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Wood Butter Churns Page 3


Tin Lined Thermometer Churn

This butter churn could easily have gone on the metal butter churn page.  The actual churning vessel is made of tin.  The wood frame supports the tin.  One of the first things you notice on this churn is the thermometer mounted on the front of the churn and that there is a drain hole on each end.  However only one of the drains is open to the cream tub.  On closer inspection one realizes that there is a double tin wall to form a jacket around the cream tub so that warm or cold water could be added to raise or lower the temperature of the cream.  The second drain hole drained this water jacket.  One of the biggest variables in butter making is the temperature that the cream is churned at.  The maker of this butter churn obviously understood that and accounted for it in his design.  For this churn the ideal temperature was marked at 62 degrees.

In the early to mid 1800's there was a lot of superstition about churning.  Many times the cream would not form butter no matter how long one churned it.  Many people felt that this was because the cream was haunted by a witch.  Many people that churned butter believed in the "cream witch" and many churn advertisements referred to it (
picture).  A couple of the remedies for a cream witch was to put a red hot horse shoe or a red hot poker into the cream.  The cream would boil as the hot metal was put in the churn and people said this was the noise of the witch thrashing about as she was killed.  In actuality the temperature of the cream was increased and often this was enough for the butter to start to form.  One could purchase thermometers that would screw in the lid of a butter churn to aid in determining the proper churning temperature (picture).  The one pictured here was patented by James H. Smiley of Caroline, New York on October 31, 1871 and February 24, 1874.  The thermometer was marked to indicate the proper temperature for churning and cheese making.  The later patent stated that the thermometer also went high enough to handle the temperature of the scalding water used to clean the butter churn.  That is why the device is so long, the upper end of the thermometer is hidden in the end of the wood turning.

We would date this butter churn to about 1850-1880.  It measures out to about 9 gallons.  It was advertised in an 1855 Buffalo, New York business directory in sizes of 4.5, 6, 9,10.5, 14.5 and 28 gallons and was referred to as Osborne's Improved Thermometer Churn.  The No. 3 or 9 gallon size like the one pictured here cost $4.50.  An 1875 hardware catalog from Marcus C. Hawley & Company of San Francisco and Sacramento, California listed 8 sizes with the addition of a 2.5 and 20 gallon size.  In this catalog they were only referred to as Thermometer Churns.  By then the cost of the 9 gallon had risen to $7.50.  All but the smallest size was advertised as having double zinc cylinders.


An 1861 journal article estimated that annually 12,000 of these churns were sold by a single supply house in the Boston area.  The article estimated that there were between 30,000 and 40,000 of these churns in use in the Boston market.  This would have made this a very popular churn for its time.  It is surprising that not many have survived.  We suspect that the manufacturer of these churns in the Boston area was Ruggles, Nourse, Mason & Company.  We have seen this style of churn stenciled with their name.  They were based in Boston and Worcester, Massachusetts.  This company started out as J. Nourse & Company in 1835.  Sometime in the 1840's the partners changed and it became Ruggles, Nourse, Mason & Company.  They were best known for manufacturing plows.  In 1860 the company was purchased by the Ames Plow Company.

When researching thermometer churns we came across references to a patented Crowell's Thermometer Churn.  The descriptions sounded very similar to this churn.  Wm. and Allen Crowell of Salisbury, Connecticut patented a churn with two chambers, one for cream and one for water, on June 20, 1840.  Although they did not show a thermometer in the patent drawings they did mention in the specifications that one could be mounted in the end wall of the churn.  In fact we have seen one of these churns that is stenciled CROWELL'S PATENT 1840.

Bentwood Butter Churn

This is a Bent Wood Churn made by the M. Brown & Company of Wapakoneta, Ohio.  This butter churn was patented on August 7, 1877 by Michael Brown, Francis McFarland and Joseph Brown also from Wapakoneta.  The patent was for a new way of forming the churn box from only three pieces of wood, the two ends and a center section of wood bent into the shape of a U.  The patent also covered a new packing that prevented leaks and metal corner braces that held the churns shape.  The paddles shown in this patent however were not the ones commonly found on the churns.  A second patent was granted to these same three men on June 13, 1882.  This patent showed the four half circle paddles that were commonly found on these butter churns.  These paddles were designed to pull the cream off the end walls of the churn and throw it towards the center of the churn box.  This second patent also detailed using metal to from the U shaped portion of the churn instead of wood, however we have never seen this on one of these butter churns.  The legs on each end of the churn were also made from a single piece of wood bent in an upside down U shape.

