Yesterday’s Milwaukee

Horse-Drawn Milk Delivery Truck, 1908.

Products came from downtown-based Gridley Dairy, the state's top butter manufacturer.

By - Apr 19th, 2016 01:41 pm
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Horse-Drawn Milk Delivery Truck, 1908. Image courtesy of Jeff Beutner.

Horse-Drawn Milk Delivery Truck, 1908. Image courtesy of Jeff Beutner.

Even after the arrival of the automobile in the first decade of the 20th century trucks were slow to replace horse-drawn wagons that were used for delivery. The was especially those used for milk delivery as refrigerated trucks would become affordable only later. So wagons like this one of the Gridley Dairy were a common sight in the first part of that century.

This photograph is from a postcard (c. 1908). The exact location is unknown.

This was the era of the icebox – home refrigerators that would use blocks of ice for cooling. The ice would be harvested from nearby lakes and the ice stored in large ice sheds. One of the largest area harvesters was at Okauchee Lake. But by the 1930s refrigerated trucks would replace these picturesque delivery wagons.

The Gridley Dairy was founded in 1897 and its headquarters was located on 8th St., a block south of Wisconsin Ave. The company built a three-story, brick-and- concrete milk processing and bottling building in 1909 at 600-620 N. 8th St. The architect for that building was Leenhouts and Guthrie. The dairy was one of the largest in the city.

A text-heavy advertisement about the company that ran in the Milwaukee Journal in November 1928 noted that the Gridley Dairy’s milk came from 30,00 cows and it was the state’s largest manufacturer of sweet cream butter, producing more than 4 million pounds in 1927. The company had paid out more than $10 million in the past 12 months, the story noted, to its more than 1,000 employees and more than 3,000 owners of dairy herds “furnishing the Gridley Milk which “Keeps Milwaukee Healthy.'”

Gridley Dairy lasted until 1942 when a much larger rival (Borden’s) would purchase it. For some years Borden’s produced bottles of milk labeled “Borden’s Gridley Division.”

Jeff Beutner is a collector of photographs, postcards and stereoviews of old Milwaukee. This column features these images, with historical commentary by Beutner.

11 thoughts on “Yesterday’s Milwaukee: Horse-Drawn Milk Delivery Truck, 1908.”

  1. Casey says:

    This is great! My mother-in-law grandfather was the first/only black milk man at yhe turn of the century. Something he was very proud of. Ill have to find out what company.

  2. victoria rau says:

    Thanks so much for the great old pictures of Milwaukee!

  3. AG says:

    Casey, did you find out what company it was? I love finding personal connections to history, it really brings history to life.

  4. Casey says:

    Thanks for the reminder! I just spoke with her and it was Luick Dairy that was branded Sealtest.

  5. Casey says:

    Just pulled this from Wiki

    The Milwaukee operation was purchased from a family-owned dairy operation, Luick Dairy, in the late 1940s or after.[citation needed] The Sealtest brand was originally a franchise, much like the ‘Quality Chekd’ dairy brand – local milk bottlers bought the rights to the Sealtest name in their market areas.[citation needed] Luick and presumably all the other franchisees were bought up by National Dairy Co.

  6. There’s no mention of when horse-drawn deliveries were ended, but I recall in the Washington Park area in my Grandma’s alley admiring the milkman’s horses during WW II. Were they brought back — presumably because of gas rationing — or was this just still the usual practice? Similarly, I believe the garbage wagons on Sherman Blvd. were horse-drawn, & even as late as 1948 or so near 21st St. & Auer Ave. the ragman’s wagon navigated the alley with one or more horses, but I can’t be sure. As one who has adapted to the modern era of computers I wonder if I can rightfully claim that memory of a bygone time & drop it into conversations. Any confirmations?

  7. Kitty Conrad says:

    Looked up Gridley Dairy because I have one of their milk cans. We had a little door with doors inside and outside by the back door for the milk man to remove the empty bottles and put the full bottles in.

  8. Betty Roberts says:

    I have a Gridley Dairy Co cook book that was my mothers.

  9. Judy Swett says:

    My grandfather delivered milk in a horse-drawn wagon. He initially worked for Luick dairy which later became Sealtest. We too had the milk door next to our back door. AS our family grew ( up to 9 kids) our weekly order changed to 4 gallons which would not fit in the milk door so he just opened the back door and put them in the hallway. Biggest disaster was when one of the kids would break one or more of the glass gallon bottles. Not a fun mess to clean up!

  10. Milk door? Anybody familiar with those days knows it was called a “milk chute.”

  11. jerry nelson says:

    when were the last days of this delivery

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