Most milk customers bought a quart of whole milk each day because it was delivered to their homes, fresh and chilled, in time for breakfast. The milk in the glass bottle that sat in the shade of the front porch before breakfast came from one herd of cows, with the owner overseeing or doing all stages of preparation. A popular slogan was: "Green in the pasture, white in the bottle, pink on the cheeks." Our neighbor advertised that his bottles delivered pure milk, "From the Moo to You."
That was in the 1920s and ’30s, when a number of small dairies were operated by Boone County families. I recall some of the names: S.H. Sides, Mrs. Conley, W.P. Myers, Fawks, Holman and my own dad, O.D. Meyers. Some of these families had moved to Mid-Missouri to educate their children at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Their labor forces were composed mostly of family.
My brother Jim and I were Dad’s bottle washers. Dad usually had two hired hands who worked from dawn to dusk on the farm - including dairy work. Jim brought 13 or more crates of returned bottles from the delivery truck into the milk house where he had prepared a big vat of hot lye water. Over the vat there were three mechanical whirling bottle brushes. He’d put more than a dozen bottles into the lye water, then hold a bottle in each hand, over the two lower brushes to wash the insides of the bottles. At the same time, the single brush above washed the outsides. He drained the hot lye water out as he washed bottle bottoms, then he put them into my first tub.
I laid the bottles in cold water with chlorine added, sloshed the water around and drained them. I did the same in plain water and placed them in crates. Jim did the stacking and moving of crates. This was an after-school chore for which I was paid 25 cents a week, "plus your keep," Dad said with a twinkle in his eye.
Those reusable glass bottles came in quarts, pints, half-pints and a few quarter-pints. The bottles’ sizes were embossed in the glass, and plain ones, bought by the gross for 6 cents each, said "One quart liquid, wash and return daily." Bottles were useful in other ways; some were stolen, discarded or broken. Central Dairy, White Eagle and Loren Dairy had their names embossed in glass. Personalized bottles were a nuisance to other dairies that kept them separate to trade back to the owners. Bottles of different shapes were introduced: square bottles, half-gallon bottles, bottles with skinny necks designed to give the impression of more cream on top. Bottles with bulges at the top made it possible to carefully remove the cream and whip it on desserts. They also introduced bottles with political or religious messages, pictures of movie actors or cowboys - fired on, in bright colors. No one guessed they’d be collectible! One I saved has, in red, a cow and "Ferndown and Manor Dairy, Milk from local farms, eggs, cream and butter, Phone 372 Ferndown, please rinse and return."
If I’d have saved a Hop-Along Cassidy bottle, it would be worth more than $1,000 to a collector!