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National Milk Day

National Milk Day celebrates milk and marks the anniversary—according to a number of secondary sources—of the day milk was first delivered in sterilized glass bottles: January 11, 1878. The delivery took place in New York City and was at the hand of the New York Dairy Company, which was owned by Alexander Campbell and located in Brooklyn, and which later became known as the Alex. Campbell Milk Company. (Although, other sources say the first glass container for milk was the Lester Milk Jar, and another early patent was made by Dr. Henry Thatcher after he saw a child accidentally drop their rag doll into an open milk bucket in 1884.) The delivery of bottled milk was critical because it helped ensure that safe milk was available to those who didn't live on farms.

Dairy dates to around 8,000 BCE in Turkey, having begun after the domestication of cattle. Before it became a beverage of choice, milk was used to make cheese, butter, and yogurt. When raw milk began being consumed, diseases like scarlet fever, typhoid fever, diphtheria, and tuberculosis were regularly transmitted through it. Louis Pasteur came up with pasteurization in 1864, killing harmful organisms that cause disease. It was first used with beer and wine, but after a few decades, Frans von Soxhelt proposed that it be used with milk. Chicago became the first municipality to require milk to be pasteurized, in 1908. (The first state to require it was Michigan, in 1948; pasteurization didn't become a national requirement until 1987.)

Prior to being delivered in bottles, milk had been stored and transported in buckets, barrels, and jars. Milkmen would deliver milk to homes using one of these standard containers. Bottles improved convenience and sanitation. They could be washed and then returned when the new milk arrived. Milk bottle delivery began before the era of refrigeration, so the milk was kept cool in insulated cubbies or boxes on porches. Most bottles were clear, and early bottles had swing-stopper caps, before being replaced with paper-fitted caps. The bottles delivered by Campbell's company in 1878 were sealed with waxed paper. Glass milk bottles had rounded lips and narrow mouths, which made pouring easier, and usually had the logo of the company they were from embossed on them.

Milk bottle delivery was at its height during the years between the two world wars. Following the Second World War, many Americans moved to the suburbs, and there was a shift from milk bottle delivery towards store-bought waxed paper cartons and plastic jugs. Regardless of how milk is obtained or stored now, it is celebrated today with National Milk Day!

How to Observe National Milk Day

Ways to mark the occasion abound:

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