Not all of these churns were stenciled with a patent date but some will have the 1877 patent date and a few will be stenciled with the 1877 and 1882 patent dates.  These butter churns came in 3, 4, 6, 9 and 12 gallon sizes.  These sizes would have been the actual capacities of cream, the volume of the churn would have been larger.  The three gallon was called a No.3, the four gallon was a No. 2, the six gallon was a No. 1, the nine gallon was a No. 0 and the twelve gallon was a No, 00.  An 1893 invoice listed the price of a 4 gallon churn at 4 dollars and a 6 gallon churn, like the one pictured here, at $4.50.  A 1915 Simmons Hardware Company catalog listed the price of a 4 gallon churn at $11.50, a 6 gallon at $12.50, a 9 gallon at $13.50 and the 12 gallon churn at $14.50. 

They will also be found with different decals on the sides.  The butter churn pictured above has a decal of green foliage and is stenciled with the 1877 and 1882 patent dates.  They are also found with a decal of a pink flower (click
here for a picture, courtesy of Harry and Annie).  Most rare is a decal of a milk maid using a Bent Wood Churn.  Note that this churn is stenciled with only the 1877 patent date, possibly dating it prior to 1882 (picture).  This rare churn belongs to Harry and Annie.  Thanks for letting us show it here.

The M. Brown & Company was established in 1877 when the patent was granted for the Bent Wood Churn.  All the men granted the patent were officers in the company.  Michael Brown was president, Francis McFarland was vice president and Joseph Brown was treasurer,  In 1903, M. Brown & Company produced 10,000 of these churns and had customers all over the United States as well as in South Africa, Germany and Russia.  The factory had a workforce of 30 men at that time.  The company was in business until 1912 when a fire destroyed their lumber yard.
This picture shows the five types of wood churns made by the Standard Churn Company of Wapakoneta, Ohio.  This company was established in 1889 by F.H. and R.C. Haman and S.A. Hoskins.  In the early 1900's this factory reportedly was producing 40,000 butter churns per year.

The first style on the left is a wood dash churn.  Standard Churn Co. made these in 3, 5, 7, 9 and 12 gallons sizes.

The second churn is a wood box churn on legs (
picture).  Standard Churn Company made these in 5, 7 and 10 gallon sizes.  This would have been the actual amount of cream that the churn could work.  The actual size of the churn would have been larger.  At some point they began calling this style of churn the Anti-Bent Wood Churn.  This appears to be a jab at the Bent Wood churn made by their competitor in Wapakoneta, the M. Brown & Company. 

We believe that in 1917 Sears contracted with Standard Churn Company to sell a version of this churn that would replace the Improved Union Churn in their catalog.  The butter churn that Sears sold was advertised as having a power pulley on the large gear to make the churn adaptable to a power belt drive.  They also advertised that the churn had four metal truss rods to reinforce the churn and the legs were not curved but rather a simpler straight design (
picture).  From 1917 to 1919 Sears advertised them in 5, 7, 10 and 12 gallon sizes.  From 1920 to 1923 the catalog listed them in sizes of 9, 11, 13 and 15 gallons, although it is possible that the churns remained the same and only the reported size changed since the catalog numbers did not change.  Most likely Sears went from rating the churn by the amount of cream it could churn to the actual size of the churn box which was always larger since one could not fill the churn to the very top.  The prices in 1917 ranged from $5.95 to $7.45 for the smallest and largest sizes.  In 1922 the range was $7.70 for the 9 gallon to $8.95 for the 15 gallon.  We have seen this Sears churn with stenciling for the Standard Churn Company.

We believe that the Standard Churn Company also contracted with the Simmons Hardware Company of Saint Louis, Missouri to produce a similar churn that they called the Run Easy Churn (picture).  The Run Easy churn was mechanically the same as the Standard Churn Company's box churn, it just had some minor cosmetic differences in the contour of the legs and the dasher paddles.  A 1915 Simmons catalog listed the sizes as 5, 7 1/2 and 10 gallons and the corresponding prices were $8.50, $9.50 and $10.00.  Notice  how much better the prices were from Sears compared to Simmons Hardware Company for basically the same churn.  Interestingly the 1915 Simmons Hardware Company catalog also offered Bentwood churns however the price was 3-4 dollars more for those compared to the Simmons Run Easy churn.  The Bentwood churns were not stencilled with the Simmons name and it would appear that they priced the churns to favor the Run Easy churn that was stencilled with the Simmons Hardware Company name.

