Who Invented the Milking Machine?
Development of a usable milking machine took several decades of trial and error, unlike the rapid development and acceptance of other dairy innovations, such as hygienic milking and processing, the Babcock test, and the centrifugal cream separator.
The earliest devices for mechanical milking were tubes inserted in the teats to force open the sphincter muscle, thus allowing the milk to flow. Wooden tubes were used for this purpose, as well as feather quills. Skillfully made tubes of pure silver, gutta percha, ivory, and bone were marketed in the mid-19th century, and, in fact, a few were still being sold well into the 20th century.
A novel milking tube illustrated in the Scientific American in 1875 used a slide valve at the bottom of each catheter to close off the opening. Several U.S. patents were granted for milking tubes joined by flexible rubber tubing to direct the milk to pail.
The extensive tubing increased the problem of contamination already present with the use of catheters. Catheter milking was blamed for various problems, such as spread of disease, weakened sphincter muscles causing continuous dribbling, and injury to the teats.
The earliest vacuum milkers used a large gutta percha cup, fitting over the entire udder, and connected to a hand pump. Hodges and Brockenden secured an English patent for such a device in 1851. In America, Anna Baldwin patented such a milker, using a pitcher pump and bucket in her patent illustration.
In 1859, S.W. Lowe, of Philadelphia, patented a cup fitted with a diaphragm with 4 holes for the teats. A hand cranked suction pump drew milk from all four teats at once. Such devices created a continuous suction on the udder, damaging the mammary tissue and frequently causing the cow to kick.
In 1859, John Kingman, of Dover, NH, patented a tin teat cup with elastic flange for use with a suction pump milker. The first successful use of teat cups with a vacuum milker is found in the 1860 patent of L.O. Colvin, perhaps America’s most famous inventor of early milking machines. However, the Colvin milker still subjected the cow’s teats to constant vacuum, causing blood to pool there.
In Scotland, William Murchland invented a very successful vacuum milker in 1889, which hung suspended under the cow. He was granted a U.S. patent in 1892. The Murchland milker, along with the famous “Thistle” milker, was extensively tested by the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland in 1898.
Numerous other hand pumped suction milkers were devised in the next thirty years, with the foot operated Mehring machine being, perhaps, the ultimate in pre-pulsator suction milkers. Two cows could be milked at the same time, using this machine, with the operator sitting on its bench, between the cows, and working the foot levers to provide vacuum. The Mehring foot power machine was still marketed well into the 20th century and many were sold.
The pulsator was first introduced in the “Thistle” milker, using a steam driven vacuum pump. While the Thistle machine presented problems of sanitation, it proved an efficient milker. During the late 19th century, while many inventors were struggling with the problems of the constant suction milkers, others were working on a great variety of mechanical devices to simulate hand milking.
Most of these devices incorporated rollers or fingers that intermittently pressed on the teat, often working from top to bottom. Some of these devices were simple; others were composed of hundreds of parts and worked by cranks.
Such mechanical milkers were still being patented after the turn of the century, despite the arrival of the pulsator machines. Mechanical milkers could not compensate for the changing size of the cow’s teats as milking progressed, and did not milk to completion. They also forced some milk back into the udder.