Blog: Time in a Bottle

borden's milk

With a hammer in one hand and a crowbar in the other, I smashed the plaster one messy section at a time. The white chunks, more than 105 years old at this point, fell down to the floor in a trail of gray dust.

The dust was all around me, hanging in the air for longer than seemed possible. When the heavy powder also fell to the floor and the air in front of me cleared, I saw it. It was nestled in the corner, behind the old plaster and lath that had separated my kitchen from the dining room for more than a century.

Home remodels bring with them equal amounts of promise and horror. I am clearly in the horror stage, but a small treasure made me feel better, if for only a moment.

The wall was built around a clear glass milk bottle, a tiny time capsule from 1908, when my green foursquare on a shady lane was new. The Borden-branded bottle that once contained condensed milk was obviously left for me to find—a nod to what the kitchen once was and in many ways a reminder of how far we’ve come.

At the turn of the previous century, Borden wasn’t the only milk delivery company, but it was certainly one of the biggest. On June 21, 1909, an official letter was presented to the Chicago City Council on behalf of the company. It seems its 28 milk wagons were charged “wheel tax” twice, once in Chicago and once in suburban Oak Park. This double tax set the company back an amount they couldn’t ignore: $133.

“Inasmuch as the Borden Co. has taken out its licenses and paid very promptly, and as we do not care to get into a controversy with the Oak Park authorities in this matter, I recommend the refund of license fees,” wrote Edward J. Brundage, corporation counsel for Borden.

Oak Park was settled in the 1830s and incorporated in 1902, six years before my house was built. I found photos of the local Borden headquarters from 1903, complete with stables for the horses and spaces for the wagons that would eventually deliver my bottle to the owners of this new build on the west side of the village.

In this issue, we’re obviously focusing on the new—in the form of our annual Hot 100 list of most requested products of the year. But we’re also looking back—at the rise of nostalgia in the candy aisle. After all, each one of your customers has a story. They too have a bottle in the wall, but perhaps theirs is the wrapper from a beloved treat, or an old bottle cap from a favorite brew. How can your brand play a part in those memories?

When I close the wall back up, I will hide a copy of this column, and maybe an old iPhone or a ticket from a concert or two. But I will keep the bottle from the wall for myself.

After all, in 1908, it was left there for me.