Why You Don't Really See Milkmen Anymore

Along with baseball and apple pie, there's perhaps nothing more American than the milkman. That's true even though the practice of delivering milk to people's homes all but vanished, beginning in the 1950s. Based on numbers from the USDA, though, 30% of all milk was still delivered by the milkman in the 1960s, according to NPR. And as recently as 2005, in fact — which was the last year the USDA tracked these numbers — 0.4% of all milk was still delivered daily. 

That's a small number to be sure, but more than one might expect, considering the ease with which milk can be bought in the local supermarket and safely stored for much longer than ever before in our refrigerators. So why don't you really see milkmen anymore? The answer to that question involves technological advances and the rise of the suburban lifestyle. But, in light of recent events, the milkman may come knocking once more.

Refrigerators and pasteurization

According to Food 52, the primary incentive for delivering milk to people's doorsteps and front porches in the first place was that milk spoils, which is less of a concern when your milk arrives fresh daily. Keep in mind, this practice came about before household refrigeration became as common as it is now, and also before the act of pasteurization kept milk safe to drink for much longer periods of time. All combined, this made milk delivery a booming business, stretching as far back as the 1700s, according to Drink Milking Glass Bottles. The advent of the milk bottle with a cap also made delivery even easier than ever before.

Following World War II, though, more and more people moved to the suburbs, making the milk delivery route much longer and much less cost-effective for the milk producer. Additionally, refrigerators and freezers became much more common around this time and this, along with pasteurization, made it much less urgent to get fresh milk daily. Since most people had cars at this point, it was also easier than ever to drive to the local supermarket when you were out of milk. In turn, the practice of milk delivery began to fade, but with the recent trend toward home grocery delivery, the milkman service may yet see a revival, according to the Wall Street Journal.