Use the smaller-sized text Use the larger-sized text Use the very large text

Curators' Favorites

Hoard's Dairyman Farm Milk Bottle

Half gallon milk bottle used by Hoard's Dairyman Farm of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin,
c. 1934-1944.

(Museum Object 1977.354.84)

This bottle documents a man, a journal, and a farm that were instrumental in transforming Wisconsin into the Dairy State.

William Dempster Hoard was one of the primary architects of Wisconsin's conversion from a wheat to a dairy economy. Hoard's Dairyman Farm first began selling milk from its Guernsey herd about 1900 and by 1908 was bottling all the milk it produced for city customers. The farm used bottles like this to market its milk during the 1930s and 1940s. The bottle's "pyroglazed" decoration features a typeface similar to that used in the banner of Hoard's Dairyman magazine, along with an image of one of the farmís famous Guernsey cows.

Hoard, a transplanted New Yorker who eventually became known as "the father of American dairying," explored several careers as a young man. He eventually settled on journalism, becoming editor of the Jefferson County Union in southeastern Wisconsin in 1870. Struck by the sharply declining yields on nearby wheat farms, Hoard wondered how he might promote the prosperity of his neighbors. Remembering that New York farmers had restored fertility to their lands and established a new industry by raising dairy cows, Hoard developed a vision of Wisconsin as a prosperous milk-producing region and devoted the rest of his life to realizing that goal.

In 1872, Hoard helped found the Wisconsin Dairymenís Association, which, he later boasted, had "held steadily to the one purpose of promoting dairy knowledge and improved Ö methods among the farmers of the State." Among other things, Hoard advocated a "single-purpose cow" (an animal bred for either dairy or beef production, but not both), record keeping for continuous herd improvement, disease inspection and control, use of alfalfa as a dairy feed, pure food regulations, competitive railroad freight rates for Midwestern dairy products, and the establishment of the University of Wisconsin's Farmers' Institutes. A persuasive and entertaining speaker, Hoard's prominence and popularity led to his being elected Wisconsin governor in 1888.

To help transform the average farmer into "an intelligent, reading, thinking dairyman," Hoard began publishing regular articles on dairy practice in the Jefferson County Union. In 1885, he turned these articles into a separate journal, Hoardís Dairyman, which soon became one of the most influential agricultural journals in the nation.
Hoard's Dairyman is still being published in Fort Atkinson by the W. D. Hoard and Sons Co.

But Hoard was not just a "book farmer." He knew that the techniques he advocated had to be both practical and profitable for the farmer. In 1899, Hoard bought a parcel of run-down wheat land just north of Fort Atkinson. Hoard hoped to demonstrate the benefits of good management on his own farm, and to "determine, at times, the wisdom of new and undetermined practices." From the beginning, the farm followed rigorous breeding, testing, and record-keeping practices. Rather than attempting to produce record yields in a few selected animals, however, Hoard took care to keep the cows "under ordinary herd conditions," so that farmers could see the true results of his program. As a 1932 pamphlet put it, "As Hoard's Dairyman talks, it does."

By the early 1930s, Hoard's Dairyman Farm had grown to about 270 acres and supported a herd of about 90 Guernsey milk cows. Brown-and-white Guernsey cattle, named for the island off the northern coast of France where the breed originated, were introduced into Wisconsin in the 1880s. In 1887 Hoard acquired Jefferson County's first purebred Guernsey, a cow named "Bonnibel." Presumably Hoard favored Guernseys because of the flavor, fat content and economic premium their milk provided. While Guernseys are smaller and give less milk than Wisconsin's most common breed, the black-and-white Holstein, Guernsey milk is higher in butterfat. It also has a rich, yellow color that proved popular with consumers. Because it is legal for creameries to add coloring to butter, but illegal to color fluid milk or cream, producers frequently reserved Guernsey milk for the bottled milk and cream market, as it often commanded a higher price than milk from other breeds.

Hoard's Dairyman Farm bottled its own milk for more than forty years. Rather than install expensive new packaging equipment required by changing laws, however, the farm chose to cease its own bottling operations at the end of 1946. Thereafter, the farm sold its milk in bulk to farmer-owned cooperatives, which marketed it under their own brands. Hoard's Dairyman Farm continues to operate as a privately owned dairy farm and is listed on the National Register of Historic places.

[Sources: Lamphard, Eric E. The Rise of the Dairy Industry in Wisconsin: A Study in Agricultural Change, 1820-1920 (Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1963); "A Few Words about Hoardís Dairyman" (Fort Atkinson, 1932, in Wisconsin Historical Society Library pamphlet collection); Hill, Charles L., "The History of Wisconsin Guernseys" (Lake Mills, Wis.: Rural Life Pub. Co., 1948, in Wisconsin Historical Society Library pamphlet collection); various articles about Hoard in Wisconsin Local History & Biography Articles online at]


Posted on June 01, 2006

This article appears in the following categories:

select text size Use the smaller-sized textUse the larger-sized textUse the very large text