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Related pages: Packages  ·  Canned  ·  Early pots  ·  Butter tub  ·  Cartons  · 

Along with the changes in butter making wrought by the advent of creameries, there developed also a change in the type of bulk package. The firkin began to lose ground and early in 1863 white ash 60-pound tubs were introduced in the west. They found such favorable acceptance that it was not long before they came into quite general use. In the east, the spruce tub was favored probably due to the fact that Vermont and northern New York State butter was packed in 20, 40 and 60-pound sizes made of that wood.

The tub came into general favor as both dairymen and creamery men became shippers, their product finding its way to markets such as New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago where it was sold through commission houses and brokers. There were some variations in the size and style of such packages which becomes understandable when it is recognized that the dairymen had to take into consideration the fact that his butter must go forward every week and accordingly he was governed in the size of the package by the amount he would have to ship. In the Chicago market, the 40 or 50 pound ash tub was preferred by this type of shipper whereas the creamery men, whose chief business was to manufacture butter in large quantities, adopted as their favorite package the 60-pound, 5-hoop, hand-made, clear ash tub, well put together, without glue or nails.

For years, there was a controversy between the east and the west as to the relative merits of ash versus spruce tubs. As the years passed, suitable white ash became increasingly scarce, and some of the tub manufacturers turned to the Sitka spruce and Douglas fir forests of the Northern Pacific Coast. These woods were relatively free from flavor and made attractive containers. The early made tubs contained five wooden hoops, but in 1917 the use of three galvanized steel hoops for the tubs and a galvanized beaded steel rim for the tub covers was introduced, and they replaced the five wooden hoops.

The original size of the tubs was 56 pounds -- the "half firkin" container for the "fresh ends" as formerly quoted on the New York market. For economical and progressive reasons, savings in cost of manufacture and handling, the size gradually crept up in capacity from 56 pounds to 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64 and 65 pounds. Pioneers in the manufacture of butter tubs were the Creamery Package Manufacturing Company originally founded in 1882 and the Elgin Butter Tub Company founded in 1886 located at Rock Falls and Elgin, Illinois respectively. The use of the tin fasteners replacing the earlier ten penny nails for holding the cover to the tub apparently was developed in Elgin by the Elgin Butter Company as a means of utilizing the waste tin of the Illinois Condensed Milk Company who manufactured all their own cans and cases for shipping their product. Incidentally, a Mr. C. W. Gould has been cited as starting a cheese factory in Elgin about 1860 (the Illinois Condensed Milk Company factory having been erected in 1865) and later engaged in butter making using as tubs for shipping his product, containers made of flour barrel staves cut in half.

Australian square boxes, containing 56 pounds were introduced when creamery men began to consider the prospects of foreign markets but they never became popular in the east although they were used to some extent in the Central and Western sections of the country. Boxes of other shapes and sizes come into moderate use, especially where butter was to be cut and otherwise molded for prints.

The most common and constant complaints against butter packed in tubs, boxes and pails prior to 1890 pertained to woody flavor, mold contamination and difficulty in stripping tubs. The common method employed in efforts to control these defects was to soak the tubs, boxes or pails in salt water the night before they were used. The following morning they were rinsed out with scalding water and then with clear cold water, after which the butter was packed at once. Every effort was made in packing to eliminate air holes and when the tub or pail was full, it was placed in a cool place so that the tops might be chilled. When taken out, a little brine was poured over the top surface of the butter in each tub and a white "dairy" or "butter cloth" put on, the cloth having been cut the size of the top. The cloth was then smoothed on top of the butter and salt sprinkled on and rubbed around and around until a thin even paste covered the cloth. When butter was so covered, it would generally reach the market with a smooth and bright surface, as the cloth would strip clean.


The next step appears to have been the use of paper liners -- Paraffin paper having first been recommended and used for such purposes. One of its staunchest advocates was quoted as follows:

"I have experimented with paraffin paper and know what I am talking about. Last year I stored 6,000 tubs. Every tub was lined with paraffin paper. When I took the butter out last winter there was not the slightest taste of wood to the butter. The flavor was as good on the edges as it was in the center of the package, and the paper gave us no trouble adhering to the butter. Further than this, the paraffin paper I used did not color the butter or make it dark in the least."

The reference to the paraffin paper not discoloring or darkening the butter may seen rather strange to the reader but in the 1880's and 1890's, paraffin was not as highly refined and free of odor and color as our modern product.

In 1889, W. F. Brunner interested Mr. Sol Wheat Hoyt in the possibilities of vegetable parchment as a liner for butter tubs. Sample liners were sent to the Fairmont Creamery Company for investigation and were found satisfactory according to Mr. E. F. Howe.

Incidentally, Mr. Howe had begun to use vegetable parchment sheets for wrapping pound prints of butter in 1888. Apparently, his experiments with vegetable parchment marked the beginning of the almost indispensable use that vegetable parchment now enjoys as a wrapper for butter and other fatty foods due, of course, to its grease-proof character, insolubility, high wet strength, as well as its odorless and, in fact, tasteless properties. Parchment because of its peculiar and distinctive characteristics, contribute as important prerequisite to our modern butter packaging methods.