Tuesday, July 7, 2009

history: Williams Dairy, part II

Williams Dairy bottle

With the help of the Oakland Public Library, it didn't take long to find out about the history of the Williams Dairy. I emailed the OPL a note and a picture of the bottle I found, and within a couple days I had a response pointing me to an article in the Oakland Tribune from 1974 when the dairy closed.

According to the article, Harold Williams bought the dairy at 3600 Telegraph in 1938 in partnership with his brother Willard (the OPL noted that it was listed in the city directories of the 1940s at 3818 Piedmont Avenue, so that may have been its original location.) It ran for many years, but like its competitors, was doomed by rising costs and changing times:
...but it has been operating in the red since 1972. Nor is the prospect bright for the 50 union members who lost jobs with Williams' closing, for this was the last dairy in the Eastbay exclusively devoted to home delivery.
Once there were dozens. In 1947 some 1,300 union members were "milkmen"...

"The giant chains, Safeway and Lucky, can handle vast quantities of dairy products with fewer people than we can. Union scale is the same for a Safeway and a Williams driver. But one Safeway driver can make huge deliveries to six or eight stores in the time it took my driver to service a few homes."

I grew up in Michigan in the 1970s, and remember milk being delivered. There was a special metal box that sat on the back porch where deliveries and empties were left. I don't remember it well enough to have missed it when it was gone, but Williams Dairy customers sound like they were a loyal bunch that missed it greatly when it closed:
One 14-year customer wrote "cut-your deliveries, raise your prices, but come back, oh please come back, to Castro Valley."

Most cite product quality, even more than the convenience of home delivery, as reason for their loyalty. But as they talk to Harold Williams, there emerges a certain nostalgia for calmer days and gentler ways.

It was definitely a different time. Milkmen knew when you were having company, when you were on vacation, and when you could afford some extras. Some milkmen were even given keys, and delivered milk directly to the refrigerator if the customers weren't home. These days that level of trust isn't there, though it is interesting that people like the convenience of home delivery enough that you can have groceries (including, once again, milk) delivered to your home.

4 comments:

Bob said...

I am pretty sure it was Williams Dairy that delivered milk to our home in San Leandro well into the 60s. You could leave a note for the milkman if you wanted anything special like fresh cream to make ice cream. It was one of lifes little joys when I was growing up.

Gene said...

My brother-in-law back in Michigan said there's a dairy that still does some home deliveries, Calder Dairy

Sussu said...

This was fascinating, thanks!

Jim Ratliff said...

Definitely remember the truck with the folding door and the treat to get chocolate milk. the glass regular milk bottles typically had a little cream at the top when you pulled the cover off. We got front porch deliveries into the mid 60's in Hayward off of Calaroga Avenue. The milk was good. Only remember whole milk back then!