The third butter churn in the back is Standard Churn Company's barrel Churn.  They made these in 3, 5, 7 and 9 gallon sizes.  The clamp for the lid on the Standard Churn Company barrel churn was different from most other companies that made barrel churns and was patented by Harvey Brokaw on May 6, 1890.  Brokaw assigned part of his patent to F.H. Haman one of the founders of the Standard Churn Company.  F.H. Haman himself was granted two earlier patents for barrel churns but we have not seen these in production.

The small butter churn in the front was a Home Butter Maker (
picture).  These came in 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 quart sizes.  These used a crank, dasher and gear system similar to the type used on glass jar churns however the container was six sided and made of wood.  It had a slight taper so that the metal bands would not slip off the bottom.  This would have been Standard Churn Company's first entry into the market for smaller butter churns used in the home rather than on the farm.

The butter churn on the right is very rare.  It is a keg or barrel on legs and is stenciled the OK churn (
picture).  This churn has paddles inside to churn the cream.  It is a size No. 2 and is marked 7 gallons.

Again thanks to Harry and Annie for letting us picture their beautiful collection of butter churn
s.

Blanchard Butter Churn

This is an example of a Blanchard butter churn.  It was made by Porter Blanchard's Sons Company.  Porter Blanchard was a craftsman in Concord, New Hampshire who started in business in 1818.  His sons, George and Charles, joined him in the business and then Porter passed away in 1871.  George and Charles continued the company under the name Porter Blanchard's Sons.  On June 4, 1878 George was granted a patent for this butter churn.  The patent dealt with the design of the dasher blades.  In addition to the fixed dasher blades there were also pivoting floats.  When the churn was rotated one direction the floats helped churn the cream and when the rotation was in the opposite direction the floats would pivot to allow them to work the finished butter. 

In the patent papers George said his patent was for an improvement in the well-known Blanchard churn.  He implied that the Blanchard churn had already been available for sale and well accepted.  In fact an 1876 catalog of the International Exhibition in Philadelphia had a claim that the celebrated Blanchard churn had been proved for over a quarter of a century.  An 1880 New Hampshire magazine claimed that the company had been making butter churns for over 50 years and the Blanchard churn had been made for over 25 years.  It also said the these butter churns were being used in Russia, South America, Germany, Australia and Japan, in addition to every state in the U.S.  Whether there was another patent for the original churn design we are unsure.  In 1871 the company claimed that 30,000 Blanchard butter churns were in use and by 1876 the number had climbed to 100,000.

The original churns had a flat lid like the one pictured here.  This is an early churn, possible prior to the granting of the patent since there is no patent date on the churn itself.  It was the smallest size they made, only holding two gallons.
In 1880 the Porter Blanchard Son's Company advertised an improved version of their butter churn with a curved lid that made the churn box a complete cylinder like the churn pictured here.  They said that the flat lid allowed unchurned cream to collect in the upper corners which could streak the butter.  By curving the lid and making the box a cylinder all the cream was churned.  For a few years after they advertised both the round and square top churns at the same price.  However eventually they settled on the curved top.  The called this churn The New Blanchard Churn.

The new style churn pictured above is stenciled with the same June 4, 1878 patent date as the earlier churn and the dasher was also stamped with this patent date.  Interestingly though the pivoting floats on the dasher that were mentioned in this patent and found on the earlier churn have disappeared. 

In 1890 there was a fire that destroyed the Concord shop and the business was relocated to Nashua, New Hampshire.  These new style butter churns will be found stenciled with either city.  George Blanchard passed away in 1897 and the Nashua factory was sold in December of 1900.  The butter churn pictured above was made in Concord and was an earlier model.  They were offered in five family sizes, the No. 3 was 2 gallons, the No. 4 was 4 gallons, the No. 5 was 8 gallons, the No. 6 was 12 gallons and the No. 7 was 18 gallons.  This was the actual gallons that could be churned, the actual size of the churn would have been almost double that.  This was different from most churns in that usually the advertised size was the full volume of the churn and the actual churning capacity would have been half of that size.  The prices in 1876 and 1882 for these five sizes were 6, 7, 8, 10 and 12 dollars.  The company also made larger factory churns up to 150 gallons.  They advertised that none of their butter churns were sold on consignment or sold on commission.  All orders had to be accompanied by a money order or a bank draft.  This showed a lot of confidence in their butter churns since many of their competitors would send churns for 30 day free trials by the prospective purchaser before any payment was required.

