Nathan Straus: Milk Depot


Nathan Straus: Milk Depot


After the Civil War, there was some recognition that the quality of the milk sold to the city's poor was substandard. Small, but unsuccessful, efforts were made to improve sanitary conditions. Milk continued to be an agent that carried diphtheria, typhoid fever, scarlet fever, tuberculosis and the "summer complaint," diarrhea. Thousands of children died each year, especially during the summer months, as a result of drinking unsterilized milk.

Nathan Straus (1848-1931) became interested in milk pasteurization for several reasons. Two of Nathan and Lina Straus' six children, Sara and Roland, died in early childhood. Although the family could avail themselves of the best and most modern medical treatment of the day, there was nothing that could be done to save either child. The Strauses owned farm animals, including cows from which the family's milk was obtained. When a seemingly healthy animal died suddenly, Nathan wondered if the germs that caused the animal's death could be transferred to her milk. This led to his conviction that pasteurization was essential.

Nathan's first pasteurized milk depot opened at the foot of the East Third Street Pier on June 1, 1893. It was a small building containing a refrigeration unit, storage rooms, a pasteurization laboratory and salesrooms. The goal was to distribute low cost, high quality pasteurized milk to the city's poor. Milk was sold in bottles, by the glass and in cans. Modified formulas were also sold for babies. These formulas were devised by Nathan's medical advisors and often contained barley water, milk sugar, white sugar, lime water and salt. Modified milk was sold in deposit bottles provided with a nipple, both being sterilized in the pasteurizing laboratory. Ice was also supplied so that people keep the milk from spoiling once it was brought home. The milk bottles had rounded bottoms so that no uncorked bottle could be left standing, thereby becoming contaminated by unsanitary conditions in the homes. Lectures were provided in the many languages of the city's residents to educate them about the benefits of pasteurized milk. Nathan had coupons printed so that doctors could "prescribe" the milk which would then be given at no cost.

The program was an immediate success among the city's poor. Nathan set up his laboratories and milk depots as a demonstration model to prove to governmental officials and the medical establishment that the large scale distribution of pasteurized milk would make a difference in public health. He wrote, "The tragedy of needless infant slaughter, desolating so many homes and wringing the hearts, lies like a dark shadow on our boasted civilization. It is nothing more or less than permitted murder, for which the responsibility must lie at the door of the agencies of government that fail to recognize its existence and demand its prevention."


The Straus Historical Society






 “Nathan Straus 1848-1931” Straus Historical Society Newsletter Vol. 6 No. 1 (New York: February 1998); pp. 4-8.

“Nathan Straus 1848-1931” Straus Historical Society Newsletter Vol. 6 No. 2 (New York: August 1998); pp. 4-7.

“Nathan Straus Pasteurized Milk Laboratory” Straus Historical Society Newsletter Vol. 4 No. 2 (New York: February 2002); pp. 4-9.

“Nathan Straus, Public Servant” Straus Historical Society Newsletter Vol. 4 No. 2 (New York: February 2003); pp. 4-8.

“The Nathan Straus Soup Kitchens in Palestine” Straus Historical Society Newsletter Vol. 16 No. 1 (New York: August 2014); pp. 1-5.


Nathan Straus: Milk Depot

Source: The Straus Historical Society


The Straus Historical Society


The Straus Historical Society


Medium: Photograph






Nathan Straus, Milk, Milk Depot, Anti-Poverty, Public Health, Health, Straus Family


New York



The Straus Historical Society, Nathan Straus: Milk Depot, The Straus Historical Society, 1893

Cite As

The Straus Historical Society, “Nathan Straus: Milk Depot,” Virtual Museum of Public Service, accessed July 29, 2021,