EARLY MORNING TOWN SOUNDS — The clink & clank of glass bottles used to be a familiar sound to Jacksonville residents of yesteryear. During the early 1900s, dairies delivered their products to people’s homes each morning. A milkman often used heavy wire carriers to bring his items to doorways, iceboxes, or refrigerators. Empties from the previous day’s delivery would be waiting for him. If a family wanted something out of the ordinary, they left a note in a bottle. The milkman would often carry several different dairy products to the door in case this was the situation.
Glass bottles & wire baskets can make quite a racket. As the milkman lugged his deliveries through a crowded apartment building, there could have been a real commotion, observed Jack McGiffin, a First Coast native, in the book It Ain’t Like It Was in the Good Old Days… No, and It Never Was.
Some Jacksonville families provided an insulated box for summer purchases, but these weren’t needed during the winter, since cold weather kept the milk fresh. In fact, freezing temperatures affected the dairy product in another way. Because milk wasn’t yet homogenized, the cream would rise an inch or more above the bottle’s spout, pushing the cardboard cap up. This substance could be used for making whip cream, according to a local lady who moved to Jacksonville during the 1920s. And as Mr. McGiffin admitted, he sometimes yielded to the cream’s temptation as he walked to school. He’d slice the cream off with his pocket knife and replace the cap. This provided a tasty treat on a cold morning.
The clop-clop of horse hooves might tell of the milkman’s coming. According to long-time Jacksonville resident Jack Fry, some dairy providers still relied on horse-drawn vehicles during the late 1920s.
MILKMEN DRIVE INTO SUNSET — Whatever happened to morning milk deliveries? During the early Forties, World War II contributed to a reduction in them. Before the conflict, the milkman started out in the wee hours of the night, seven days a week. However, the war forced the saving of rubber, gasoline, and metal. This greatly impacted the dairy companies, for the U.S. government ordered alternate-day milk deliveries. And due to blackouts, many milkmen had to wait until daylight hours. They worked in the daytime and took weekends off. Because of less frequent visits, some customers got into the habit of stocking up on dairy products from stores, rather than waiting on deliveries.
In the long run, the job security of milkmen was threatened. After World War II, supermarkets mushroomed across the nation, offering cheaper prices. These included Publix, Winn Dixie, Pantry Pride, and so on. It also became easier to travel to the stores. Americans drove over new & improved roads in a growing number of family automobiles. Jacksonville, for example, obtained a new expressway system, as well as portions of interstate highways. The city also paved many of its local streets.
By the end of the 1950s, the neighborhood milkman had largely vanished. In 1973, only 10% of Americans still received home milk deliveries. And in 1995, milkmen visited fewer than 1% of American homes. An old tradition was all but lost.
~written by Glenn Emery