Imagine you are living in the mid 1900s. You grew up on a farm and always had plenty of milk available, but when you married, you moved with your husband to the city. You still have plenty of milk, but now you have to rely on the milkman to bring it to you in bottles he leaves on the doorstep. The little ‘milk required’ indicator is a wonderful thing though because it lets you tell him just how much milk you need, instead of having milk which goes sour in the heat.
When I showed the children this ‘milk required’ indicator, they were very confused by it. The children today are used to buying milk at the supermarket, already packaged and ready to go, in very definite amounts. They are used to buying milk in 600 millilitre, one or two litre containers and had no idea what a pint was. The fact that the amount in a pint various slightly between countries confused them even more. They declared that ‘buying milk today is much easier’
Although people have probably been drinking milk since shortly after they realised that cows and other animals produced it, the milkman is actually a more modern fixture of history. Up until the time when railways began to be built it was simply too difficult for large quantities of milk to be transported into towns and cities so milk was scarce. People who wanted milk generally kept their own cow, or bartered with neighbours who had one. Then, as the railways extended, transporting large quantities of cheap milk into cities and towns became easier.
Milkmen started to appear in the 1860s, pulling churns full of milk with the help of a young boy (or man). They carried the milk on what was known as a milk pram, a three wheeled cart, and milk was measured out directly into people’s jugs. There was no refrigeration, so the milk might not last until the next morning and people just purchased what they would use. In the 1900s milkmen began to carry more milk, using first horse and cart and then motorized vehicles to transport it, though horse-drawn carts remained common right up to the 1950s! Jugs and churns were also replaced by glass bottles and in the 1920s cardboard lids were put on them. These lids were popular with children who invented bottletop games to play with them. Many houses still did without electric refrigerators though, and so just purchased the amount of milk they would be requiring for the daily use. A ‘milk required indicator’, like the one I showed the children, allowed the household to let the milkman know just how much milk they needed without having to physically see him. People simply put the indicator over the top of the old bottles which were put outside to be collected when the fresh milk was delivered.