The iron crank handle is embossed THE BLANCHARD CHURN, so even when the stenciling is faded the butter churns can be identified (picture).  They were advertised to be made of the finest kiln dried, Michigan pine lumber and had no gearing.  The joints in the wood were sealed with white lead (think how that would go over today).The crank was direct drive to the dashers.  The company claimed this simplicity made their churns more reliable but especially in the larger sizes they must have been hard to crank as the butter formed.  Our observation is that the earlier churns will have the initial B on the side while the later butter churns will say THE BEST.  Click here for a picture of a later Blanchard Churn made in Nashua, New Hampshire that has THE BEST stenciling.  The company often used the slogan "Get the Best".  If a reseller would purchase 25 churns the Porter Blanchard's Sons Company would stencil the name of the dealer on churns, indicating they were made expressly for them.  The company remained in business until the late 1890's.  George Blanchard was also granted patents for a butter worker on July 29, 1879 and February 21, 1882.

The end of the Porter Blanchard's Sons Company did not mark the end of this butter churn however.  At some point the Hall Brothers Company of West Acton, Massachusetts acquired the rights to the Blanchard churns and continued to manufacture them into the 1920's.

Click 
here to go to the page with butter molds made by Porter Blanchard's Sons Company and here to go to the page with their butter workers.

Lightning Churn

This was called a Lightning Churn.  It is a size No. 2 and measures out to about 6 gallons.  The exterior is very similar to a Blanchard butter churn but the paddles inside are different.  There is a stencil of a cow on the back of the churn.  We have seen one of these Lightning Churns that has stenciling indicating that it was made by Porter Blanchard's Sons Company.  This explains the similarities to the larger Blanchard butter churn.  The town listed on that churn was Nashua, New Hampshire so that would date that particular churn to sometime after 1890.  We have seen this Lightning Churn advertised for sale in an 1897 Joseph Breck & Sons catalog from Boston, Massachusetts.  We also came across an advertisement in an 1899 North Yakima, Washington newspaper that listed the churn in four sizes, a No. 0 that was 3 gallons, a No. 1 that was 4 1/2 gallons, a No. 2 that was 6 gallons and a No. 3 that was 8 gallons.  The sale prices were $1.75, $2.05, $2.40 and $2.70 in that ad.

After Porter Blanchard's Sons Company closed around 1899 or 1900 the Hall Brothers Company of West Acton, Massachusetts acquired the rights to the Blanchard Churns and continued to advertise this Lightning Churn.

We have also seen a Lightning Churn like this with stenciling that says it was manufactured by Samuel Cupples & Company of St. Louis, Missouri.  Samuel Cupples & Company was a large woodenware manufacturer based in St. Louis that was formed in 1871 or 1872.  The company was later incorporated as the Samuel Cupples Wooden Ware Company in 1882 or 1883.  It appears that both of these companies made similar churns.  We have never located a patent for this style of churn so there was nothing to stop two competitors from manufacturing it.

1866 Patent Butter Churn

The only marking on the butter churn pictured above is a July 31, 1866 patent date embossed on the large gear however we have seen this butter churn advertised as The Prize Churn.  They were sold by the Prize Churn Company of Springfield, Vermont.  The 1866 patent was granted to Alvin Mason of Springfield, Vermont.  The patent dealt with the gearing that drove the dashers for the churn.  Mason devised a system of gears that made it easy to change the speed of the dashers.  The handle was connected to two concentric gears.  The large gear had teeth on the inside and the smaller gear had teeth on the outside.  When one started churning the cream and required a faster speed, the larger gear would engage the gear at the end of the dashers.  This meant that for one revolution of the crank the dashers would rotate many times.  As the cream thickened and butter started to form a slower speed was needed.  The crank gears could be lowered and the large gear would disengage and the smaller gear would engage the gear on the end of the dashers.  Now one revolution of the crank would only revolve the dashers one time.

We have seen later Prize Churns that were stenciled with an October 8, 1867 and a March 18, 1873 patent date.  The 1867 patent was granted to A. H. Brown of Springfield, Vermont.  This patent dealt with improvements in the two speed gearing and also the design of the dasher.  The 1873 patent was issued to William Lewis, also from Springfield, and dealt with further improvements to the two speed gearing of the churn utilizing a clutch mechanism.

Thanks Ray for letting us picture your churn.

Wig Wag Butter Churn

The butter churn pictured above is sometimes referred to as a wig wag churn.  The dasher pivoted on a pin at the top of the churn.  Moving the top of the dasher lever side to side would also move the bottom end of the dasher that was in the cream side to side.  Usually the end of the dasher was a flat piece of wood with holes in it.  This style of butter churn was patented on February 22, 1876.  The inventors were James and Chastain Taylor of Ashland, Virginia.