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Wax Milk Containers

Milk bottle collection, washing, loss, theft and breakage were a significant cost to dairies.  In cold climates bottle breakage was a problem due to freezing temperatures while the bottle sat on the porch.  Many milk bottles were broken by accident during collection, washing and filling.  Damage was also an issue.  Many bottles had small chips and flakes off the glass but were still returned to service.  Bottle users often kept (or stole from the dairies point of view) glass bottles to use around the home for other foods or even toxic materials in the shop. 

Collection of glass milk bottles was also an expense.  The empty milk bottles took up space in the wagon or truck and added extra weight.  Dirty milk bottles were in close proximity to the fresh, clean bottles.  Dairies in many cities formed bottle exchanges to recover milk bottles from various sources such as dumps or markets and return them to the dairy that owned the bottle.  The Milk Dealers' Bottle Exchange in Chicago, Illinois recovered more than 10 million milk bottles from illegal uses in 1924.  This added to the cost of a bottle of milk.

There also was the issue of sanitation with glass bottles that were to be reused.  Was the glass bottle truly sanitary for each reuse?  Users were supposed to rinse and wash the bottles immediately after each use but this was not always the case and spoiled milk could sit in the bottles.  Many bottles were reclaimed from city dumps and returned to milk bottle exchanges to be reused.  One milk bottle exchange in Boston, Massachusetts recovered 490,978 bottles from dump operators in 1912 alone.  The Washington D.C. M
ilk Bottle Exchange reported it was handling 18,000 milk bottles a week from its two public dumps in 1927.  It is difficult to imagine taking bottles from a garbage dump and then using them again. 

Splitting and doubling was also a practice done by milk delivery men that lead to unsanitary conditions.  If in the middle of his route the milkman was short on pints but had extra quarts, he would take a full quart and pour it into two empty pint bottles that he had just picked up from homes.  This was known as splitting.  Doubling would be combining two pint bottles of milk into a returned quart bottle.  He had no way of knowing if the home owner had washed the empty bottles adequately.  The state of Michigan enacted a law in 1911 making it a crime for a milkman to tamper with milk bottles that had been capped at the creamery.  The penalty was a 50 to 100 dollar fine or 30 to 90 days in jail or both. 

A study done by the Philadelphia Bureau of Health in 1905 showed that for similar milk, wax paper milk bottles had a quarter of the bacteria as recycled glass milk bottles.  They also reported that the milk stayed sweeter for a longer period of time in the wax paper milk bottle.

There always was an interest in a single use container that would be accepted by the consumer and solve the problems discussed above.  The wax containers on this page are all examples of trying to achieve that goal.  One drawback of the wax paper milk bottles was that the consumer could not see the milk.  In the early 1900's this was an important consideration to see if the milk was clean and had a thick cream line.  Many cities also had laws or ordinances that precluded the delivery of milk in paper containers.  Some cities had ordinances that said milk could only be delivered in glass bottles.  Other cities had codes that specified how full a bottle of milk had to be.  For a glass milk bottle it was commonly specified that it had to be filled to within an eighth of an inch of the cap.  This was impossible for a paper bottle that had to be sealed with heat.  In some cities it took years until these laws were updated to allow milk to be delivered in paper bottles.

Early wax milk containers cost about a penny compared to a milk bottle that at the same time would have cost around 5 cents.  Of course the glass bottle could be used more than once so the economics depended on the expected life of the bottle and the costs associated with getting it back and cleaning it.

Hervey Thatcher of Potsdam, New York patented a paraffined pail for delivery of milk from producer to consumer on January 28, 1896.  Thatcher was the co-inventor of the famous glass milk jar patented in 1886.  In his patent for the paraffined pail, Thatcher lists the disadvantages of glass milk bottles as excessive weight, breakage, failure for the consumer to return the bottle and difficulty of sanitation.  He suggests that a single use pail, burned after use, would solve these problems.  This patent was not assigned to the Thatcher Manufacturing Company however.  In August of 1907 the National Paper Milk Bottle Company in Potsdam, New York was incorporated and Hervey Thatcher was one of its directors.  In June of 1920 the name of the company was changed to the Thatcher Products Company.

