“Good Morning Housewives” - Milk

Promotional milk brochure, 1939. WPA Federal Writers’ Project Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Visitors to the Municipal Archives’ new exhibit: Feeding the City: The Unpublished WPA Federal Writers’ Project Manuscript, 1935-1942, will have the opportunity to view rare vintage recipes and photographs, bold and colorful advertising brochures, and excerpts from the manuscript. It’s all about food and New York City’s role in the global food marketplace, with fascinating materials drawn from the Archives’ collection of the NYC Unit of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Federal Writers’ Project.

The blog this week highlights another of the City’s food-related initiatives that got its start in the depths of the Great Depression. Beginning on March 26, 1934, at 8:25 a.m. every weekday morning, WNYC radio listeners could hear Frances Foley Gannon’s five-minute program about food—what was available in the markets that day at a good price, recipes, and advice on healthy food choices. Appointed by Mayor LaGuardia as the Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Markets, Bureau of Consumers’ Services, in 1934, Gannon hosted her ‘food talk’ program for almost thirty years until she retired in 1963. Transcribed here is her radio program about milk, from June 28, 1940:


            Our milk supply usually reaches its peak in the month of June when the cows are put out to pasture, where they can eat plenty of green grass. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, milk production this year is a little above any previous record.

Promotional milk brochure, 1939. WPA Federal Writers’ Project Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

            Much of this extra milk is made into cheese and butter. Some of it is evaporated, condensed or dried, and by using it in these forms, it is possible to get the food values of milk in concentrated form.

The food values contained in milk are really something to talk about. You know, milk is classed as the “almost perfect food” because it is rich in so many nutritional elements.

            Its fat content can be observed when the cream rises to the top of the bottle of milk. You can also see the protein in the form of curd when the milk sours, and the slightly sweet taste is evidence enough of the sugar content.

            Milk is especially valuable for its calcium and phosphorus, so important for sound bones and teeth. In addition, scientists tell us that milk is particularly rich in vitamin A and G, and that it also has some vitamin D, and small amounts of B1 and C.

            So, it is easily understandable why the nutritionists recommend a quart of milk a day for growing children and a pint a day for adults. Some of this quota can be in the form of cheese or evaporated milk.

            In fact, in 5 ounces of American cheese, there is the same amount of calcium, phosphorus and protein as you would obtain in a quart of milk. In manufacturing evaporated milk, about one-half the water is removed from fresh fluid milk. So, when you use the evaporated milk, you can mix it with water- measure for measure. This “reconstructed” milk will have about the same food value as an equal amount of fresh milk. You can dink it, or you can eat in in cream soup, scalloped dishes, muffins, bread, cake, custard and any number of other dishes.

            Milk is an ideal hot weather drink for both children and adults. It is not only cooling but it is also nourishing and safe. Many find a glass of cold, sweet milk delightful. Buttermilk is a summer favorite of others who enjoy the tang of its slightly acid flavor. With most of its butterfat removed, it offers a splendid choice to any who may be watching a waist line.

Woman posing with milk relief posters, ca. 1938. WPA Federal Writers’ Project Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

            Children are especially fond of flavored milk drinks and if they have difficulty consuming their quart per day allowance of milk, this is an excellent method of getting them to drink their quota.

            A wide variety of inexpensive, mixed milk drinks can be made at home. Chocolate milk shakes, fruit juice and fruit syrups of all kinds are other good suggestions.

            Now a word or two on the care of milk. Producers and distributors must take every precaution to protect the quality and wholesomeness of their milk. This should serve as an example to the housewife caring for milk after it is placed outside the door.

            Have the milk delivered where it will not be exposed to the sun, and take it into the house as soon as possible, especially in hot weather. Then place it in the refrigerator at once and allow it to remain there when you are not using it. Keep the milk in the original container until needed for immediate consumption; do not put it into a bowl or pitcher for storage. Carefully wipe the containers before pouring any milk from it, because of its exposure to contamination while left standing on the doorstep and finally, when storing in the refrigerator, keep milk away from foods with strong odors as they are readily absorbed.

Label for Borden’s “irradiated” evaporated milk, ca. 1938. WPA Federal Writers’ Project Collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

When Frances Foley Gannon broadcast her milk talk in 1940, New York City was the largest market for milk in the country with 3,200,000 quarts of milk consumed daily at homes, schools, restaurants, hotels and hospitals. Gannon’s radio broadcast may have been prompted by a relief program launched in 1940 by Mayor LaGuardia and the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture that aimed to increase the consumption of fluid mild and strengthening child health.  Children were told to drink a quart of milk every day; adults two full cups. In the decades since then, milk consumption has decreased dramatically, in favor of other beverages. 

Feeding the City: The Unpublished WPA Federal Writers’ Project Manuscript, 1935-1943, will be on view in the NYC Municipal Archives 1st Floor Gallery, 31 Chambers Street, Manhattan, through March 2019. Visit our website for opening hours and upcoming programs.