One of my very earliest memories involves a milkman! My mom was taking me to visit my granduncle, as I recall, and drove me a few miles to his house. I couldn't have been more than four or five. My grandfather and some of his brothers were farmers on Long Island, back before it became the overdeveloped megalopolis of suburban sprawl that it is today. We'd come back from visits with bushels of fresh peapods or string beans or ears of corn. I remember shucking the corn and peas and realizing they tasted "way" better than the canned versions my mom usually served.
As we arrived, we met the milkman at the driveway entrance--a long driveway that was pebbled rather than paved. Milkmen were ubiquitous during this time. You would often hear the clanking of empty bottles (Yes, milk came in glass bottles!) in the back of his van as the milkman delivered to your neighborhood in the pre-dawn hours. He might leave two quarts of milk and a small bottle of cream, and there were often other items you could add to your order, such as a loaf of bread or a pound of butter. He would take away the empty bottles that you left on your stoop. Of course, milk delivery had been around for a very long time. Fifty years earlier, it would not have been uncommon for a dog pulling a milk cart to progress through your town, and you would come outside and ask the farmer or his family member to pour milk from a large, galvanized can, milk that had come from the cow only hours earlier. Horses were popular milk pullers as well. it wasn't long before progress insisted that it would be more convenient to have your order delivered to your front steps.
On this day, in the late 1950s, the milkman said good morning and asked if I would like to ride with him! I was thrilled beyond belief. (Of course, there were few safety rules back then. I often stood next to my father on the front bench seat of our car (they didn't have front bucket seats yet, so the front and back seats looked the same), ready to be propelled through the front windshield at any sudden stop! (In fairness, people drove slower then). It seems to me that Borden's and Dugan's were the prominent milk delivery companies when I was growing up, but my memory has lapsed in this area. I don't remember which company's milk and cream were being delivered on this day, but I remember vividly that the milkman drove standing up!
Since milkmen pretty much stopped at every house on a suburban street, you can imagine what a pain it would be to have to stop your truck, grab the ordered bottles, run up to the steps of the house, retrieve the empties, get back into the truck, put it in gear, and drive twenty feet to start the process all over again. So, the DIVCO company created a boxy milk truck with some remarkable innovations. They combined the clutch and brake into one shaft, so one pedal would serve both purposes (this was before cars had automatic shifts), and they created an auxiliary swing-away seat, so you could stand and drive the truck, or if you had a ways to go, you could swing the seat out and sit for a while.
So, on that morning, the milkman drove down the long, pebbled driveway standing up, and I stood beside him listening to the bottles clanking a symphony of sorts. The back of the truck was a fortress of wooden (soon to be plastic) crates, some with filled bottles and some with empties.
There were many variants on these milk trucks. I always liked that in the UK the milkmen drove what are called milk "floats", three-wheeled vehicles with a single wheel in the front of the truck.
But time and progress march on. On that day, I helped the milkman bring in the bottles for my granduncle's family, and would never forget that moment. It wouldn't be long, though, before people wanted to get their milk at their own convenience. Thus, there was great excitement in my town when Dairy Barn opened! You could enter on either side of the store, pull your car up to the sliding door, order two gallons of milk and a dozen eggs, and they would hand it all to you through your car window!
It was open until 11:00 at night, long after other stores were closed. It was open on Sundays when supermarkets were closed. This was the future we had all been promised! If I wanted ice cream at 10:00 on Sunday night, I could drive to Dairy Barn and get a gallon of Breyer's Vanilla!
Eventually, of course, Sunday "blue" laws were altered and many stores soon opened seven days a week. Most stores added night-time hours for the convenience of people who worked during the day since moms now often worked too.
The days of the milkman were over. You can still buy milk crates, but people use them for storage now. And specialty companies still make glass milk bottles for those who desire them. There is a bit of a nostalgia market, too, for the milkmen of the past.
The irony is that sixty years later our idea of convenience is having someone in a car or van drive directly to our house with whatever food or beverage items we would like to have delivered personally handed right to us. Of course, now we have to leave a tip!