Eight of the nine milk bottles found in the Old Main cistern were from one local dairy, the Snow and Palmer Dairy of Bloomington. Before effective refrigeration was available during transport, only local milk would have been available.
In the mid-nineteenth century, milk was primarily given to babies when mother’s milk was unavailable, but this carried some risks, as milk was dispensed with a ladle from street vendors (Robert Dirks, 2011, Come & Get It: McDonaldization and the Disappearance of Local Food from a Central Illinois: pg 172). Bacteria grew in the containers, especially during the warmer months of the year, causing “‘summer diarrhea’ a disease that often proved lethal among children. Gastrointestinal disease accounted for up to 25 percent of infant mortality in the United States as late as 1900” (Dirks 2011: 172). In the town of Normal, at the turn of the twentieth century, consumers could choose from several dairy options. Dirks notes “early supermarkets stocked bottled milk and other dairy products, but most families preferred to purchase them from a ‘milkman’ who delivered right to the door” (2011: 172).
The Snow and Palmer dairy was started by Willis Snow in 1870, who formed a partnership with Harry Palmer in 1897 (Dirks 2011:174). Bloomington passed ordinances to ensure the safety of milk in 1911, which outlawed selling milk from canisters, and necessitated bottled milk (Dirks 2011: 173). Pasteurization was introduced in 1895, and mandated by the city of Chicago in 1908. “In Bloomington, the Snow and Palmer Dairy was the first to introduce pasteurization to its customers” (Dirks 2011:173). They merged with Beatrice Creamery in 1925, and began selling milk products under the Meadow Gold brand (Dirks 2011:174). The eight milk bottles then can be firmly dated within the 28 years of the Snow and Palmer partnership.