Do you know about milk doors? The two houses my parents have owned were both built in the 1940s, when milk doors often were part of the house’s design. My parents’ two houses each had a milk door. The first house was where I spent my childhood and I was the kind of kid who always noticed unusual things like a tiny door positioned near our side door. The tiny door was metal, and approximately 12 inches tall by 5 or 6 inches wide. Just the right scale for my Barbie doll. What magic! When you’re little, anything that is small in scale is automatically fascinating. This door intrigued me. It seemed full of potential: doll door, secret passageway, tiny peek-hole to the outside world. It was right in line with so many other small-scale things on my radar: Alice in Wonderland’s ability to shrink and then grow, tiny fairies in books, Thumbelina, the Borrowers, my dollhouse.
This morning I was thinking about milk doors. I was pouring the last few cups of milk from a gallon bottle into two glass mason jars. (You know your fridge is full of leftovers, lunchboxes and who-knows-what-else when you transfer milk to mason jars because the gallon jug won’t fit!) I announced to my kids that milk used to be delivered in glass bottles to people’s homes.
Today I looked for photos of milk doors online. A website I’d seen before (retrorenovation.com) had a post about milk doors, which led me to a piece online about home milk delivery, which existed roughly from 1860 to 1960.
This is the post that gave me some more background: www.www.historicnewengland.org/collections-archives-exhibitions/online-exhibtions/From_Diary_to_Doorstep/index.html )
The photo below reminds me of the milk doors in my parents' houses. It's not exactly the same, but the shape is similar. It brings back such a happy memory...
(Photo courtesy of GoldTrout.)
The photo below shows how this milk door is built right into the kitchen's design.
The hexagonal counter tile is original, and the whole effect is charming!
(Photo courtesy of TurquoiseBird.)
This photo below shows a delivery truck and the milkman who drove it. Today Alpenrose Diary is the only existing dairy farm near Portland, Oregon. It was founded in 1916 by the Cadonau family, and by 1918 they saw the potential of delivering milk to residential customers. The family bought a used Ford touring car and converted it into a delivery truck. The business grew and grew. Today there are five generations of the Cadonau family involved in the dairy.
(Alpenrose Dairy truck. Photo courtesy of milkmen.com)
By the time my parents bought their first house it was the mid-1970s. Milk was no longer delivered to the neighborhood, but the milk door remained. I was a young child in the ‘70s, used to modern-day supermarkets with their walls of fresh milk. It was odd to imagine a time when delivery to your home was the standard way of getting milk.
Online there are various accounts of home milk delivery. Ice boxes were used before refrigerators were invented in 1925. In 2013 most Americans would consider a refrigerator mundane, hardly novel. We are so accustomed to seeing them in every kitchen. But in its early days the refrigerator must have seemed as ground-breaking as a space shuttle! Of course, it cost nearly as much, so there was not a refrigerator in every kitchen. By the 1940s refrigerators became more affordable for many families, and by 1960 they were a staple in every kitchen. Large supermarkets offered milk to shoppers, and inevitably, milk delivery no longer was needed. By 1960, milk delivery had become extinct, even if the doll-sized milk doors remained.I’m so glad that my parents’ houses still had their milk doors. It’s a glimpse back in time. Sure, I’m glad to live in an age when you can get nearly anything you need, anytime. Convenience is wonderful. But it’s fun to examine a different time, an era when the personal touch was seen in everyday matters. Long live the milk door!