Thursday, August 3, 2017

Answer: Milking the milk topic...


... is an incredibly complex fluid that's produced by the mammary glands of mammals shortly after pregnancy. It's 
an emulsion of butterfat globules in a water-based fluid filled with dissolved carbohydrates, protein aggregates, and minerals.  Milk that's produced early in the milk production cycle contains colostrum, with lots of antibodies, protein and fat to help the infant thrive early on.  

(A generic Wisconsin dairy--not my family's farm.)  
But I was primarily interested in how milk made it from dairies to the home.  

Usually, the milkman would drive up in a milk truck to leave it on the doorstep, but the really nice houses had a kind of built-in receptacle to hold the milk and keep it out of the sun.  

It's clear that milk trucks weren't the only way for milk to be delivered.  I'd had this dog-cart image in my files for a while, and that begins this week's Challenge.    

Then there's the matter of how milk is contained for shipment.  

1.  These milk containers:  Do they have a specific name?  If I want to buy one, what term or name would I search for?  Is it possible to buy new ones?  

What IS the term for this?  

I did an image search for this picture, and found that it brought up a lot of "antique" and "collectable" objects, most of which were called "milk jugs."  Here's the SERP for the Search-By-Image result: 

Notice that the proposed "best query" is [ old metal milk jug ] That's fine, but when you look at the results, they're ALL in the "antique" and "collectable" genre.  

I was curious what's they'd be called when they're NOT collectable items.  

To find this out, I started with a general text query for: 

     [ milk container ] 

I knew this would be pretty generic.  It has cream containers for coffee shops, gallon plastic milk jugs, etc.  But this SERP also has an image of what I'm looking for (far left, second row of images).  

AND it has a link to the Wikipedia page about Category: Milk containers.  When you see a "Category" page on Wikipedia, it's a sign that there's a collection of items that are all different terms for the same thing.  That is, it's a "Category" of things with that description.  (For example: the Category:Philosophy page groups together different kinds of philosophy and philosophical topics.) 

The interesting thing about the Category: Milk containers page is that it lists several terms for things-that-contain-milk.  In particular, "milk bag" "milk bottle" and "milk churn."   

I know what a milk bag is, and I know what a milk bottle is.  I thought I knew what a "milk churn" was (that is, a device for making butter by "churning" it through extended manual labor), so having it show up here is a bit odd.  WHY is a "churn" considered to be a "container"?  

Naturally, my curiosity drove me to click on this link about milk churns, the first line of which is this definition: 

A milk churn is a tall, conical or cylindrical container for the transportation of milk. It is sometimes referred to as a milk can.

The article goes on to point out that milk was originally shipped in regular milk churns (in the butter-making sense), but by the 1850s, they were replaced with similarly-shaped metal containers that held 17 gallons of milk.

I tested these definitions with the queries:  

     [ milk churn ]   and   [ milk can ] 

which gives results like this:  

If you look at the Images page, you'll see this, including some very new, shiny, stainless steel (and purchasable) milk churns:  

Now we know the exact term for these milk containers:  it's a milk churn or a milk can.  (And it seems that in the antique business, they're known as jugs.)  

2. As I said above, some houses had a kind of mini-closet into which the milkman would put the day's delivery:  What was that mini-closet called?

This is a bit tricky.  I started with the query: 

     [ home milk delivery closet ] 

and found that some people call this a "milk door."  But I kept looking around a bit more after finding that first result.  Why?  It just seemed too... obvious.  

I modified my query to be: 

     [ home milk delivery closet history ] 

and that query led me to a number of different sources, including this May-June 1999 issue of Old House magazine (which is indexed in Google Books), where it's called a "milk chute."  

Okay, which is it?  Milk door?  Or Milk chute? 

Both show good results: 

Yes, I see that there are 90K results for "milk chute" vs. 193K for "milk door."  But both terms are in frequent use.  (And most of the "milk door" results point out that they're also called "milk chutes.")  In any case, it's not called a "closet!"  

