Butter-Making Tools and Machinery, Part I

By Wood, Paul | The Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association, Inc., September 2009 | Go to article overview

Butter-Making Tools and Machinery, Part I


Wood, Paul, The Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association, Inc.


This article, the first of two on butter making, deals with subsistence and commercial butter making on the farm. The second article, which will appear in the next issue of The Chronicle, will describe butter making in the creamery and will conclude with an examination of the many different types of butter churns.

Introduction

Butter was probably discovered when cream transported by man or animal turned to butter during the jouncing ride. No doubt, the first butter churn imitated this by shaking cream in an animal skin sack (Figure l). The ancient Celts, skilled barrel makers, are believed to have introduced butter-making techniques into Europe, including the coopered churn and salting for preservation. Butter consumption in Europe became the province of the middle and upper classes and became synonymous with wealth. From the first days of America's settlement, butter was an important food. In addition to its high nutritional value and good taste (if well made), butter could be stored without spoiling for many months in a cool place. Making butter is simpler than making cheese (although not trivial), and the outcome is more predictable-an important fact since farm butter making depended on skills handed down to the farm wife, who was already over-burdened with many other tasks.

On early subsistence farms, most families kept a multipurpose cow that pulled the plow, supplied the family with milk, cream, butter, and cheese, and at the end of her useful life provided the family with meat. As wheat, beef, and then wool, became less profitable due to increased competition from the West, many farmers in the Northeast saw a commercial opportunity in butter making and increased their dairy herd size. They made or purchased simple buttermaking equipment and sold or traded butter that was in excess of family needs to neighbors and local stores.

Due to the exceedingly poor roads, butter initially could be shipped only short distances by horse and wagon, but with the advent of refrigerated express trains, northern dairy farmers began to ship impressive quantities of butter to southern industrial cities. By the late 1880s, centralized creameries (butter factories) were producing large quantities of butter using highly efficient, powered, butter-making machinery under the direction of expert butter makers. Using the milk from tens or hundreds of nearby farms, the creamery not only relieved the farmer and his wife of the burden of butter making but also produced a higher-quality product that fetched a better price.

With the development of canals and railroads in the 1820s, 1830s, and 1840s, major quantities of less expensive western agricultural goods were shipped east, and farmers of the Northeast greatly reduced their production of wheat, beef, and wool. The rise of commercial farm butter making in the Northeast began in the 1840s with the end of the "sheep mania." (It was estimated that in 1851 it cost $ 1.25 to $ 1.50 to maintain a sheep for one year in Windham County, Vermont, while that sheep yielded only $1.20 worth of wool!) In 1842, the first dairy train was scheduled to Boston and in 1854, ice-cooled railroad cars were introduced. By 1860, New York was the nation's leading dairy state, producing one-quarter of the nation's butter and onethird of the nation's cheese. In 1875, American butter consumption was nearly thirty pounds per person per year. Today the average American eats only about five pounds per year.

By 1869, Vermont was producing 17.8 million pounds of butter on the farm each year. By the late-nineteenth century, Vermont had the highest percentage of any state of its citizens engaged in the dairy industry, and by 1899 was producing 41 million pounds of butter annually on the farm and in the creamery. From 1870 to 1900, the creamery gradually overtook the farm in the production of butter.

After the turn of the century, western competition in butter and cheese caused farmers of the Northeast to turn to milk and cream. …

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