From “Butter Bees” to “Milk Life!”

Before “Got Milk?” Before “Three-A-Day.”  Before “Milk Life!”

Before bumper stickers touting milk drinkers are better lovers and before influential athletes and Hollywood stars donned milk mustaches. Before June was declared Dairy month, milk promotion in Michigan was birthed out of a nutritional need and more profit potential through the Dairy Council in the Detroit Territory.

In May of 1924, M.O. Maughan, the Secretary of the National Dairy Council proposed that Michigan follow in the footsteps of other major cities and create their own Dairy Council to improve the health of the people by educating them to a greater use of milk and dairy products.

Armed with the statistics that nearly one in three children in the United States were undernourished, and a resulting proven increase in the milk producers bottom line the Dairy Council proposed a one cent per hundredweight deduction on fluid milk sold with the distributor paying the same amount.

On the front page of the March 1925 Michigan Milk Messenger a special call delegate meeting was announced in order to vote on the Dairy Council proposition. The proposal said:

We have many times discussed advertising milk in Detroit. Shall we do it and thereby expect to:

  1. Stabilize our fluid milk market.
  2. Create more favorable sentiment toward the milk industry
  3. Tell the public the secrets of health in milk.
  4. Eventually cause the use of more milk in Detroit.
  5. Tell the facts about our business so the public will pay a fair price for milk.

At the meeting in April of 1925, Maughlan outlined the benefits of a dairy council and remarked that while doctors, nurses and dieticians are for milk consumption, the consumer is not educated to the exceptional value of milk.  In an overwhelming vote for the new dairy promotion arm of MMPA, the delegates agreed to the funding and looked forward to the council teaching the consumer about the goodness of dairy through schools, women’s clubs, movies, newspapers, playgrounds, radio ads and personal phone calls to housewives encouraging them to increase her purchases of milk for the family.

Six years later the first radio program promoting milk was aired on WJR in Detroit with fifteen minutes devoted to the benefits of milk voiced by Dr. Henry Vaughn, Detroit’s Health Commissioner.

In that same year there was an oversupply of butter. With the help of the National Butter Industry Committee, Michigan dairymen organized to promote butter consumption through the 100 Percent Dairy Club. They asked MMPA members to sign a form pledging to use butter and no dairy substitutes and their names would be on an honor roll in the Michigan Milk Messenger.  Getting even more aggressive, a Butter Bee was formed where dairy producers canvassed their home counties going door to door and farm to farm promoting the use of dairy products.

Milk promotion blossomed when in 1939, June was declared National Milk Month and in 1940 Michigan celebrated National Milk Month with a visit from Hollywood celeb Miss Linda Ware. The young actress was flown around the state stopping in Lansing to meet Governor Dickinson and ending up in Detroit where she concluded the day with a radio broadcast. The American Dairy Association (ADA) was formed that same year to promote U.S. milk products to consumers through advertising and retail promotions.

As dairy promotion expanded in the 1950s Congress approved funding to increase the present levels of milk consumption among children. In 1955, the first milk vending machines were put in place in Ag Hall and Shaw Hall on the campus of Michigan State College where milk outsold the soft drinks by nearly 500 units.

Miss Rea, daughter of Percy Read, president of the Grand Rapids Producers Association demonstrated how to milk a prize Guernsey with Linda Ware, Jeanne Bradley, Mayor George Welsh and Neil lamoreaux as gallery fans. This took place in front of the aircraft, ‘The Dairy Queen’ that transported Linda Ware around Michigan during her 1940 June Dairy Month celebration visit to Michigan.

The sixties advertising sought after consumer’s vanity where billboards would have the simple message: “Some guys Drink Milk, Some Don’t.”  The strong, successful, athletic and the popular would be identified as milk drinkers.  The weak, unsuccessful, unathletic and the social failure would be shown as a non-drinker of milk.

MMPA billboards and advertising spots were influential and the 1983 Farm Bill established the advertising check-off program, giving way to the current promotional efforts of the National Dairy Council and the United Dairy Industry of Michigan. And the participation of MMPA members continued to grow. In the late 1970s, MMPA established the Dairy Communicator program to form a network of dairy farmers promoting through grassroots efforts in their local communities.

From the first dairy council of 1924 through today’s various promotion groups, MMPA has played a vital role in promoting that milk does a body good.

–Melissa Hart

This article was originally published in the June 2016 issue of the Michigan Milk Messenger.