Another early patent we located for a wax paper milk receptacle was granted to James Kimsey of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  He actually was granted two patents, one on July 5, 1904 and another on September 13, 1904.  Both of these patents he assigned to the American Paper Bottle Company, also in Philadelphia.  These patents were for a cylinder shaped milk bottle.

There also was an early patent for a wax paper milk bottle from California.  It was granted to George Maxwell and Alonzo Kingsbury of San Francisco, California on August 7, 1906.  The container in this patent was also cylindrical in shape, with the top of the cylinder slightly larger than the bottom allowing the ends of the container to wedge in.  We have come across a reference to these containers being used by dairymen in Los Angeles, California.  The were reported to come in 1/4 pint, 1/2 pint, pint and quart sizes.  George Maxwell was issued another patent on December 3, 1907 for a machine to form these containers.

Van Wormer Square Wax Milk Carton

A patent was granted for a flat top, square wax milk container as early as July 18, 1911.  This patent was granted to John Van Wormer of Toledo, Ohio.  The interesting thing about the 1911 patent was the stopper was put in the container when it was empty.  As the liquid filled the container, the stopper would float to the top and could be grasped and pulled into place.  Van Wormer was then granted a patent for the process of making paper bottles on December 30, 1913.  Van Wormer was granted an additional patent on November 16, 1915 that refined his milk carton and described an opening and closure similar to the one seen above.  In addition to these three patents the cartons shown above are also imprinted with a patent date of May 5, 1914 that was granted to Andrew Weis of Monroe, Michigan for a closure for paper packages.  All four of these patents were assigned to the Weis-Van Wormer Company also of Monroe, Michigan. 

However the carton on the right above as well as advertisements for these milk cartons from 1916 list the manufacturer as The Weis Fibre Container Corporation of Monroe, Michigan.  One advantage of these square cartons was that they could be folded up from a single, flat piece of paper which saved a lot of space.  The actual material used was advertised as pure spruce wood fibre.  The containers were formed and then dipped in hot, refined paraffine so that all surfaces were sealed.  The Weis Fibre Container Corporation advertised that when using these containers more than twice the quantity of milk could be hauled in the same space and weight as a load of milk in glass bottles.  It would seem that pouring the milk out of these containers might be awkward but the carton on the right above recommends cutting the corner off the carton and pouring the milk out of the cut corner. 

These wax cartons were offered in a large variety of sizes.  They could be formed into quarter pint, six ounce, half pint, ten ounce, pint and quart sizes for liquids, as well as 2, 3 and 5 pound sizes for cottage cheese.  They were promoted very heavily for packaging buttermilk as well as cream, milk and even ice cream.  Initially however the acceptance of these cartons was not great.

Wax milk cartons left to right:
W. T. Wright, pint, Woolwich, Maine, Weis Van Wormer Company
Generic, pint, The Weis Fibre Container Corporation

Paper Milk Bottle

One of the next patents for a paper bottle was actually in the general shape of a glass milk bottle.  This milk container was based on a patent granted to William Giesseman of Dayton, Ohio on September 24, 1912.  This patent described a milk bottle made of manila paper that had folds in the upper portion of the container causing it to taper inward like the shoulder of a glass milk bottle.  These folds gave strength to the paper container.  The patent also stated that the bottle was sealed with a standard disk closure and advertisements mentioned that it could be used with various automatic bottle fillers.  A second patent was issued to Giesseman and Charles Crist, also from Dayton, Ohio, on October 28, 1913 for improvements in this paper bottle.  This second patent was assigned to The Dayton Paper Bottle Company of Dayton, Ohio.  A 1915 advertisement from this company showed that they marketed these bottles under the San-I-Deal brand name (picture).

Wax Milk cones

Wilbur L. Wright of Washington D. C. was granted two patents on August 18, 1914 for cone shaped, waxed paper bottles that took a disc type closure typically used in milk bottles.  This patent was used on milk cones made by The Paper Vessels Company of Baltimore, Maryland.  Later the name was lengthened to The Purity Paper Vessels Company.  The company called their wax cones the Pavesco Sanitary Paper Bottle (picture).  

