increased the shelf life of milk and most homes had better refrigeration to allow storing the milk.  Consumers could purchase larger sizes and not worry about it spoiling before they finished it.

Pictured above are three half gallon milk bottles.  They came in square and rectangular shapes.  The first bottle on the left was almost an 8 sided bottle.  The corners were very flattened off or rounded and the center panels were scalloped inward slightly.  This bottle shape was patented by Mason Parsell of Baltimore, Maryland on April 26, 1955.  This was a design patent for an ornamental shape and the patent was assigned to the Buck Glass Company also of Baltimore, Maryland.  Other glass manufacturers also utilized this patent so it was not exclusive to Buck Glass Company.

These larger milk bottles were awkward to carry and pour so bottle manufacturers came up with ways to make them more manageable.  The rectangular bottle in the middle is an example of the Thatcher Grip Bottle.  It had indentations in the glass on the front and back of the bottle that one's fingers and thumb could lock into.  This idea was granted a design patent on April 3, 1962.  The inventor was Edwin Laudano of Matawan, New Jersey.  He assigned his patent to the Thatcher Glass Manufacturing Company of New York.  The patent papers specifically showed a rectangular bottle.  The milk bottle on the far right is a square half gallon that also has indentions for the fingers and thumb.  The fact that it was square was probably enough to keep if from infringing on the patent for the Thatcher Grip Bottle.

The milk bottle in the middle also has a plastic carrying handle around the neck to make it easier to pick up.  This handle was patented by three men (Jennings, Swartwood & Sampson) from Ohio on January 27, 1959.  This also was a design patent.  Glass manufacturers also used metal handles on larger milk bottles to make them easier to carry.  Click here for a picture of two square gallon milk bottles that used metal carrying handles.  The handle on the bottle to the left is stamped SNAP LOCK #216 PAT. PEND. and is probably an improved version of the Jenkins patent of May 30, 1939 discussed previously on this page.  That patent was associated with the name Snap Lock.  The handle pictured here used a formed piece of metal for the grip instead of a piece of wire like the milk bottle to the right of the picture.  The ring around the neck of the bottle is the same on both handles.  The handle on the bottle to the right is stamped with the patent number for Jenkin's original May 30, 1939 patent.

Milk bottles left to right:
La Bonita Dairy, half gallon, Lancaster, California, Thatcher Glass Manufacturing Company, 1961
DeVries Dairy, half Gallon, location unknown, Thatcher Glass Manufacturing Company, 1963
Norm's Dairy, half gallon, Hanford, California, Owens-Illinois, 1967

Off page milk bottles left to right:
Royal Jersey Dairy Farms, gallon, Sacramento, California, Owens-Illinois, 1961
Jersey Crown Dairy, gallon, Hayward, California, Owens-Illinois, 1958