Today we have a glass milk bottle, used for home delivery of milk from Bethesda Farm Dairy.


This 9.5″ tall, one quart bottle is clear glass, and was made in a semiautomatic press-and-blow machine.  The process was introduced in the 1890s and used for many decades.  Quart-sized bottles for home delivery were fairly common in the early 20th century, especially as home refrigeration improved (households could keep larger quantities of milk for longer periods).  Though a number of different bottle designs were invented over the years – often as a means for separating the cream from the milk – the round, 9.5″ quart bottle like this one was the standard until the 1930s.  (For a nice, thorough explanation of how to date milk bottles, check out this paper from the Society for Historical Archaeology.)

In this case, the name of the dairy was embossed on the bottle thanks to a circular blank inserted into the mold, which allowed bottle manufacturers to easily make bottles for a number of clients. The plate method of labeling remained the norm for milk bottles until pyroglazing (or painting) came into fashion in the late 1930s. Our bottle here is embossed, “Bethesda Farm Dairy / Bethesda, Md. / M.E. Peake.”  Identified bottles were useful for advertising – and to help modern-day curators with their research – but they also allowed bottles to be returned to the correct dairy for reuse.  Though the manufacturer is unknown, we can easily identify the origins of the contents.

Bethesda Farm Dairy, M.E. Peake

Millard Eldridge Peake, Sr. (1885-1959) lived on Arlington Road, Bethesda.  The 1910 census described him as a “farm manager,” and his 1918 draft card noted he was a self-employed dairy manager. By the early 1920s he was running the Bethesda Dairy Company, as this October 2, 1923 ad (published in the Washington Post) shows:

2014-06-04 09_18_25-Display Ad 39 -- No Title - ProQuest Historical Newspapers_ The Washington Post

In 1926, the Bethesda Farm Dairy (as it was then known) was sued by a man who claimed a bottle falling from a truck had injured his son. In 1927 Peake’s first wife, Margaret Tucker Peake, died.  And in 1928 the dairy was sued again, this time by a bicyclist who was hit by a delivery truck driven by Mr. Peake.  (I haven’t yet figured out whether Mr. Peake won or lost either suit.)  Perhaps these distressing incidents helped lead to the 1930 sale of the dairy to a larger outfit, Chevy Chase Dairy. At any rate, whatever the reasons, Bethesda Farm Dairy did not last very long in the grand scheme of things.

However, though his dairy closed, Mr. Peake stayed involved in the industry. He was frequently described as a “prominent dairyman;” the 1940 census noted his occupation as “dairy representative;” and his World War II draft card tells us that he was employed by Chestnut Farms Dairy of DC.   (Dairying wasn’t his whole life, however: he also served as police constable for Bethesda, 1920-22; was active in the local Democratic and Fusion Parties; and was, at least once, the Metropolitan Division champion horseshoe player.  Check out his memorial for a photo of Peake as a young man.)

The dairy industry was a major part of our economy and culture in the early-mid 20th century, when there were more than 300 dairy farms in the county.  We have a number of milk bottles in our collections, most from the ‘big names,’ the prominent and long-lasting dairies; but it’s important to remember that not all county farms produced milk for Thompson’s or Chestnut Farms Dairies.  Our Bethesda Farm bottle, collected by staff in the 1970s, helps us tell the broader story of the county’s smaller dairies.  (And while we’re telling some of that story online here, the King Barn Dairy MOOseum in Germantown is dedicated to the county’s dairying history; you should check it out.)