THE CHESTER COUNTY DAIRY INDUSTRY IN THE 19TH CENTURYCopyright 2004 by Dr. Jim Jones
of West Chester University
Define industrialization: change in the way that things are produced. The changes include scale (more things produced), the way that labor is organized (increased specialization of task), the kind of energy that is employed (mechanical replaces human or animal), the kinds of raw materials that are employed (animal give way to vegetable/mineral) and the amount of capital that is required (lots!).
Before industrialization, goods in Europe were produced by artisans. They organized themselves into craft guilds to insure standards and limit competition, but each artisan had to be able to perform all of the steps of the production process.
What are the steps of the production process?
1. Select a product to produce
2. Find funding
3. Obtain raw materials
4. Prepare raw materials
5. Fabricate raw materials into a product (labor)
6. Market the finished product.
7. Recycle profits into more raw materials and research/development.
Protoindustrialization took place around the ends of the Rhine River route between Italy and the North Sea as early as the 13th century. Textile merchants met expanding demand by "rationalizing" the production of textiles. Rationalization required dividing the production process into steps and assigning different people to perform each step of the process.
What are the requirements for industrial production?
1. Raw materials
4. Transportation to tie the first three together
5. Capital to finance the first four items.
Industrialization is closely linked to capitalism, although either can exist without the other. For instance, the USSR industrialized without capitalism while the US southern states capitalized without industrialization prior to the Civil War.
Capital was originally defined as any form of wealth that paid interest, but it has come to mean any form of convertible wealth.
Define capitalism: a system for organizing wealth that enables the private accumulation of large quantities of capital and provides incentives (interest/dividends) to owners of capital to make their capital available for industrialization and other purposes. In practice, capitalism relies on government (the public sector) to provide infrastructure and a legal/judicial environment within which to operate.
The region surrounding West Chester was originally forest. Beginning in the late 17th century, the family of William Penn sold parcels of land to individuals who cleared it in order to create farms. Throughout the 18th century, there was little industrial activity other than ironworking; most of it was cottage industry for the production of household items. Farmers were largely self-sufficient. For goods that they could not produce themselves, they looked to Philadelphia, Chester or Wilmington as a source of English imports.
The Revolutionary War cut off English imports and sparked efforts to develop local manufactures. The first effect was the expansion of the iron industry which produced materials bneeded for the war effort. Other industries followed suit in the 19th century as merchant ships operated between Philadelphia and the southern colonies.
Industrialization proceeded very slowly inland, however, because of the difficulty of travel between port cities and farming communities. That began to change in the 1820s when publ;ic officials and private businessmen began to consider how to improve transportation. The state created the first Canal Commission in 1825 to promote canal construction and decided in 1828 to construct the "Main Line of Public Works," a system of canals and railroads intended to link Philadelphia with Pittsburgh. The main political support for this came from Philadelphia, the state's capital and largest city, whose merchants feared the loss of central Pennsylvania trade to Baltimore via the Susquehanna River.
Locally, a group of West Chester's most prominent men met at the Turk's Head Hotel in December 10, 1830 to discuss how they might improve transportation to and from the Borough. The leaders were Judge Isaac Darlington (assistant burgess 1808-1811) and P. Frazer Smith, a West Chester lawyer. They agreed to form a railroad company and selected Dr. William Darlington (past president of the Canal Commission), Ziba Pyle (chief burgess 1825-1830), William Williamson (chief burgess 1834-35 & 1844), Joseph Hemphill, Eliha Chauncey, Esq., S. C. Jefferis, and Jonathon Jones.
Geography prevented them from considering a canal, so they made plans to adapt a new technology--railroads--to provide a link between West Chester and the Main Line of Public Works. They hired John Wilson, the chief engineer of the Main Line, and he surveyed a 9-mile route that met the state railroad at the present site of Malvern, then called "Intersection." It was completed by October 1832, and once the Main Line was completed in 1833, West Chester had a direct rail connection to Philadelphia.
West Chester changed dramatically as a result of the railroad. In anticipation of its completion, William Everhart purchased the Wollerton farm and subdivided the southeast part of town between "South Street" (now Market Street) and Union Street west of High Street. He also built the Mansion House Hotel at the corner of Church and Market Streets, and dedicated a strip of land to the Borough so that it could make Market Street wide enough to host an open-air market. The borough also acquired a town clock, new schools and a number of monumental buildings constructed with stone brought by rail from a West Whiteland quarry.
With the railroad to carry goods from West Chester to Philadelphia, West Chester's market attracted farmers from the surrounding area while West Chester businessmen became wholesalers of farm produce and importers of merchandise from Philadelphia.
Before the industrial era, dairy products were rare commodities for most people, especially those who lived in cities. The main reason was that dairy cattle required space in which to live and milk was a fragile product that did not travel well. By separating the cream and turning it into butter, it was possible to create a product with a somewhat longer shelf life, but that was very labor intensive, so the end product was expensive and the quantities that could be produced were limited.
Construction of the railroad reduced the problem of spoilage by shortening the time it took to move milk from farm to city. Since cows gave milk every day, the railroad had to provide milk trains just as often, but once they started to do that, farmers found an incentive to keep an extra cow.
The 1857 West Chester directory lists more than a dozen grocers and one "milk vendor" (John Lack).
The 1860 Boyd's Business Directory lists four dealers in "milk, butter & c." but none are in West Chester. One is in Norristown and the other three are in Greencastle.
The 1884-1885 Boyd's Chester County Directory lists at least two milk dealers in West Chester: Levi P. Lewis at 25 E. Washington St. and Samuel J. Lewis at 104 E. Market St.
The 1888 publication by the West Chester Board of trade listed one creamery and three milk can factories in town.
The 1896-1897 Boyd's Chester County Directory lists seven milk dealers in West Chester including William J. Corcoran at 140 W. Market, the Lewis Brothers at 104 E. Market St., James Knox at 104 E. Market St. and the West Chester Dairy at 110 W. Washington St.
The 1908 Boyd's West Chester Directory lists six milk dealers in West Chester: James Hickey at 22 W. Miner St., James Knox at 104 E. Market St., the Lewis Brothers at 123 Magnolia, Thomas G. Pollock at 149 W. Gay St., Charles C. Scattergood at 140 W. Market St. and the West Chester Dairy at 110 W. Washington St.
The story of industrialization is always one of overcoming bottlenecks in a production process. In the dairy business, the bottlenecks included the time and labor required to milk a cow, the time required to separate cream from skim milk, and the time and labor required to convert cream to butter.
Creameries were small factories that bought raw milk from local farmers, converted it into cream and butter, and shipped the result to towns by railroad. The first private creamery in Chester County was opened by Isaac Morgan of Parkerville in 1870, and many more followed. The construction of local creameries encouraged farmers to add some extra dairy cows to their dairy herds because they could sell whatever they didn't ened for their own familuies.
In the early 1880s, West Chester native Philip M. Sharpless began to manufacture a small, hand-operated machine that separated cream from milk. Because it sped up the process, the cream separator reduced the amount of time that raw milk was exposed to the air and improved its hygiene. It also enabled farmers to extract the most valuable part of their milk and save the cost of shipping the skim milk. Finally, it enabled dairy farmers to improve the profitability of their herds without having to rely on a creamery.
The remaining bottleneck was the time it took to milk cows. The first practical milking machines did not come along until the 1890s, but once it did, it contributed to the demise of the cream separator business. When dairy herds began to number in the dozens, farmers produced more milk than they could separate by hand, so they shipped their milk to centralized dairies for processing. Dairies added refrigeration, which kept the milk cool in the summertime and made it possible to obtain dairy products at all times of the year.