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Looking Back

Dairy has been a part of the Vermont way of life for nearly 400 years, since early European settlers brought cows here to provide nourishment for their families. But dairy in Vermont looks very different than it did 200, or even 50 years ago. Follow the timeline below to learn more about the history of Vermont dairy, and how it has evolved through the years, adapting to significant changes in technology, transportation and public policy.

  • 1600s

    European settlers first brought cows to Vermont.

  • 1800s

    Many farms switched to wool production.

  • 1865

    The first vacuum-type milking machine was patented.

  • 1868

    The Vermont Dairyman’s Association was formed. This association, the first of its kind in the country, was a vocal and successful advocate for scientific breeding practices and the development of new technology. Its efforts were supported by the work of the State Agricultural College at the University of Vermont.

  • 1869

    A record breaking year for Vermont cheesemakers who produced 4,830,700 pounds of cheese.

  • 1877

    The Cooley Creamer was invented and patented by William Cooley of Waterbury, VT. The Cooley Creamer used cooled water to separate cream from milk. By the end of the 1880s it was used on a majority of New England farms.

  • 1880s

    Centralized creameries started opening around the state, including the Franklin County Creamery in St. Albans, and farmers began earning a profit from butter on a larger scale. Vermont bu­tters soon earned an international reputation for quality. By 1880, there were over 35,000 farms in Vermont, the largest number in state history.

  • 1881

    The Maine Central Railway began offering refrigerated railroad service to Boston, opening up new markets to Vermont dairy farmers.

  • 1886

    The state’s first bu­tter factory, the North River Creamery, opened in Jacksonville, Vermont.

  • 1890

    A Jersey herd from West Randolph won first prize for its butter at the Paris Exposition.

  • 1890s

    The gasoline powered tractor was invented.

  • 1915

    By year 1915 there were nearly 300 bu­tter factories in Vermont producing an annual peak of 20,423,529 pounds of butter.

  • 1920

    The first commercially viable vacuum operated milking machine becomes more affordable and hand milking becomes a thing of the past on larger farms.

  • 1930

    By 1930, nearly all of Vermont’s milk was routinely pasteurized increasing milk safety and consumer confidence.

  • 1938

    Bulk storage tanks were introduced allowing farmers to keep their milk cool on site.

  • 1930s – 1940s

    Federal Dairy Pricing Established—The federal pricing system for milk was established in 1937 to try and maintain a stable milk supply. In 1949 a support price system was established for dairy farmers regardless of their proximity to the markets.

  • 1950s – 1960s

    Efficient refrigeration systems and scientific advancement allowed the United States to become the most efficient food producing nation in history.

Though some Vermont farmers kept Holstein and Ayrshire herds, Jersey herds dominated the dairy landscape for many years because of the higher levels of fat in their milk, which was desirable for making butt­er.