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St. Louis Regional history comes alive in this joint production by KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. Stories of our past are connected with the present in these well researched and entertaining short presentations about the people, places, and events that have shaped who we are and who we are becoming. 

Sep 18, 2022

Milk once had varied levels of quality and even safety. The history of what it took to guarantee safe milk for everyone was filled with controversy and rancor. Some considered the licensing process to be burdensome and off putting, but in the end it was all for the best. Just press play to hear the whole story.

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Podcast Transcript: I’m Darby Ratliff, a researcher at the Missouri History Museum, and Here’s History on eighty-eight one, KDHX. ----

Today, you need a license to drive a car, a boat, even sell milk. Wait—what? ———

That’s right, if you’re looking to sell pasteurized milk, you need a license, and there’s a thorough process for licensing processors and distributors of milk in Missouri. So how did we get here? ———

Try to picture a glass of milk, whether it be dairy, soy, oat, or coconut. Now, imagine the milk of the early twentieth century, which often contained clumps of dirt and was rarely white. Some bacteria even colored it blue, green, or red. As you might guess, milk like this posed health hazards to infants whose parents had just recently switched from breast to bottle feeding, especially for those living in poverty. Problems like this led to a series of regulations and reforms beginning in the late 19th century, setting up standards for testing both product and the cows from which milk was drawn. ———

The first milk licenses were granted in the 1880s, and health officers would evaluate the conditions of a farm on which milk was produced for distribution. As one St. Louis Post-Dispatch article would read in 1920: it was “the duty of the city” to ensure the safety of milk for all St. Louisans. Yet, inspections and regulations often put a heavy burden on farmers, who needed to ensure that their barns were well ventilated and that an effective waste management system was in place. As a result, herd sizes were kept small, with about five to ten cows, so that farmers could feasibly provide adequate conditions for a passing inspection. ———

However, in St. Louis, one man disagreed with the city’s ability to determine whether or not he could sell milk. In 1916, Harry Kellman was fined $25 for selling milk without a license. He first appealed to the court of criminal correction, which reduced the fine to $10. He continued to appeal until his case reached the Missouri state supreme court, arguing that it was unconstitutional for the city to regulate the sale of milk. Ultimately, the court did not rule in his favor, backing the city’s milk ordinance and reinforcing the city’s responsibility to guarantee safe milk for all St. Louisans. ———

Here’s History is a joint production of KDHX and the Missouri History Museum. I’m Darby Ratliff, and this is eighty eight one, KDHX, St. Louis. ------