Early dairymen depended on Meloney Automatic Registering Milk Scale for production data
Push the button: Cow no. 3 is milked and the pail, full of milk, hangs on the spring balance. The dial arm with knobs descends. Now the farmer pushes the knob of column 3, perforating the card, recording the result of that milking. The spring, wrapped around the knob, reverts to the neutral position as pressure on the knob is released.
The first time I saw a Meloney Automatic Registering Milk Scale was in 1999, when a collector friend brought his latest trophy to a “show and tell” gathering at my home. You can understand the excitement I felt: to see such an unusual scale, totally intact, even including the cabinet, the original record cards with punch marks and handwriting from 1903. Recently, I was able to add the Meloney milk scale to my own collection.
The Meloney milk scale’s history is related to the rise of industrial development in the middle of the last century, the rapid growth of cities and a big demand for food, including dairy products. Between 1850 and 1900, the population of cities in America multiplied by a factor of seven.
The developing dairy industry searched for higher output with a higher quality of milk, which meant more pounds of milk per cow and higher butterfat content (the main ingredient of cream). What a coincidence that in 1859, Darwin published The Origin of the Species, which now allowed breeding of superior dairy cattle, the Guernsey and Jersey, for milk with high butterfat.
The challenge for the farmer was to breed, feed and select cows for his herd according to their productivity. In the process, he recognized that the nutrition and feeding of the cattle, plus the quality of hay and composition of silage, impacted success. But there was still the unanswered question of how to measure production.
It had long been known that the specific gravity of milk changes with the fat content. The most logical step was to weigh the milk and define its specific gravity. This second step was later replaced with a more accurate method of defining the fat content, because temperature and composition of solids could lead to faulty results. And that’s the reason why producers today still measure milk in pounds and not gallons.
In Adolf Schoenman’s Milk Testing, edited in 1895, the author leads us back in time. Farmer James Dietrich is the owner of two cows; his favorite is Bess, a fine large cow with a daily yield of 32 pounds of milk. Daisy, he says, will be sold; she gives only 22 pounds of milk and eats just as much food. So, one fine day he went to the cheese maker, who tested the butterfat content for Bess at 2.8 percent and for Daisy at 4.6 percent. Then it was calculated that good Bess produced a mere 0.896 pounds of butterfat, while Daisy, on the other hand, produced 1.012 pounds, almost 13 percent more.
James was astonished at those results and admitted, “I came near selling my best cow for beef,” he cried. “I am so glad you helped me.” The scale collector within me beams, recognizing the importance of scales then and now. Can you imagine the run for scales? Every dairy farmer wanted his own set, and with growing herds, a more efficient one.
In Hasserode, Germany, Ottocar Lindemann found a brilliant solution, which he patented in 1895 and ’96 in Germany and Switzerland. His invention was identified as a “controlling and registering scale”; U.S. patent no. 587,100 was granted July 27, 1897. The patent illustration depicts clearly the functional parts of a Meloney scale.
We know very little about Lindemann. Steve Beare, who assists me with research, made some important discoveries. Lindemann’s patent address lies just 15 miles from my birthplace in Germany. His very unusual surname allowed us to trace him on the 1891 and 1901 census to London, England, where he was a wealthy naturalized British subject, being a “merchant for machinery,” with a governess and two servants in his employ. In 1930, at age 79, he traveled to the U.S. for the first time, visiting his son Otto in Wyncote, Pa.
Steve also discovered a Belgian trademark dating to 1897. An illustration in that document shows a dairy barn with Lindemann’s patented scale mounted on a beam (and even shows a maid milking by hand). The notation “Kuh-Kontrolleur” can be translated to “Cow-Controller.”
The connection between Lindemann and the Meloney company in Philadelphia remains a mystery. The cloverleaf on the decal might be a clue, but it might be nothing more than evidence of the Meloney family’s Irish heritage.
The connection between Meloney and the Dairymen’s Supply Co. is more clear. In 1890, at age 25, George R. Meloney applied for a patent for his milk cooler (it was granted in the same year on Sept. 9; no. 436,288). From 1899 to at least 1905, he served as secretary of the Creamery Association of Eastern Pennsylvania. Later, he apparently was president of the Dairymen’s Supply Co. in Philadelphia.
The Dairymen’s Supply Co. was organized in 1890, operating first in Philadelphia and later in Lansdowne, Pa. The company flourished, at least in part as the result of the success of its milk weighing machine, invented by Meloney in 1911, four years before his death at age 51.
“Now you know the rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey would say. That’s how the Meloney name came into the picture, producing the latest novelty in automatic registering milk scales. What progress! Record the daily amount of milk for 20 cows on two little cards by just punching holes and do the math in the evening with clean hands in your warm home. (I think that’s about what the salesman would have said in offering this certainly expensive scale.)
The first Meloney automatic registering milk scale could have been produced as early as 1896, before Lindemann’s U.S. patent was granted, as we could conclude from the instruction label with the abbreviations PAT(ent) AP(plied) FOR. But it could also have been 1898, assuming that the Meloneys had their own patent, possibly for the spring-loaded buttons as an improvement of Lindemann’s design. To their disappointment, it was rejected because of Lindemann’s patent claim.
Subsequent literature does not mention a patent. The No. 24 catalog, ca.1915, notes that “The Meloney Automatic Milk scale is an outcome of some 15 years’ studying and experimenting, not only here in our shop, but with the aid of some of the best dairymen in the country. While it is not perfection, it is a long way in advance of anything else in line.”
The price started ca. 1889 at $10 for a scale ($238 today), one pail and 31 record sheets. With increasing sales, the company was able to hold the price for the same contents, as we see in the Bestov catalog in about 1900, but now the scale was mounted in a wood cabinet. This edition also depicts “Straight Spring Balances with the company name,” sold by the dozen for various weight ranges, and for larger amounts of dairy product there was the “Bestov Platform Scale.”
In about 1914, a major improvement was announced. “At the request of one of our largest western ranches, we have perfected the Double Deck Automatic Scale,” read an announcement in a Meloney catalog. “This is identically the same as two single scales mounted tandem, except that both dial arms are mounted to the same spring, so that the pail on the hook will register on any of the 40 buttons at one time. Cards may be ordered, numbered from 1 to 10, 11 to 20, etc., as high as 81 to 90, or unnumbered cards will be sent if required.”
Collector friends, here is our new challenge: Let’s not rest until we have at least a picture of the Double Deck. FC
Utz Schmidt became interested in scales and balances more than 35 years ago while living in Germany. He is a founding member of the International Society of Antique Scale Collectors. While building a broad-based collection, he fell in love with a white scale with four receptacles. It turned out to be a scale for butterfat testing; he’s been collecting dairy scales ever since. Contact him at (810) 376-4438; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The full-length version of this article originally appeared in Equilibrium, the journal of the International Society of Antique Scale Collectors, 2008, Issue 2, pages 3,359-3,366 (www.isasc.org). Reprinted here by permission.