Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Ahnapee and Algoma: The Milk Routes

Carnival Guernsey Dairy 1954
Algoma, and Ahnapee before it, had any number of dairies. Ted Blahnik’s Carnival Dairy is perhaps the best known to recent generations, those who might also remember Knipfer’s beer depot and distributing company. They might, however, be surprised to know that Knipfers started business with another beverage: milk.

It was about 1883 when Joseph Knipfer started his dairy business. After his death on May 25, 1894, Knipfer’s son Frank took over, but it was Frank’s wife Theresa who operated the dairy for most of 50 years. Until his accidental death at 19, Mrs. Knipfer was also assisted by her son Elmer, and then a hired man. Clarence Toebe bought the dairy in 1938, selling it 50 Algoma Creamery 20 years later.

In today's world, door-to-door milk delivery is nearly unheard of. We buy our milk in a store, one-stop or some other commercial establishment. Milk is pasteurized and packaged under strict regulations, regulations that begin from the time the milk leaves the cow. We buy skimmed, 2% or whole milk. Milk is white, chocolate and even strawberry. We have countless choices that our ancestors could have never dreamed. Today it is hard to imagine the milkman going from door to door with a pail of milk. But, that's just how it was.

Knipfer Dairy Farm
In the beginning, Knipfers conducted the dairy business from their home just to the rear of the present St. Paul’s parsonage. Housing 7 cows, their barn was behind what was Rinehart’s shoe store on Steele St.  The cows were milked in that barn, but pastured on the Knipfer farm at the base of the present Lake Street hill where they built a home in 1895, the farm at 1503 Lake St. that Clarence Toebe bought in 1937.

At Theresa Knipfer's death in February 1965, just two months short of her 99th birthday, she was said to be Kewaunee County’s oldest resident. In an interview sometime before her death, Theresa said that dairying was much different when she started out. There were no regulations and all one needed was a good pair of strong hands, a milk pail and a stool. Mrs. Knipfer told how, in the early days, her husband made deliveries on foot, carrying a 2-gallon milk pail in each hand. A housewife would ask for the amount of milk she wanted and it would be measured and poured into her container.  

When Knipfers moved from the site in town to the farm, they still delivered milk by hand even though the walk was longer. Eventually they delivered milk in a horse-drawn wagon built by Perlewitz Brothers, but the manner of selling remained the same. When the wagon was repainted in 1901, the newspaper noted that it was difficult to get ahead of Frank Knipfer because the wagon was “fixed up in metropolitan style.” During the winter the wagon was replaced by a sled with an oil stove that prevented the milk from freezing. However, the milk was still carried in pails and poured into the housewives’ containers.

It was in the 1930s that laws mandated milk be delivered in bottles. That necessitated a bottler and capper. Milk bottled in the basement of the house was subject to pasteurization by 1950. When cattle weren’t allowed on the streets, cows couldn’t be driven from the in-town barn to the pasture. Logistics and laws meant price changes.

Theresa Knipfer sold Cloverleaf Dairy to Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Toebe in 1937. Toebes operated the milk route until the late 1950’s. Five years before Mr. Toebe purchased the Knipfer dairy, Carnival Guernsey Farm in Kodan established a milk route. George F. Blahnik was the owner, however his son Ted was the manager. Daily deliveries came directly from Blahnik’s farm, which eventually became the area’s largest dairy, a distinction once held by Theresa Knipfer. Antone Leiberg and Karl Lienau were Mrs. Knipfer’s competition for some years. Leiberg sold his milk route during the winter of 1902. Lienau’s farm just above the Lake Street hill adjoined Knipfer’s. When Lienau decided to discontinue his business in 1919, he encouraged his neighbor Adolph Feld to take on the milk route. Feld also delivered daily directly from his farm at what became 2114 Lake Street. In his earlier days Feld was Mrs. Knipfer’s only competitor, and, for a short time in the 1930s, both Toebe’s and Blahnik’s dairy. Feld left the business when his barn burned in July 1941. Toebe discontinued his milk route due to changing regulations and Blahnik expanded.

As Mrs. Knipfer said, all one needed was a pail, milk stool and strong hands before regulations came into being. Late in 1906 the veterinarian in the Bureau of Animal Industry recommended licensing dairies as the only way to prevent tuberculosis in milk. Recommendations were that testing milk from licensed certified cows was the only way to take care of the situation. Hogs were becoming diseased from infected skimmed milk, and a law against unsterilized milk was something Wisconsin Sanitary Board was considering. Pasteurization came.

In 1923, representatives of both Algoma banks - Citizen’s Bank and Bank of Algoma - Cashier C.E. Boedecker and Auditor H. Nelson encouraged dairies to advertise. State bankers and farmers conducted campaigns to market Wisconsin’s dairy products on a national level. To create an advertising fund, bankers were asked to donate 1% of their capital and farmers were asked to donate the proceeds of one day’s milk. Boedecker felt that because merchants would also benefit from such publicizing, they might like to be included in adding to the advertising fund.

Algoma had 6 dairies in April 1934 when State Dairy Inspector Joseph J. Wetak took samples from milk deliveries on the 5th. There was pride among the dairy owners when Wetak said Algoma’s milk supply was clean and it had a higher fat content than in most cities.

Although dairies offering home milk deliveries no longer exist in Algoma, the area – and all of Kewaunee County – is known for its exceptional farms. Such farms keep the state a milk processing leader.

Sources: Algoma Record Herald; Commercial History of Algoma, WI, c. 2006; Cox-Nell House Histories c. 2011; Photos are from Algoma Record Herald; postcard is from the blogger's collection.

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