Selling Milk Between the Wars: Two Pre-WWII U.S. Milk Industry Booklets
Part I

Carnation Milk

Pacific Coast Condensed Milk Company. 1915. "The Story of Carnation Milk" (promotional booklet). 32pp. Illustrated, with some color illustrations. Printed by the American Lithographic Co., NY.

Although first available in the mid-19th century, it took almost a century before canned milk became a trusted product. Booklets such as this one, published in 1915 by Carnation Milk, attempted to gain the public's interest and trust by offering scientific evidence in support of the product and providing favorite recipes adapted to work with evaporated milk. Printed just two years before the inauguration of the American Dairy Science Association, this booklet represents a moment when commodities such as milk became part of an agro-industry structure with a much larger distribution facilitated by improvements to the nation's infrastructure. Elbridge Amos Stuart launched the Carnation brand with a sterilized cream product in 1899. Using a controlled source of milk from the cows on his Seattle dairy farm, Stuart developed the slogan "Carnation Milk, From Contented Cows," creating an image that combines modern, exacting production methods with time-tested knowledge.

The booklet's cover shows a young woman and child looking over a bucolic landscape dotted with grazing cows framed by a backdrop of trees and mountains, fusing the majesty of natural monuments with agricultural industry. The vista is not simply eye-catching, however. It encapsulates the central theme presented in the booklet-- an ideal American way of life challenged by a changing post-World War I environment.

The Story of Carnation Milk, Booklet, 1915. Front Cover.

The "story" opens by describing the product as an essential part of life, and situating it within an idyllic, all but lost, simpler time:
Milk is a necessity. It is a universal food from infancy to old age. It forms part of the sustenance of human beings. In the good old days, practically every family "kept a cow." Towns and cities were not crowding people out of their own pastures and gardens. With the growth of the country industrially, the milk problem became different. People began buying milk from their neighbors, or of some one who had a farm and kept several cows. Life became more complex, cities were built more closely. It became impossible to know where the milk came from, and often it was just as impossible to know what kind of milk it was."

The text thus recalls the past to legitimize a new corporate product that is championed as a scientific advancement, brought about as an answer to the ills of modern urban life.

It is clear that the booklet is aimed at female consumers, most likely housewives in charge of purchasing and preparing family meals. It is their domestic knowledge that the booklet attempts to impress itself upon and yet, the way the milk production process is described is distinctly undomestic-- a mechanized, scientific application overseen by "careful, experienced men." The booklet is aimed at convincing housewives that evaporated milk is not only comparable to regular milk, but superior because of its unique, creamy taste and long shelf life:

Milk is a fundamental in cooking. Flour, eggs, butter, milk, and sugar--these are among the articles consumed in the greatest volume in the home. Naturally, the milk supply has the most opportunity to deteriorate in quality or become contaminated. Raw milk, as every housewife knows, seems to absorb odor and contaminating influences from everything about it, hence it is a delicate article of commerce, and the greatest care and caution often fails to protect it while in the raw state.

In this way, the information promotes evaporated milk by characterizing the housewife as incapable of anticipating the hazards of raw milk, much like the PET Milk powder pamphlet, mentioned in an earlier post.

The Story of Carnation Milk, Booklet, 1915. Back Cover.

Carnation used the idea that its products were available in grocery stores across the country, proffering the slogan "Your grocer is the Carnation milkman." In this modern industrialized setting, such products were conflated with, and became emblematic of, the United States as a whole. Milk companies were no longer tied to any one region. A 1920 advertisement for Carnation Milk in Montana's Times-Optimist suggests the convenience offered by evaporated milk over milking a cow: "Three times a day is not too often for it [milk] to feature on the menu (July 9, 1920). Despite, or perhaps because of efforts to portray evaporated milk as a technological advancement, the booklet's recipes are very conventional, with an emphasis on economy and the habits of the day. As noted on page 8, "Carnation may be poured into an earthen pitcher and used in the same manner as cream and milk..." Yet the booklet is careful to prepare consumers for the differences found in evaporated milk, "Do not expect Carnation Milk to taste like ordinary raw milk. It is better milk, and it will taste differently to you. Most people like the taste at once; others find that they must acquire the liking for it by using three or four cans."

The Story of Carnation Milk, Booklet, 1915. Recipes.

Carnation was eventually bought by Nestle in 1985 but the brand name is still in use today. While evaporated milk fell out of favor in the United States, as expanded infrastructure, improved pasteurization methods, refrigeration, and large scale dairy farming made fresh milk safe and easily accessible, it remains a popular choice in baking and as a creamer in coffee and tea, and continues to be an important milk source overseas, particularly in warm climates.

Coming next: A Recipe for Carnation Milk Bread from the Carnation Milk booklet and,
in Part II a 1937 booklet by milk conglomerate Borden-Wieland, "Delicious Dairy Dishes," presented by Crowley's Milk Company, Inc.

See also: "My Pet Cup": PET Milk and the Business of Feeding Babies


Ottilie said...

Fascinating reading! As a child growing up in the
1950's, I know that my mother used evaporated milk in
many, many recipes. I love to see these old promotional pamphlets, I hope you have even more to show us.

the five o'clock teaspoon said...

Thank you, Ottilie! I realize that I have quite a bit of milk-related paraphernalia, which I will be sure to share.