Butter-Making Tools and Machinery, Part II

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

Butter-Making Tools and Machinery, Part II


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


This article, the second of two articles on butter making, deals with butter making in the creamery and the many different types of butter churns. Part I focused on subsistence and commercial butter making on the farm.

Creamery Butter Making

The Wallkill Creamery, the first creamery in the United States, was established in 1856 in Campbell Hall, Orange County, New York. The G.B. Weeks Butter Factory, established circa 1871, had the capability of making both butter or cheese depending on which was currently fetching the best price (Figure l). In this early creamery, the cream was separated in tall tin pails set in a large pool of flowing spring water (Figure 2). Butter was churned in large "Orange County" dash churns (Figure 3). By the early 1 88Os, most dairy farmers began to realize that they would be paid more for their milk if they joined with their neighbors in a cooperative effort to hire an expert butter maker and build a centralized creamery equipped with the latest and best butter-making equipment (Figure 4). The larger scale of operation made possible more effective marketing and a broader product distribution. Although most creameries were cooperative businesses owned by local dairy farmers, some were proprietary creameries privately owned by local citizens.

Vermont was typical of the strong growth in the number of American creameries. In 1879, butter made in Vermont creameries amounted to only five thousand pounds. By 1889, five million pounds were made in creameries - a thousand-fold increase. In 1890, the Franklin County Creamery Association was established at St. Albans, Vermont. With sixteen 600gallon cream-ripening vats and fourteen 500-pound churns, it was touted as the world's largest butter factory in the 1890s. By 1899, twenty-two million pounds were made in 189 creameries. Virtually all Vermont cities and towns had their own creamery or one nearby.

Although, in 1 899, almost half the butter (eighteen million pounds) was still made on farms, the new creamery system was nevertheless very important to a large number of Vermont's dairy farmers - lessening the labor at home and insuring a reliable cash income. With skilled butter making and marketing by the creamery, the dairy farmer patron, even a very small one, could expect a good price for his milk. This income, called the creamery dividend, was usually paid on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly interval. The dividend for each farmer was equal to the total amount of dollars the creamery received for its butter during the dividend period minus the butter making expenses times the percentage of the total creamery butterfat that the farmer provided. By 1915, Vermont had thirty cheese factories and nearly three hundred butter factories.

At first, farmers took fluid milk to the creamery where the cream was separated with a large, powered centrifugal separator. The delivery, weighing, and testing of the milk at the creamery was essentially the same as at the cheese factory. (This process was described in "Cheese-Making Tools and Machinery, Part II," The Chronicle 62, no. 2 [June 2009]). The farmer returned home with his cans filled with skim milk.

When the hand-cranked separator became available, farmers increasingly began to separate their own cream (see Figures 24 and 26 in "Butter-Making Tools and Machinery, Part I"). The cream-gathering approach required each farmer to buy a cream separator at a typical cost of $ 1 00 (sometimes powered by a sheep, dog or goat power) and to keep the two or three days worth of cream cool (by cold spring water or ice) until pickup; however, this system had many advantages (Figure 5). When separation was done immediately after milking, it was more complete. Skim milk that was fed to animals soon after separation was fresher and had a higher nutritional value. Cream separation on the farm resulted in a large reduction in product bulk and weight transported to the creamery, reducing the number of cans needed and allowing a dozen or more farmers in a neighborhood to join together and hire a teamster or one of their own to transport the cream to the creamery in a single trip. …

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