Wright was issued another patent that covered milk cones on January 1, 1918 that he assigned to the Sealright Company of Fulton, New York.  The cones pictured here were made by the Sealright Company and were designed to be single service.  In fact the middle cone above says that the penalty for reuse was 25 dollars.  This statement was common on many wax milk containers although we have no idea who enforced this penalty.  They were heavy paper dipped in wax.  The wax protected the paper from moisture and did not affect the milk.  They had a metal lip and used a regular milk cap.  Both companies sold them in half pint, pint and quart sizes.  Sealright Pacific, LTD., located in Los Angeles, was the western representative of Sealright and advertised these wax cartons to California dairies in 1936.

A 1931 Sealright advertisement suggested using these containers for delivering milk to factories, offices, apartments, schools and other places where breakage on glass bottles was high and where bottle collection was difficult.  Health authorities also recommended their use in hospitals to prevent the spread of contagious diseases.  They were not accepted as well as glass milk bottles although they were used by several dairies.  Also since they were paper and designed to be thrown away they are not as common as glass milk bottles.  We have even seen wax milk cones like this proclaiming that they could be used as megaphones when they were empty.  This was definitely an attempt to persuade mom through the kids.

Montgomery Wards sold this style of wax milk bottle in their 1947 catalog.  The price was $2.75 per 100 quart bottles and $4.15 per 200 pint bottles.

These were not the first patents for a wax or paraffin coated milk cone however.  We have seen an 
advertisement for The Janisch Fibre Bottle from June of 1915 that advertised a milk cone that was patented on March 28, 1911.  The bottle must have been so new that they misspelled Janisch.  Click here for a picture of the actual bottle.  The patent was granted to Maximillian Janisch of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  The one unique thing about this patent was that wood was the material suggested for the bottle lip although the advertisement suggests the neck was metal.  These cones were made and sold by Wisconsin Fibre Bottle Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  They advertised that the bottles could be filled and capped on machines designed for glass bottles and they used an ordinary disc cap.  We have also seen an announcement for the Minnesota Fibre Bottle Company that opened in April of 1916 and had the capacity to produce 200,000 of these Janisch Fibre Bottles per day.  They advertised that the Janisch milk cones were recommended by the milk commission for delivery of certified milk in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  By 1917 the U. S. Fibre Bottle Company of Milwaukee Wisconsin was advertising these containers and on December 31st of that year this company was succeeded by the Wisconsin Paper Products Company also located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Wax milk cones left to right:
Reimans Dairy, quart, Planada, California, Sealright Co. Inc. 
Marshall Dairy Farms, pint, Exeter, California, Sealright Co. Inc.
Blanco Dairy, quart, Salinas, California, Sealright Co. Inc.

Reinforced Paper Milk Bottle

The paper milk bottle pictured here was known as a Reinforced Paper Bottle.  It was manufactured by the Reinforced Paper Bottle Corporation of New York, New York.  It was advertised as being made of sulphite paper and compatible with standard fillers and cappers.  The interesting fact about this milk bottle is that the inventors were women.  On July 31, 1923, Ruth Oliver of New York patented the prototype of this milk container and assigned the patent to Lydia Koch also of New York.  Lydia Koch then improved upon the design and was granted numerous patents up until the early 1940's.  One 1934 pamphlet listed 16 U.S. patents, 10 more pending and patents in 17 foreign countries.  Most of these patents were assigned to the Reinforced Paper Bottle Corporation.  Many of the early patents showed a transparent window in the bottle to see the cream line of the milk.  One of the complaints about paper milk bottles compared to glass milk bottles was that the consumer could not see the cream line and judge the quality of the milk.

Based on the patent numbers on the pictured milk bottle it would date to around 1936.  However the Reinforced Paper Bottle Corporation was advertising in dairy publications as early as 1930.

