The earliest churns were goatskins or other primitive containers in which cream could be agitated. Skin bags were sometimes used by Asian nomads to turn their cream into butter just by shaking the skin bags till the butter was formed.
The regular quart fruit jar has been a churn for many, just a little cream and a lot of agitation was all that was needed.
A more sophisticated version of this concept were rocker type or swing churns and many churns that were powered by animals.
The dash churn , familiar to farm homes for centuries, consisted of a tall, narrow, nearly cylindrical stone or wood tub fitted with a wooden cover. The cream was agitated by a hand-operated vertical wooden plunger, stave, or dash.
Wooden barrel churns
Another type, widely used in the 19th century, was shaped like a small barrel and mounted in a wooden cradle. Operation of a hand crank caused the barrel to revolve end over end. One of the early manufacturers was Blanchard Churn Company, probably of Nashua, new Hampshire. Around the Civil War times and after, the Union churn company was a major manufacturer, a typical model was a wooden three legged type. Foreign churns were imported into American early colonies and most of these were of some wooden type construction, mostly the tall tapered wooded slatted sided bodies with hand crafted metal bands or some type of early wire bands that held them together. All of these churns had a wooden stomper, that was constructed with a X at the end of a wooden shaft that agitated the cream when moved up and down.
Tin churns were made by numerous manufacturers in the latter 1800's. One of the most common were the metal Dazey churns. These were made in sizes from 1 Gallon to at least 16 gallon types. Most of the larger ones were powered by some external source, other than a hand crank. Some of these older churns had a two handled crank operation, sort of like a bicycle peddle mechanism.
In the later part of the 1800's Stoneware churns were fairly common. Many of these had advantages to offer with the designs and decorations that were part of there outside coating. Galling numbers was common with these churns.
Glass churn jars
Millions of hand-turned glass churn jars were used from the early 1800s through the 1950s or 1960s. Glass butter churns, made in the 1960s, came with electric motors. The evolution of home butter churns continued right up to the point where people started buying butter instead of making it.
Early Glass churns were made in 4 sizes: 1, 2, 3 and 4 quart types. After the mid 1920's the addition of the 6 and 8 quart jar sizes appeared. Horseshoe or Beveled edge jar types were first and then the Bullseye with the square shoulder and the round raised company information on the glass jars. Next came the Slopped shoulder types, the metal tops had a very strait up and down metal grip on the metal crank mechanism, often had a little flower (Daisy) raised on the metal crank side. The slope shoulder churns were supposed to be easier for cleaning and the butter particles did not stick as easily in the upper corners of the jar. After 1936, most of the wooden paddles only had two blades, for it was found that it took the same time for a 4 bladed paddle to churn butter as a two bladed paddle.
The Dazey Company is a well-known manufacturer of glass churn jars. At the beginning of the 20th century, Nathan P. Dazey was producing can openers in Dallas. He met E.B. Jones, a sickly man who had designed a small glass butter churn with a crude dasher. In time, Dazey fully bought out Jones' EZ Churn Company, and became a major manufacturer in the U.S. In 1910, his son Jack came into the business and the company began to grow. The company added other size churns as well as electric churns up to ten gallons. Seeing a market for this design in the rural family homes, he soon was trying to find a foundry to make parts for him. Dallas area was not equipped to handle this assignment, we think now, and he soon found St. Louis more able to meet his needs.
During World War I, there was a shortage of butter and Dazey developed a churn where you could add one pound of butter and one pound of milk and end up with two pounds of butter. The company did very well during the war. In the late 1920's Dazey introduced a wall type can opener with a cutting wheel that revolutionized the can opener industry. At this time the churn business was beginning to decline due to many farmers moving to the cities and Dazey began producing other kitchen items. By the end of World War II, Dazey began manufacture other products, and by the 1950's the brand was sold to Landers, Frary and Clark, the manufacturers of Universal products, and eventually to the Rival Company who eventually killed the brand.
Whey strainers on Dazey churns were not at first used. Probably around 1920 there was introduced a oval type whey strainer with a removable top. This was soon followed by a rather squarish designed slip in unit that did it job fairly well. After 1928 the old Square shoulder jars disappeared from the scene and the slopped shoulder jar came in being. The Patented date would indicate that in 1922, Feb. 14th, the new jars came into being.
Other major manufacturers included the Standard Churn Company of Wapokoneta OH, and Taylor in the St. Louis area produced discounted models. Dazey and the Blow Churn company in England collaborated on several models. Blow churns were made in most of the same sizes that our American churns were made in. (An English Quart has a different oz. size than our American quarts.)
Electricity did not really hit the Midwest until around the early 1940's. Hand made churn butter was a daily staple, often a family member had the chore of making butter once a week. In the later part of the 1930's a new churn was introduced by Dazey Churn Co. that had a round pair shaped jar with somewhat scalloped sides. On the bottom of the Jar held all of the company information. These units were also famous for its red football designed cover of the metal gears that powered the paddles below. These are reported to have came in 2,4,6,and 8 sizes. These churns were just before the electric models came into being and were not manufactured long. Some of the later types of these had a built in whey strainer on the metal cap part
Thousands of companies in some way lead to the making of Butter Churns after the 1700's and up into nearly the mid 1900's. Several dozen churn designs were patented a year. Some of the earliest patents were in the mid 1860's and continued into the 1940's, probably over 2000 churn patent entries.
With the advent of the cream separator in the late 19th century, the manufacture of butter moved from the farm to the factory.
Modern industrial churns are large, barrel-shaped, revolving containers in which the cream is agitated until the microscopic fat globules clump together. The liquid buttermilk is drained, and the butter is washed with sterilized water. Continuous churns, developed in Europe in the 1930s, can produce a ton of butter per hour.