3.  Milk delivery by dog?  Seems odd to me--why use dogs to deliver the milk?  In particular, can you figure out where that image of the dog-cart milk delivery came from?  What other kinds of animals were (or are) used to deliver milk to the customer?  

Search by Image for the dog-cart above, and you'll find it's an illustration of "Holiday Sketches" of Bruges, Belgium (specifically, Illustrated London News, September 25, 1875).  

But why did they use dogs to pull tiny carts? 

     [ dog cart milk delivery ] 

If you check Images, you'll find a bunch of dog carts with milk: 

But... why? 

The Wikipedia page on dog carts (found with this query) tells us that they "...were historically used in Belgium and The Netherlands for delivering milk, bread, and other trades. In early Victorian Britain, dogcarts were associated with bakers..."  

That same article also uses some interesting language:  "Dogs were used as draught animals during the First World War to pull small field guns. Dogs were used by Soviet Army in World War II to pull carts containing a stretcher for wounded soldiers..."  

That sounds crazy, but notice the term "draught"  (also sometimes spelled "draft").  That means "to pull a cart or wagon," as in the term draft horses.  What if we did a search for "draft dogs"?  

     [ draft dogs ] 

Reading through these results reminded me that sled dogs are basically pulling a sled (which is a lot like a cart), and in the Americas, Indians would have dogs pull a travois (a kind of sled for no-snow conditions).  So there's a long tradition of using dogs as small cart draft animals--which is just the thing you want when you need to deliver small quantities of milk, as produced by artisanal dairies... 

Sampler of Indian dog travois

What about other kinds of animals pulling milk carts?  

With the query: 

     [ milk cart "pulled by *" ] 

I found search results for milk carts pulled by horses, donkeys, mules, and dogs.  But in the search results, I also spotted a camel pulling a milk cart, a zebra, and a pair of pigs in Pullman, WA.  

P/C:  Modern Mechanix, July 1931

Pigs pulling a milk cart. P/C: Washington State Creamery
So... why dogs?  There's a long tradition of having dogs pull carts (and sleds), especially for small loads... like milk.  

4.  Milk generally comes from cows, and we have a lot of them in Wisconsin and California.  But what other animals produce milk that's widely used as human food?  That is, I know whales produce milk too, but it's not really a common food item.  Which kinds of animal milk is used as a food product?  (Extra credit just for fun and a surprise: Which four states are the top milk producers in the US?)  

     [ animal milk human drink ] 

Leads to a number of articles about different kinds of milks that humans drink. An interesting article from Slate lists:  cow, buffalo, goat, sheep, llamas, reindeer, horse, camel, and yak.  Of course, people have tried milk from many different animals, but some are a bit impractical (milking a pig is really, really hard) or just plain unpalatable (such as milk from the Orca, which tastes very fishy).  

Finally, figuring out what states produce what amount of milk isn't too hard: 

     [ US states milk production ] 

gives the dairy-production (by state) data.  Answer:  California (40B pounds); ] Wisconsin (30B pounds); New York (14B); Idaho (14B).  (Note:  They get their data from the USDA Statistics Service, so I tend to believe their data.) 

Search Lessons 

1.  Terms vary for the same thing!  As we found out, the steel "milk container" of our first Challenge is commonly called  a "milk jug" by the antiquing community.  (This is slightly confusing, as "milk jug" also refers to ceramic creamers and pitchers designed for milk.  The cylindrical/conical steel container is (as we found) usually called a "milk churn" or "milk can."  Be aware of the differences in terminology.

2.  Test your understanding by comparing different definitions.  When we were working on the milk cans, we compared the difference between:     [ milk churn ]   and   [ milk can ] to verify that they were the same thing.  

3. Use what you find to hone in on what you really seek.  In the "milk door" vs. "milk chute" example, we started broadly, and used terms that we found along the way to refine our next searches.  This is a really important point: Even mistakes on the search path can be helpful. 

4.  Don't forget that the * operator (fill in the blank) is incredibly useful to find things for which you don't know the name.  In our search  [ milk cart "pulled by *" ], we found a lot of different animals that pull milk carts.  I don't know how else you would do this (without testing every animal you can think of)!  

