What is a Milkman?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A milkman is someone who delivers milk, and sometimes other perishable groceries as well. This occupation has traditionally been dominated by men, although women certainly work in the milk delivery industry. The classical role of the milkman as someone who delivers milk daily to regional homes is fading out, due to changes in the way that dairy is handled and distributed, although some communities, especially in rural areas, still have milkmen. Most modern milkmen, however, drive larger delivery trucks from dairies to distribution centers and markets, rather than delivering dairy directly to customers.

Milkmen were a more common sight before the widespread use of refrigeration.
Milkmen were a more common sight before the widespread use of refrigeration.

Before the widespread use of refrigeration, the milkman would often visit homes daily, filling standard milk orders which might include other dairy products in addition to milk. Milkmen also sometimes delivered eggs and other basic groceries, and in some cases they brought ice for ice boxes as well. Like other delivery people, milkmen often got to know their clients very well, and they were familiar faces in the community.

Today, most milk is processed in a factory environment and packaged in plastic bottles or paper cartons.
Today, most milk is processed in a factory environment and packaged in plastic bottles or paper cartons.

Typically, a milkman would drive a specialized truck with built in racks to hold glass bottles of milk, along with returned bottles from customers. He or she would stop at each block, sort through customer orders, and deliver them on people's doorsteps while picking up recycled containers from previous deliveries. Milkmen often interacted with housewives, leading to a number of jokes about more intimate relationships between housewives and milkmen; these jokes also sometimes reference postmen.

While a milkman's historical role was primarily that of a delivery person, milkmen offered other services as well, especially in small communities. If a milkman noticed that a client had failed to pick up the previous day's delivery, for example, he or she might check on the customer or notify the police. House-bound clients in some communities could also make special requests of their milkmen, like asking them to pick up other needed groceries.

The advent of refrigeration allowed customers to store milk longer in their refrigerators, making a daily milk delivery somewhat unnecessary. This also enabled dairies to ship milk to central distribution centers and markets, leaving distribution of the product to other people so that the dairies could focus on milk collection and handling. The consolidation and commercialization of dairies also contributed to the shrinking population of milkmen, as many dairies now produce far more milk than they could ever reasonably distribute on their own, even with a massive fleet of milkmen.

Before the widespread use of refrigeration, the milkman would often fill orders that might include other dairy products in addition to milk.
Before the widespread use of refrigeration, the milkman would often fill orders that might include other dairy products in addition to milk.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments

Clairdelune

As kids we would get excited when the milkman came. Those kind of events were just part of the feeling of community. It's true that the milkman watched over the community he served.

Once an elderly lady who lived nearby, didn't take in her milk for two days. The milkman peeked inside her window and saw her on the floor. She had fallen and couldn't get up. She saw the milkman and crawled to the door. He got help for her.

I also remember the little jokes about "the milkman and the ladies." People would say, "Who's your father, the milkman?"

It was a great era!

Bertie68

During my early childhood, I have fond memories of the milkman. I remember clearly the medium -sized glass bottles that the milk was delivered in. He came about 2-3 times a week.

My mom would leave the insulated milk box on the back porch. She put the order blank for the next order inside the box. Sometimes,besides the milk, she would order cottage cheese and some kind of a treat for us kids.

The milkmen were always friendly. They would smile and give us a nice greeting.

Post your comments
Login:
Forgot password?
Register: