Drink Milk Campaign Across America–1920s

Hello, again History Lovers,

At the turn of the twentieth century, the government, dairy associations, and health organizations began promoting the nutritional benefits of drinking milk daily, especially among children. The Drink Milk campaign also promoted eating fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and getting outside. Today’s post is an article published in May 1922 that reports on the nationwide success of the Drink Milk campaigns of 1920 and 21.


Lithograph Poster 1920s

Milk Makes A Difference

From Maine to California, from Canada to the Gulf, milk campaigns have been the order of the day. Practically every woman’s organization in the country has taken a part in them somewhere and there is probably not a single state that has not had a least one campaign. As a result of these milk campaigns in our large cities, towns, villages, and the most isolated rural communities we find the children playing the popular health games and drinking their daily allotment of milk.

The need for such campaigns is not confined to any one class. Not only from the poorest homes, where economic pressure is so great that the family cannot afford the needed milk but also from the homes of great wealth, where the lack is due to ignorance of a child’s needs, come the lads and lassies whose frail bodies and pale cheeks betray a lack of proper food. And the only magic that can round out the hollows in the little bodies and can bring the roses to their cheeks is the magic wielded by the milk fairies.

The gospel of more milk has been preached with every possible device to appeal to childish imaginations, for it has been the aim to make the children want to drink milk—not to force them to do it because “it is good for them.”

Cho Cho The Health Clown

Newspaper Clipping Announcing the Coming of Cho Cho the Health Clown 1921

One of the successful milk missionaries has been Cho Cho, the Health Clown sent by the Child Health Organization. After Cho Cho had visited North Dakota during a health campaign there, one small boy was asked to name the three greatest Americans. Without a moment’s hesitation, he replied, “George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Cho Cho.” Cho Cho has taught thousands of boys and girls who until they made his acquaintance, scorned milk and vegetables, to eat these blood-building foods. So popular has he become, that many communities which could not secure him, have trained health clowns of their own.

Cho Cho promoted several health rules:

  1. A full bath more often than once a week.
  2. Brushing the teeth at least once every day.
  3. Sleeping long hours with windows open.
  4. Drinking as much milk as possible, but with no tea or coffee.
  5. Eating some vegetables or fruit every day.
  6. Drinking at least four glasses of water every day.
  7. Playing outdoors every day.
  8. A bowel movement every morning.

If the small lad quoted above could have been one of the 3,000 school children in Utica, New York, or one of the 13,000 in Syracuse, New York, this past year, he would have been hard put to it to answer his question. No American lad could take Washington or Lincoln from such a list but what could he do for the third place when his affections were divided between Cho Cho, the Health Clown, and Happy, the Jolly Jester!

Memories of Cho Cho’s visit last year made the kiddies in these two cities look happily forward to milk week in 1921. They were not disappointed. They did not know exactly what would happen but at some time during the week, each roomful of children was thrilled to trembling, happy silence when a huge, shaggy trunk was carried on the platform in their rooms and then out of it tumbled Happy, greeting them with the jolliest grin and proceeding to tumble into their hearts. Happy is a ventriloquist, so he was able to make Charlie Carrot and Johnnie Spinach talk bewitchingly to the children and carry on a most lifelike conversation with one Harry a life-size rag doll. One small boy, trembling with excitement, asked Happy where he lived. He gravely replied, “42 Bath Tub Street.” Most of the children giggled with delight but one wee laddie gravely wrote the address down, with the evident desire to carry on such a delightful friendship by correspondence or even by a personal interview.

The Milky Way is the Best Way

This work has been just as popular and successful in the Pacific States as in those bordering the Atlantic. In Thurston County, Washington, over forty local organizations joined forces to make the milk campaign a success. The opening guns were fired—or the first milk bottle opened—on a Sunday evening when the regular service in the United Churches was turned over to a nutrition specialist from the State College, who preached an interesting health sermon and then showed the film of the Milk Fairy play.

Any person in Thurston County who did not know that a milk campaign was going on, must have been blind and deaf. Milk signs and milk slogans assailed eyes and ears at every turn. Fifteen store windows carried displays emphasizing the importance of milk; at intersections were huge milk bottles pointing out that the “milk way” was the “best way”; streetcar banners, milk bottle “stickers” for automobile windshields, and placards in restaurants all carried their milk message. During the week over 10,000 people listened to talks stressing the importance of milk in building healthy bodies.

Milk Fairy Pageant

In Iowa, during the year from July 1, 1920, to June 30, 1921, milk campaigns were put on in 32 counties. As a result of this work, the milk consumption in that State increased by approximately 1,112,664 quarts. These campaigns included the presentation of the Milk Fairy Pageant. One little girl in Sibley Co. went home and said, “Well, I don’t like milk but I am going to drink it anyway because I couldn’t be in the pageant—I’m too skinny!”

Not For Children Only–Milk Bar

At the great Timonium Fair held in Baltimore, Maryland, the “milk bar” was one of the most popular features of the occasion. Someone said in describing the drinks sold there, “they are the only drinks now sold across the bar that have the right kind of a ‘kick’ in them!” While their names might well have aroused the suspicion of any agent charged with the enforcement of the Volstead Act, their contents complied with the strictest requirements of both health and prohibition. Some of the drinks served were:

  • Guernsey Highball: ¾ cup milk, 2 Tablespoons vanilla syrup.
  • Jersey Fizz: ¾ cup milk, 2 Tablespoons pineapple syrup.
  • Timonium Racer: ¾ cup milk, 2 Tablespoons mint syrup.
  • Buttermilk Highball: ¾ cup milk 2 Tablespoons sugar, 2 Tablespoons lemon juice.

Milk Campaign in Cherry Hill, Michigan

One milk dealer in Wayne County, Michigan reports that in place of the one to two ten-gallon cans that he sold each day before the campaign held in the Cherry Hill community, he is now selling eight to ten cans and, in addition, is daily delivery ten or more pints of milk at the school so that some of the children can get the extra allotment of milk that they need to bring them up to normal.

Dry Cows Are The Problem

Shortly after the campaign in Topeka, Kansas, Miss Jessie Hoover, in charge of milk utilization work with the Dairy Division, U.S. Department of Agriculture, visited a rural school in the vicinity. In this school, all of the children except one family of three had gained weight through the increased use of milk. When the three were asked if they drank milk they said “No, Lady! Our cows are dry but Mother says just as soon as they come in we can drink milk too.” She was convinced!

It is an interesting fact that in not a single case, have the distributors of milk increased the price of their product as a result of the increased demand which invariably follows one of these campaigns.

Free Milk

In Warren, Ohio, the people who were to run the “milk bar” exhibit found it difficult to secure someone who would furnish the milk for their drinks. Finally, they approached a milk producer who agreed to furnish them with the milk without charge, if they in turn would agree to take over his skimmed milk and distribute it free to the children, giving each child all that he wanted so long as the supply lasted. They advertised that this free distribution would take place every afternoon from three to four o’clock. Half an hour early the line began to form. In four days, the daily amount given out increased from ten gallons to forty!

One newsboy well carried out the description of a small boy as “an appetite with a skin stretched around it” for he consumed ten glasses at the first sitting! Several small negroes brought quart bottles which they hid behind the milk booth. They took their places in line, received their individual glasses of milk, went around the booth, emptied the milk into the bottles, and started in all over again. By “repeating” a sufficient number of times they were able to fill their bottles as well as themselves.

Children’s Dairy Parade with Costumes

In Wheeling, West Virginia, the people in charge of the campaign took advantage of the universal love of a circus by staging a parade. The local box factory furnished large paper forms representing butter, milk bottles, and so forth. The children, wearing these forms, marched in squads of sixteen so arranged that they formed legends relating to the use of milk.

Clipping from Popular Science Monthly February 1920

During this same campaign, a good deal of excitement was caused one morning by two painters who appeared before a great billboard in the heart of the city. One was wearing a huge pasteboard milk bottle bigger than himself; the other was a painted pasteboard baby costume. A crowd began to gather and soon reached such proportions that traffic was blocked and the traffic police had to be called out—lively milk-drinking advertising!

Afternoon Milk and Cookie Break

The importance of milk as food was tested out by a large yeast company. They observed that about the middle of the afternoon, their employees, numbering several hundred, showed weariness and an inability to keep the work going efficiently. To remedy this, at 3:30 every afternoon they are given a ten-minute period for relaxation and at the same time, each employee is served a glass of milk and a cookie. After a nine-month trial, the company reports: “We believe that the resulting increased health and efficiency among our employees is as high as 50%.”

Survey Says–Drink Milk

In a certain county of a state in the middle west, a survey of health conditions was made. In the rural section, the survey included 125 children. All of the families, except two kept cows, and yet only 11% of the children were drinking as much as one cup of milk each day. In a survey of a town in the same county, 136 children were included and it was found that 63% of them were drinking at least one cup of milk a day. These figures would seem to indicate that at all too many farms (in that vicinity at least) too large a part of the milk produced is sold.

Herbert Hoover, who fed 10,000,000 people (including 1,200,000 children) for four years (as director of the U.S. Food Administration), has said. “[Humans] cannot survive without the use of dairy products.” In many families, there is plenty of milk available but the children do not drink it “because they do not like it.” In practically every case this is a matter of habit. In such cases, the required amount of milk can be put into their diet in other forms such as milk soups, custards, whips, and so forth. Thousands of children who did not “like” milk at home have found that they do like it as soon as it is introduced into the school and public opinion among their playmates makes it “the thing” to drink a given amount daily.–Elizabeth Deane March


The above article was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, February 1922, Page 710; Webb Publishing, St. Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.

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