Thursday, February 21, 2013

WWII Victory Book Campaign to be Aided by Milkmen

Schenectady Gazette, August 26, 1942
I came across this 1942 newspaper ad while researching my book (my grandfather welded tanks at ALCO, which this ad congratulates for being awarded a military production award).

During WWII American dairies were eager to seen as important contributors to the war effort. Reading the ad copy, I almost laughed at the self-important tone: "Always the number one defender of public health, the dairyman today assumes a heavy role in the critical task of keeping a nation at war strong and healthy." I suppose the claim isn't too far off the mark when one considers the health risk unsafe milk could pose. The older generation would have remembered a time when pasteurization was not yet in widespread use (and foodborne was illness more common). Still, illustrating a milkman with the marching troops and tanks seems a bit much.

In 1943 the nation's dairies joined the Victory Book Campaign in collecting books to donate to the armed forces. The January 18th issue of The New York Times reported:

"The 1943 Victory Book Campaign for the collection and distribution of books for men in the armed forces will receive practical support from milkmen throughout this area within the next few days. Housewives who have been in the habit of writing notes for the milkmen, telling him how much milk and cream to leave, will now receive notes from the milkman, urging them to wrap up and leave some books alongside their empty milk bottles.

The milkmen will pick up the books and take them to milk distribution centers from which they will be handed on to the nearest library for ultimate distribution to the armed forces. In this plan, such milk companies as Borden's*, Sheffield's and the Dairymen's League have received support from the milk drivers' union.

The Victory Book Campaign is being conducted under the sponsorship of the American Library Association, American Red Cross and USO."

Cloverleaf Dairy bottle,
Springfield, MO.
Image from eBay.
Wartime milk bottles and caps were often printed with patriotic graphics and messages like, "Buy War Bonds," "It's Great to be an American," and "Food Fights Too. Plan All Meals for Victory."

In the US and Britain milk supplies were low due to the bulk of food sent to feed the troops. Food rationing began in Britain in 1940, and in the US in 1942. Priority was given to households with pregnant women and babies.

Over in Britain the milkmen truly were in the line of fire. British dairies kept up deliveries during the German bombings. If a milkman reached a home that had been bombed he would still leave the bottles, trusting that a neighbor would get it to the customers if they had survived. British customers were encouraged to save the aluminum foil caps and donate them as scrap metal.

Determined London milkman making deliveries, 1940.
*As an amusing aside: do you remember Borden's milk? We used to get it when I was a kid. The cartons pictured a cartoon cow as their mascot. Elsie the cow was married to the bull from Elmer's glue! I've never heard any other corporate mascots being romantically involved.


"Victory Book Campaign to be Aided by Milkmen" in The New York Times, January 18, 1943."

Phelps, Tom. The British Milkman. Shire Publications, 2010.

Zebrowski, Carl. "Enough to go Around" in Home Front Life: a special publication of American in WWII magazine. 2012.

1 comment:

  1. This is really fun to read. I was part of a raw milk delivery program here in Portland and it was tough delivering the milk to families around town. It's cool to see that this was such a part of daily life: Milk delivery. So much so that it could be effectively used as part of a program to get books from people via the milkman—and on to the army. The real meaning of community.