In 1936 Lydia Koch was also the chairman of the board and acting head of the Safety Service Milk Bottle Corporation.  This company was also based in New York, New York.  They advertised a very similar paper bottle called the Cap-Top bottle.  Unfortunately in October of 1939 the attorney general of New York accused both companies and Lydia Koch of fraudulent activities and issued an injunction, restraining her from doing business.  The attorney general charged that Koch had sold more than a $1,000,000 worth of stock in her companies in the previous 16 years based on false representations.  He accused her of telling investors that foreign governments were clamoring to pay millions of dollars for the rights to manufacture and use her containers and that Standard Oil Company had bid 50 million dollars for her patents.  Actual earnings since the companies were founded in 1923 totaled only $875.01, according to the charges.  The charges pretty much marked the end of these two companies.

Sealcone Milk containers

The wax milk containers shown above were called Sealcones.  The equipment to form, fill and seal these containers was sold by the Sealed Containers Corporation later called Sealcones, Inc. of New York.  They were available in quart, pint and half pint sizes.  Rather than a stiffer cardboard, these were a flexible paper made from spruce fiber.  The pointed, upper end was sealed with a metal seal which was stamped with the date the cone was filled.  To open the cone the consumer just cut off the top.  To seal it shut again, they just folded the top over.  They were advertised as being transparent enough to see the cream line.  Like other wax containers they had a weight advantage over glass bottles but these containers, since the were hermetically sealed rather than using a cap, could be stored upside down.  Due to their triangular shape two Sealcones took up as much space as one glass milk bottle.  Sealcone Inc. advertised that their container saved 50% in space requirements and 94% in weight compared to glass milk bottles.  In freezing weather they were flexible enough not to break when the milk froze and expanded.  This was a problem with glass milk bottles.

A patent was issued to John Seifert on February 9, 1932 (filed in July of 1928) for this type of container.  He assigned his patent to the American Sealcone Corporation of New York, New York.  The methods and equipment to make these containers were patented by Ellis Jones of Long Island, New York and also assigned to the American Sealcone Corporation.  Jones was granted patents for machines to make the cones, close and seal the cones and paraffin the cones.  All these patents were granted between 1932 and 1936 however they were all applied for in 1928 and 1929.

Sheffield Farms Company of New York started using Sealcones on January 8, 1929 and was followed by the Express Dairy Company of London, England in July of 1929 and then a Borden's plant in New York in February of 1930.  Sealcone Inc. advertised that by June of 1930 the two U. S. companies were distributing 500,000 Sealcone containers per week.  Due to their fragile nature probably very few survived.

Pope Wax Milk Bottle

In April of 1938, Guernsey Farm Creamery of Oakland, California announced that they had perfected a new paper milk bottle.  This wax paper bottle was shaped like a tall pyramid and had an opening on the side to allow the removal of the cream.  Claude Pope, the owner of the dairy, was granted a design patent for this bottle on May 14, 1940.  He applied for the patent in May of 1938, soon after the bottle's introduction.  He called it Pope's Cream Spout Paper Bottle and advertised it was available in sizes from a half pint to one gallon.  We do not know if any other dairies used this milk container.

Square Wax Milk Cartons

In the 1940's and 50's interest in wax milk cartons really started to increase.  Pictured above is one of the wax cartons that came into use at that time.  They were flat topped, square and used an attached cap (picture).  This style of wax container was formed at the factory and then filled and sealed at the dairy.  It was constructed from four separate pieces: the top, bottom, cap and the piece that formed the four sides.  The claim was made that this was more sanitary and less prone to leaks than containers that were shipped flat and formed and filled at the diary.  These cartons were manufactured under four patents that were assigned to the American Can Company of New York, New York.  The patents were:

    July 6, 1937 issued to John Hothersall of Brooklyn, New York for a milk container.
    December 12, 1939 issued to John Murch of East Orange, New Jersey for a container closure.
    September 7, 1943 issued to Nicholas Pelosi of Newark, New Jersey for a fiber container.
    March 21, 1944 issued to Russell Taylor of Greenwich, Connecticut for an improved container.

Square containers meant more milk could be carried in the same space.  Due to rising costs acceptance was better this time around and wax cartons began to replace the milk bottle.  This style of wax container was first used in 1938 and by late 1940 American Can Company advertised that 40% of the wholesale milk sales off premises in Los Angeles were in paper cartons and in San Francisco the usage was 50%.  Since these wax cartons were formed in advance of filling one does come across unused cartons that were never filled and have survived.  This would be opposed to the wax cartons that were formed at the time of filling and thus unused cartons are almost non-existent unless one finds them still folded up and unformed.


