Patriotic milk bottles - They did America proud

When America entered World War II, the ad industry took immediate action by forming the War Advertising Council that focused on public service campaigns, including the patriotic slogans that would be included on glass milk bottles.
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How the World War II dairy trade aided the war effort

Story and images by Michael Polak

By the time you read this, Memorial Day and the commemoration of D-Day, June 6, 1944, celebrating the sacrifices of the brave men and women of that “Greatest Generation,” will have passed. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, war was declared against Japan, and soon after against Germany, thrusting the United States into World War II.

The need for war bonds

Bottle cap: “St. Charles Dairy - Let’s All Back The Attack (depiction of a Soldier and Sailor) Buy More War Bonds Today”

Bottle cap: “St. Charles Dairy - Let’s All Back The Attack (depiction of a Soldier and Sailor) Buy More War Bonds Today”

The cost of the machinery and materials to support all branches of the military required a call to arms of the American home-front to contribute and make sacrifices on a daily basis. As an example, families were required to accept price freezing, rationing, and recycling programs. These types of actions were helpful but a more urgent, critical need was a method to raise millions of dollars for the war effort. This is where the beginning of War Bonds entered the picture, which was fueled by aggressive poster war advertising.

The ad industry took immediate action by forming the War Advertising Council that focused on public service campaigns. As a result of these campaigns, $800 million in war bonds were issued by the end of the war. If you are wondering what that equals today, you better sit down. It’s a huge, whopping $11,291,370,786.52 ... as in billions of dollars. I can’t even imagine that much money. That’s what I call an extremely successful campaign.

Recognizing the urgent need to contribute to the war effort, the dairy industry answered the call to duty by organizing an aggressive advertising campaign that even would have made General George Patton proud. Recognizing how well the poster campaigns were working being placed in every venue and open wall space in America, the dairy industry took that idea a step further. They began a campaign of patriotism in America that had never been experienced before at any time in history.

“Victory – Comes A Little Closer Everytime You Buy A – War Bond” (airplane flying), orange colors Sunshine Dairies, Utica, New York.

“Victory – Comes A Little Closer Everytime You Buy A – War Bond” (airplane flying), orange colors Sunshine Dairies, Utica, New York.

Almost overnight, nearly every dairy in the United States began manufacturing some of the most unique and colorful milk bottles depicting various types of war slogans. These milk bottles feature amazing, detailed graphics.

Some of the younger generation might be asking, “Did milk really used to come in a bottle?”

Applying War Bond advertising to milk bottles was a brilliant idea, since milk bottles of all sizes, from creamers, round and square cream tops, 1/4 pint to gallon, with quart bottles being the most common, was an item that everyone in America, at that time, touched and saw every day at breakfast, lunch, dinner, with a snack, or maybe at school or work.

It needs to be noted that the dairy industry didn’t just apply their war bond advertising to the bottles, they also applied their ads on packaging for their butter, orange juice, chocolate milk, and even cheese assortments.

John Tutton, author of “Udderly Beautiful,” “Udderly Spendid,” and other guides to collecting milk bottles and related items states, “Bottles manufactured during World War II had patriotic motifs and mottos, advertising a particular dairy’s support for the war while encouraging their customers to do the same. An example slogan was, ‘Food fights too! Conserve what you buy. Plan all meals for Victory!’”

The method for applying these graphics to the bottles is called pyro-glazing, where lead, silica, and borax are stenciled and fused into the glass at an extremely high temperature, resulting in stunning colors including red, blue, green, orange, and yellow.

Patriotic milk bottle slogans

WWII War Bond slogan page

WWII War Bond slogan page

While the majority of the war slogan bottles have the colorful pyro-glazed depictions, very few dairies utilized embossing to display their support of the war. Today, embossed war bond bottles are extremely difficult to acquire and are higher in value.

Many of the war slogans depicted detailed graphics of tanks, soldiers, fighter planes, bombers, “V” for Victory signs, and slogans related to Pearl Harbor, while others displayed simple slogans such as “Buy War Savings Bonds-Keep it Up,” “Buy Bonds and Stamps” on the wings of bombers and fighter planes.

Here are a few war slogans examples:

  • “Keep ‘Em Flying (depiction of fighter plane) Buy War Bonds and Stamps”
  • “Let’s Go – U.S.A.” (depiction of Uncle Sam marching behind a soldier, sailor, and marine)
  • “Back Their Attack – Buy More War Bonds (depiction of soldiers holding rifles and fighting back) – Drink Milk for Health”
  • “There Is No Substitute for Liberty (depiction of Statue of Liberty) – There is No Substitute For Milk”
  • “Keep Them Rolling (depiction of moving tanks) Buy Bonds and Stamps”
  • “Fortify Your Health (depiction of Navy destroyer pointing their big guns) Drink More Milk”
  • “Buy War Bonds, Everybody, Every Payday (depiction of arrow pointing at target)
  • “It’s Patriotic To Save (depiction of fighter plane) Buy War Bonds and Stamps”
  • “You Can Keep ’Em Flying By Buying (depiction of fighter plane) U.S. War Bonds and Stamps”
Milk bottle collar label.

Milk bottle collar label.

When the Dairy industry decided to mount an aggressive war bond campaign, they didn’t just apply their war slogans to milk bottles, they also used a variety of other go-with items to help the war effort.

As an example, they manufactured milk bottle collars that would attach to the neck of the bottle with red, white, and blue colors with various messages and depiction of planes, soldiers, sailors, marines, tanks, and ships. These collars were used to urge the public to help win the war by recycling their glass bottles.

Rationing and recycling became a patriotic duty, a way for all Americans to support the war effort. To complement the war slogans on the milk bottles, the dairy industry also manufacture special milk bottle caps with various messages and war related depictions.

If you should ever find milk in a bottle, or happen to see some war slogan milk bottles while searching for treasures, take a moment to remember the “Greatest Generation.” As you can see, when it’s time for America to come together and support their country, they always do it right and do it big.

Milk Bottle References:

Tutton, John. Utterly Splendid, A Guide to the Pyroglazed OR Painted Milkbottle History and Price Information, John Tutton, 1967 Ridgeway Rd., Front Royal, VA 22630, 2003

Tutton, John. Utterly Beautiful, A Pictorial Guide to the Pyroglazed OR Painted Milkbottle History and Price Information, John Tutton, 1967 Ridgeway Rd., Front Royal, VA 22630, 2005

Witkowski, Terrence H. The American Consumer Home Front During World War II, Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25, 1998, Pages 568-573, California State University, Long Beach, California, 1998

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