We'll be back on a regular schedule starting next week. See you then.  
Search on! 


  1. Supplementary comment... Dan writes "(such as milk from the Orca, which tastes very fishy). "
    If an infant gets separated from its mother, it will have a higher chance of survival of it eats what others of the same species eat.
    Flavours of food eaten by mother get transferred through the placenta; infants are born with a knowledge of acceptable food.
    Flavours of food eaten by mother get transferred through mammary glands, then on to the infant.
    The infant also watches what others eat.
    I expect orca milk to taste fishy.

    The World is full of interesting stuff.

  2. Your comment and picture of the dogs pulling milk carts reminded me of a story about my beloved helper dog Rusty. He was a Sussex Spaniel, a rescue dog that I had for years. He was a stubborn dog that was hard to train but loved to pull things. I use a wheelchair and he learned instantly how to help pull me along on long trips by using a harness I got him.
    We went to Carlsbad Caverns for a visit and the National Park said he qualified as a service dog and he was allowed to help pull me in my wheelchair through the caverns on the walking trails. He was marvelous, he helped pull me perfectly using vocal commands. We had a ball, they did not want him to bark but I asked the guide if he could and the Ranger said OK, Rusty barked once and it echoed through the caverns.
    I still remember that day.

    1. That's a marvelous story. Thanks for sharing it here!

  3. Very interesting challenge. I was intrigued by the question where that image of the dog-cart milk delivery came from. I think the answer is wrong, it wasn't from the illustration of "Holiday Sketches" of Bruges, Belgium (Illustrated London News, September 25, 1875). A version of the image does appear there, but it is not the place where the actual image in the challenge appears. I found the exact image on p.150 of a book called ‘The Conquerers of the World: Being a Popular Account of the Peoples and Races of Europe, their History, Ethnology, Manners, and Customs’, 1889. It post-dates the Illustrated London News, which means that the image in the challenge was a republication of an earlier version. I think this case illustrates how careful we have to be with Google search results. We simply cannot accept them at face value, at the very least we have to dig a bit deeper. And it is vital to actually observe the data at close quarters. By actually placing the image from the challenge right next to the image from the Illustrated London News, it is easy to see that they are not from the same publication.

    1. Willem - interesting... Where did you find an online copy of "The Conquerors of the World: Being a Popular Account of the Peoples and Races of Europe, their History, Ethnology, Manners, and Customs?"

  4. I hope this works for you:
    1. Right-click the image on your blog and select 'Search Google for image'.
    2. Go to the 2nd page of the results, and select,dogs/Interesting.
    3. Click on the image (should be the 4th one in the top row).
    4. Click on 'Image taken from p.164 of [The World's Inhabitants ...]' (Note: This metadata is in fact incorrect because it doesn't take you to the book it says it would.)
    5.Click on 'Download the PDF for this Book'.
    6. Scroll down to p.150 and there's your image.
    It is interesting that the 'same' image also appears on p.126 of ‘The World’s Inhabitants, or Mankind, Animals and Plants’, 1888. I deliberately put 'same' in inverted commas because if you compare the ruled border of this image with your image you will notice small differences. The paper colour is also different. Which serves as further confirmation, I believe, that the image in your challenge comes from p.150 of ‘The Conquerers of the World: Being a Popular Account of the Peoples and Races of Europe, their History, Ethnology, Manners, and Customs’, 1889.
    I think the take-home message of this saga is that the Google results should always be critically reviewed, and that it does make incorrect associations. Not to say that it is Google's fault necessarily. In my exploration of the dog-cart image I found Google's 'Best guess' to be inadequate, plus two other places where Google's descriptions did not match the actual webpages they refer to. Tempting as it might be to simply accept the Google results, I believe there is still no substitute for 'legwork' on the part of the researcher. I guess the adage that the computer is only as good as the person sitting behind it, is still valid and will be so for a long time still as far as I can see.