Wax milk cartons left to right:
Carmel Dairy, quart, Carmel, California, American Can Co.
Blewett Dairy, third quart, Lodi, California, American Can Co.
Elkhorn Farm Dairy, half pint, Watsonville, California, American Can Co.
Miller's Dairy, third quart, Sebastopol & Santa Rosa, California, American Can Co.
Elkhorn Farm Dairy, quart, Watsonville, California, American Can Co.
The other wax milk carton that came into use in the 40's and 50's was the gable top carton.  The first gable top cartons had an opening to pour out the milk on one of the gable sides.  Later the carton formed its own pouring spout when it was opened as shown by the first carton on the left.  Interestingly the original patents for this milk carton were issued very early and to the same inventor that patented the first wax carton on this page.  John Van Wormer was granted two patents for a square carton that had a tented or gable top that opened into a pouring spout a few years after receiving his patents for the Weis-Van Wormer wax milk carton.  This style of milk carton would become very popular in later years.  The dates on these patents were January 5 and October 19, 1915.  These patents he did not assign to Weis-Van Wormer Company like his previous patents but rather retained one himself and assigned one to J. R. Van Wormer and Company of Toledo, Ohio.

About 1928 or 1929 the patents and rights to manufacture these cartons were acquired by The American Paper Bottle Company of Toledo, Ohio.  During this time John Van Wormer was granted two more patents, one for a gable top container (April 19, 1932) and one for equipment to manufacture single service packaging (October 16, 1934).  Both of these patents were assigned to The American Paper Bottle Company.  In 1934 the Ex-Cell-O Corporation of Detroit, Michigan acquired the rights for this milk carton and eventually licensed its manufacture to the International Paper Company.  In California, the Lucerne Cream and Butter Company, owned by Safeway, was one of the first dairies to switch to these wax containers in 1938.  In the mid 1950's International Paper Company had seven plants producing 600 million of these wax cartons every month.  These cartons were produced in great numbers under the Pure-Pak trademark
.  This style of wax carton is still used today for orange juice and various fruit drinks.

Ultimately this wax milk carton became more popular than the flat topped version discussed in the previous picture.  Since these cartons were shipped flat and formed at the factory from a single piece of paper they saved a lot of space and shipping costs.  Also the feature of the pouring spout was popular with consumers.  In 1955 the Ex-Cell-O Corporation had so much confidence in their product that they offered to supply free milk bottle collars to dairies that were still using glass milk bottles.  These collars were basically a consumer survey asking purchasers of glass milk bottles if they would rather switch to the Pure-Pak carton.

Wax milk cartons left to right:
Sunrise Dairy, third quart, Ripon, California, International Paper under license of Ex-Cell-O Corporation
Winona Dairy, quart, Lebanon, New Hampshire, International Paper under license of Ex-Cell-O Corporation
Sonora Dairy, Third quart, Sonora, California, International Paper under license of Ex-Cell-O Corporation

Wax Dairy Product Containers

Wax containers were also used for other dairy products.  Round wax cups were often used for sour cream and cottage cheese.  They used a large round, waxed lid that fit into a groove on the lip of the cup, very similar to a milk bottle cap.  The first cup on the left held one pint and was from University Farm in Davis, California.  They were used to sell dairy products from the University of California's herd of dairy cows.  The second wax cup is a half pint cottage cheese container from Challenge Cream and Butter Company of California.  It was called a Kleen Kup and was made by the Mono Service Company of Newark, New Jersey.

The two ice cream containers on the right were half pints and used a foldable top.  The first one was made by the Menasha Products Company of Menasha, Wisconsin.  It was printed with a design patent number granted on June 16, 1936.  This patent was issued to Tinsley Jepson of Neenah, Wisconsin and assigned to Marathon Paper Mills Company of Rothschild, Wisconsin.  The last ice cream container on the right actually is printed with a claim that the ice cream may contain artificial flavors, colors and preservatives.