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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Dairy Industry

by Chester Paul Middlesworth, 2006

Dairy at the Stonewall Jackson Training School, 1920-1930. Image from the North Carolina Museum of History.Until commercial dairies became commonplace in the early years of the twentieth century, milking dairy cows was a daily chore on North Carolina farms, providing families with fresh milk, cream, and butter. In 1914 John A. Arey of Iredell County was named to the dairy division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and began assisting North Carolina farmers in good dairy management. Arey was a pioneer in farm extension work and helped establish high standards for dairy farming in the state.

After 1900, in areas of North Carolina where farms were changing from row crops to livestock (primarily the Piedmont and western regions), some farmers with milk surpluses started regular dairy routes. These routes gave farmers ready cash each month rather than forcing them to wait for the annual row crop harvest. Small dairies, or creameries, usually served nearby geographic areas, selling fresh milk, butter, and ice cream to local families. By the early 1940s, such creameries were delivering milk to homes and grocery stores daily. These creameries often developed their own brand names in direct competition with some of the larger processors such as Pet and Sealtest.

The year 1938 marked the beginning of a growth trend in North Carolina dairy herds and an improvement in the overall quality of milk in the state. In 1944, for the first time in North Carolina's history, the state produced enough milk for both home consumption and export to other states. North Carolina continued to appropriate funds specifically for dairy industry support in the annual budget from that time to the present. Dairy farmers were able to get more milk from each cow through better nutrition, care, and facilities. Eventually this success resulted in overproduction, and some dairy herds were sold off.

Jones Dairy milk bottle, 1945. Image from the North Carolina Museum of History.In 1936 the Carnation Company of Wisconsin established a new facility in Statesville to produce condensed milk. By 1940 the Carnation factory was in full operation. Fresh milk was delivered to Statesville from initial receiving plants across the state at Albemarle, Shelby, Spruce Pine, and other areas as well as from nearby dairy farms. During the 1950s and 1960s, more than 35,000 gallons of milk were being received each day at the Carnation plant at Statesville.

By 1953 more than 300 dairies existed in Iredell County, which has been the leading dairy county in North Carolina since records were officially kept. (Randolph, Alleghany, Alexander, and Rowan Counties have also maintained substantial numbers of dairy cows.) The state's dairy farmers sold their Grade A milk (a designation that signifies wholesomeness, not quality) to major processors in their region and across the state. Lower-grade milk went to Carnation in Statesville, along with surplus Grade A milk.

As grocery chains grew larger they developed their own in-store brands, which were often sold at a lower price. This forced many dairies to merge with larger companies such as Dairymen Cooperative, which processed the dairy products for major grocery chains.

The N.C. Department of Agriculture reported that in 1947 there were 350,000 dairy cows on North Carolina farms; that year these cows produced 175 million gallons of milk. Milk output per dairy cow continued to improve over the next half century, although the number of dairy cows in the state dropped drastically. By 1995 the average output per cow had increased to 1,894 gallons of milk. There were more than 400 commercial dairies in North Carolina at the start of the twenty-first century, maintaining approximately 69,000 dairy cows. Few of the small and medium-size creameries remained. A handful of specialty ice cream companies were exceptions and continued successful operations, such as Mooresville Ice Cream Company in the town of Mooresville.

Additional Resources:

North Carolina Dairy Industry Stabilization and Growth Program Strategic Planning
Committee. “Dairy Advantage” North Carolina’s Dairy Industry Stabilization And Growth Program Strategic Plan. Raleigh: North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, 2008. (accessed November 13, 2012).

"Marketing - Dairy." Raleigh: North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services. (accessed November 13, 2012).

"Dairy Advantage." The North Carolina Association for Dairy Stabilization & Growth, Inc. (accessed November 13, 2012).

DAIReXNET. North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T Cooperative Extension. (accessed November 13, 2012).

McLaurin, U. P. "Long Meadow Farms Deliver 22 Dairy Products." The E.S.C. Quarterly 20, no.1-2 (Summer-Fall 1962).,451968 (accessed November 13, 2012).

"State Approching Self-Sufficiency in Dairy Production." The E.S.C. Quarterly 13, no.1-2 (Winter-Spring 1955): 57-64.,451981 (accessed November 13, 2012).

Gorman, Libby, Mary Hunter Martin, Deborah Ellison, Jearlean Woody, and James F. Devine. North Carolina Century Farms: 100 years of continuous agricultural heritage. Raleigh: North Carolina Department of Agriculture, 1989.

Image Credits:

"Photograph, Accession #: H.19XX.324.91." 1920-1930. North Carolina Museum of History. (accessed February 21, 2019).

"Milk Bottle, Accession #: H.1987.80.2." 1945. North Carolina Museum of History. (accessed February 21, 2019).



I was wondering what are the largest dairy farms in NC?
Thank you



I'm not sure about the largest farm, but i did find this interesting page at the dairy alliance.

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library 


Was there a Stroles Dairy ever located in Chadbourn, NC? Possibly in the 1920/30's?


Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment! I found a few things that may help you find your answer. Here is a collection of items from the Digital Heritage Center-- may also be able to find something at Last, you may be able to find advertising in a local newspaper. Here is a link to a number of different resources online to start your search: 

Good luck! If you need further assistance, please contact our reference desk at


Kelly Eubank, Government and Heritage Library


I have a W.J Towery &son’s dairy milk bottle. Can you give me any information on this bottle. It has Lattimore NC on it


Hello, I have a friend whose father owned Towery Dairy. Would you consider selling the bottle? He is 87 years old and delivered milk for his father. Thank you...Tom


I am researching the Shady Oak Dairy which was formed in the early 1900’s and in operation until 1960 in the Bruce Township of Guilford County, NC. I have found ads in the archives of the Greensboro News and Record from the 1920’s promoting a group of dairies for which Shady Oak was included. The dairy was purchased by Dr. C. I. Carlson around 1918 and remained under Carl, Jr’s managment until the dairy was dissolved. Prior to Jr. , it was managed by Arvid E. Carlson, Dr. Carlson’s Brother. They had a herd of gurnesey cows. In 1955, they had the second largest milk producing cow in the country. Jrs. hay drying equipment was featured in Hoarders Dairyman that year. I am trying to locate the number of acres the dairy farm represented prior to Dr. Carlson’s purchase and the name of the man or family from whom he purchased Shady Oak. Those facts and any other information would be appreciated. B. wilcox


Thanks for contacting NCpedia.   I am forwarding your question to our reference department for further research.

Carla Morris, Government and Heritage Libary


I have a glass milk bottle, one pint, and it is registered, VANCO DAIRY, Wilmington NC I cannot find any history about this dairy or the time period I did not know, perhaps, if you had knowledge of VANCO Dairy Thank you


Hello, I have an old milk can from my parents, I got all the old paint off that my mother would paint a different color on it what seemed like every year. I found two faint markings that aren't stamped, "88" is on two sides but I did find a stamped area and it has "88NC" on it. Was trying to find out more about where it came from. I could send pictures if it would help. Thank you, Rob

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