chapter  2
27 Pages

Milk and modernity Part I: Commodities, networks and monopolies

The marketing of liquid milk as a commodity is very much a phenomenon of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with its origins in the railway expansion of the 1860s and 1870s. Prior to this, the highly perishable nature of the substance meant that it could not be transported any distance to consumers without becoming sour and inedible. The action of microorganisms within the milk rendered time and distance impassable barriers to its commodification on anything but a local scale. For this reason the industrialization of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries had little or no effect upon milk distribution, and modernity did not begin to penetrate the milk trade until the later part of the nineteenth century. Until this time all milk production was local by necessity; rural dairy farmers had little choice but to sell their milk to the immediately surrounding areas, while the large towns and cities obtained most of their milk either from town cowhouses or from the few farms located on the outskirts of the city.1 In the 1850s, there were about 24,000 such cows in London.2 Manchester obtained much of its milk from farms located along the Bridgewater Canal, and consequently relatively few cows were kept within the city.3