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Olden days  ·  Dairy  ·  Farm wife  ·  Creamery  ·  Storage  · 
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With the Nation growing and ever expanding the frontiers, the demand for fresh butter increased. The start of the factory system of making butter is not too well established. However, the experience related by one D. Hall in a letter to the Editor of Chicago Dairy Produce in 1899 is illustrative of how the trend to creamery operations developed:

"In about the years 1859 and 1860 the farmers began looking for some way to widen out in the dairy business, as our neighbors in the adjoining county were building cheese factories and reaping the benefit of a foreign market for their output. But the war breaking out in 1861 gave a backseat to the prospect in our locality...

In 1865 the first cheese factory in our town was erected... After running for about three summers it was decided not a paying institution, and the building was sold, and the machinery also to a new man... By now the farmers began to see that in localities where there were factories they were doing better. This started them to locating factories from six to 10 miles apart over the country when milk could be obtained.

In 1869 and 1870 dairymen began to combine butter making and cheese factories. We built a pool about 20 feet square, placing a partition each way through the middle, so each end could be drained and cleaned without disturbing the others. Of course all factories must have running water. It was thought that unless a good spring could be had there was no use of a factory.

We took milk both morning and night. The night's milk was strained in the long, shotgun cans and placed in the pool. In the morning these were removed and the cream taken off with the funnel skimmer. The milk was turned into vats, while the morning's milk was weighed and strained in with it. This gave us what we claimed was a slight skimmed cheese... The cream was churned in the old-fashioned dash churn and (now we have our first worker) which was the old lever worker, which all creamery men are familiar with... This working was partly done, the butter set aside for three to six hours, then reworked and packed in firkins... and placed in a cellar. Instead of putting the cloth and salt on top, we bored a hole in the top head of the firkin and filled the space with strong brine made from salt and salt-Peter, going over the whole lot once a week, so as to keep the firkins full of brine.

Perhaps some of you readers will ask how did we ship... at this time? I will say that in 1867 we got, by furnishing heavy bonds, a railroad through our valley and from then on it seemed that all roads wished to come our way."

The early creameries in this country followed what was termed "the whole milk system." This term refers to the practice whereby farmers delivered their whole milk supplies to the factory or creamery daily or at frequent intervals. In the very early creameries, the whole milk would be collected in so-called Cooley cans which when sufficiently full of whole milk were placed in pools of spring water to cool and "set" (or cream). The cream was then skimmed off with hand dippers and when a sufficient quantity was thus collected, the cream was churned. Later, centrifugal separators were used for removing the cream from the whole milk following the introduction of the DeLaval Cream Separator from Sweden into this country in 1879.

The whole milk system of creamery operation was satisfactory as long as the milk was brought from territories fairly contiguous to the creamery. However, as more farmers took up dairying, enterprising manufacturers developed and offered small hand separators for use on the farms. With either hand or other power, these machines separated the cream, which was cooled and ready for its transport to the creamery. This left the skim milk with the farmer, which was valuable as, feed for calves and hogs. The introduction of the hand separator revolutionized the creamery business. Big plants were established over a wide territory and frequently cream was shipped hundreds of miles to the factory and was made possible by the growth and expansion of the railroads. This system of creamery operation became known as "the gathered cream system" chiefly because of the long hauls or as "centralized creamery system" as the big factories could be located in strategic railroad or trade centers. Incidentally, the centralized system became common practice in the Middle West where the greatest expansion in the creamery business took place.

The question as to when and where the first creamery was started has never been satisfactorily resolved. Records indicate that a factory was established by Alanson Slaughter at Walkill, New York in 1861, another at Middletown, New York in 1863 with others in New York State the following year. Factories wee also started in Illinois in 1867. All of these plants, however, made both butter and cheese.

The Elgin Butter Company was established in Elgin, Illinois in 1871 following the visitation of Dr. Joseph Tefft and others to Orange County, New York to learn the essentials of butter making as practiced in that celebrated district which then had its high reputation for the best quality dairy butter. This creamery was engaged in the manufacture of butter only and got its start by utilizing the surplus milk from the condensed milk factory of Gail Borden located in that city. In 1872, John Stewart erected a creamery in Manchester, Iowa and later "wrote history" by winning the Grand Sweepstakes at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876 thus advising the world that good quality creamery butter could be made west of the Allegheny Mountains -- in fact, even west of the Mississippi River. Elgin, Illinois later became the Butter Capitol of the World because of its renown for fine creamery butter whereas Iowa and later Wisconsin and Minnesota also came in for their just share of recognition as quality butter producing states. From Illinois and Iowa, the creamery operations spread rapidly throughout the western United States, across the prairie states and out to the Pacific Coast, California later sending some of her product to eastern markets when prices were attractive.

The factory system of butter making made rapid strides and received tremendous impetus through the introduction of the centrifugal cream separator and the invention of simple method by which the exact butter fat content of milk and cream could be determined by the creamery operator. Before the days of this Babcock test, milk was purchased in bulk regardless of its fat value. With its discovery in 1890 and its subsequently rapid adoption by the dairy industry, a factor of control was introduced which in its absence would have doubtlessly retarded progress in dairy operations.


Bonnyville Creamery built in 1924 and operated till 1969.

Another example of a local creamery is the Bonnyville Creamery in Bonnyville (Alberta) Canada. At this time, butter bought at the grocery store came in two categories: "dairy," made by the farmer's wife or "creamery," made by the factory or plant.

The Bonnyville Creamery was constructed and began operation in 1924. Pioneer settlers in the area, previous to this time, used the cream produced by their cows mainly for home consumption. Any surplus of raw cream could be sold to customers in Bonnyville or the home churned butter was sold or bartered at the general store for the farmer's necessary supplies. The newly established creamery, in the first year of operation, produced ove 56k pounds of butter with Mr. A. Blanchard as the first buttermaker. Of this total, 52k pounds were sold through the Provincial Department Marketing Service for 31.27 cents per pound. The Department had outlets in Alberta and British Columbia with shipments also being made to England, China and Japan.

Annual production increased significantly to 388k pounds by 1940. In those intervening Depression years, Cliff's helping hand with cash advances will be remembered by many needy cream shippers. The cream was delivered to the creamery in a variety of containers from eight and five gallon cans down to five pound lard pails and creamers. No matter how small, the cream cheques provided many farmers' wives with a bit of "pin money" for desired purchases.