“Hey kid, you are looking more and more like the milkman.” I never really understood the humor of that until I was a bit older.Every now and then good old George would “give me the business.” He was a work buddy of my Dad’s who would stop by the house some mornings. He was sort of like Eddie Haskell of Leave it to Beaver fame. George was a guy who liked to tease. Many mornings before heading off to elementary school, I would sit by the front room window waiting for the milkman. George would see me sitting there and so I was the perfect target. There was just something cool about a man showing up with milk and butter.
For years and years the milkman was a common sight in America. You would see many of them dressed in white sporting a sharp looking cap. They were part of Americana just like Chevys, burger drive-ins and Gillette friday night fights. Driving up and down neighborhoods they would deliver fresh cold milk to waiting milk boxes. Milk needed to be delivered to houses daily because of the lack of good refrigeration. A friend of mine who grew up in Chicago was telling me recently that instead of a milk box they used a milk chute. A milk chute was a small cabinet built into an outside wall with a door on the outside for the milkman to place the milk bottles and a door on the inside for a resident to retrieve the bottles.
My grandfather remembered milk being delivered twice a day during the early 1900s. Using an ice filled horse-drawn wagon the milkman delivered early in the morning and again later in the afternoon. In hot weather he came more often. Due to the baby boom after WWII, milk delivery peaked between the 1950s and 1970s. Those growing families needed their dairy products. So entrenched in American culture the milkman inspired the 1934 song, ” My Very Good Friend, the Milkman” written by Academy Award winning songwriter Johnny Burke.
As the years went on the need for a milkman seemed to dwindle. As the social culture changed so did the milkman’s fate. As more women entered the work place there were less people home to receive milk deliveries. Also due to better refrigeration, convenience stores, grocery chains and just the “have it now mentality”, milkmen became as extinct as the dinosaur. By the 1980s spotting a milk truck was about as likely as seeing “bigfoot” in the wild.
But fear not … there has been a resurgence of milk delivery the last few years. People are becoming more serious about their food. The desire for organic food is on the rise. Demand is also up for raw milk supplied from local farmers. A lot of these local farmers offer milk delivery plus other items such as fresh made bread and honey. Another reason milk delivery is up is that many people such as baby boomers long for simpler times. They just want it delivered like the good old days.
Waiting for the milkman back in the day gave me something to look forward to, just like looking forward to Rin Tin Tin or Tarzan on TV. In this fast paced world we live in there could be some truth to the idea that less is more. The “smartphone” or as I call them “post payphone” generation might benefit from having a milkman in their lives.