Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Milk It for All It's Worth!

It’s the time for the always-anticipated mystery artifact reveal.  Several readers guessed correctly this week (although an honorable mention goes to Jess C. for her single-minded determination to figure out exactly how this machine could be used in the distilling of spirits quite a bit stronger than milk)!

This strange looking machine is in fact a foot-powered cow milker. This particular model is very rare and was patented in 1899 by William M. Mehring.  It's thought there are very few left in existence.  

We were lucky enough to have one donated to the museum after it spent some time at the University of Illinois Dairy Science Department. Before that it was owned by a man by the name of Owen Dorney of Bridgeport, Illinois, who used it until 1965. One of the few other known examples of this artifact is in the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Michigan (that’s some prestigious company to keep!).  

How it works
The device works by connecting the spigots at the top to suction cups that would be placed on the cows utter. We are lucky enough to also have some of these in our collection and they look something like this: 

When the pedals were moved they would create suction in metal basin and this would pull the milk from the utter down and out of the pipe on the side into a bucket that would be placed underneath it.
Other models
The late 19th century into the early 20th century was a time of great invention and innovation and the market for machine milkers was no different. One type that is similar to the one that we have in our collection is the hand-pumped model which works in the same way except that the pumping was done with the users' hands instead of feet. This model would usually look something like this. 

Another model was the petrol (gas) powered milker.

The innovation shown in the market for milkers was reminiscent of the world-wide market for many products.  In addition to gas-powered milkers, this time period produced one of the most important inventions in modern-day life - something most of us use every day of the week - the car.

That's it for this week's mystery artifact.  Check back soon for more artifacts to guess!

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