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Wood Butter Churns Page 1 - Swinging, Revolving & Rocking Churns

The butter churns on this page all rely on the motion of the cream container to churn the butter.  There are no paddles or dashers inside the cream container to agitate the cream.  Rather the cream box is swung, rotated or rocked to get the cream moving inside the churn.  The motion of the cream hitting the ends of the container is what causes the butter to churn.  Revolving butter churns were especially popular with larger creameries.  These churns were very easily made in large sizes since there were no paddles to deal with, they were very easily adapted to mechanical power with a simple pulley and they were very efficient in churning the cream.  Click here for a picture of a 500 gallon revolving box churn.  This churn was called The Key City King and was manufactured by N. S. Andrews of Dubuque, Iowa.  This churn was advertised in an 1893 dairy publication and was typical of the large size revolving churns used at that time.

Davis Swing Butter Churn

This is a Davis Swing Churn, although some very early literature referred to it as a Davis Oscillating Churn.  It was patented on May 1, 1877 and September 9, 1879.  The 1877 patent was granted to Oliver Davis of Waterbury, Vermont and described a churn of similar shape but it pivoted from below and was rocked back and forth by spiral springs.  The 1879 patent was granted to Francis Butler of Bellows Falls, Vermont and assigned to the Vermont Farm Machine Company.  Butler was the secretary of the Vermont Farm Machine Company.  His patent described a churn almost identical to the one pictured, which was suspended from above in a wood frame. 

These churns were made by the Vermont Farm Machine Company of Bellows Falls, Vermont.  This is a size 2 or 10 gallon capacity designed to churn 5 gallons of cream.  This size butter churn was listed at $8.00 in an 1889 catalog from the company.  They were still sold in 1913 and the price had increased by one dollar.  This churn has the plain frame.  There was a folding frame available for a dollar more.  The folding frame made it easier to tilt the churn box to drain out the buttermilk or wash water.    There were no paddles inside the churn.  As the churn box rocked on the cradle the cream rolled over on itself to make butter.  The company said this gentle action did not injure the butter. 

These butter churns were available in twelve sizes (7, 10, 16, 24, 30, 40, 60, 80, 100, 150, 200 and 300 gallons).  The largest sizes were designed to be suspended from the ceiling beams of the creamery (picture).  For an additional 16 dollars this company sold a treadmill attachment that allowed a dog, goat or sheep to supply the power to swing the churn (picture).  This butter churn was awarded medals at the New Jersey State Fair, the New England Fair, the International Dairy Fair, the Western New York Fair, the Pennsylvania State Fair, the Carolina Fair, the Massachusetts Mechanics Association and the Virginia State A & M Society.

Creamery Foot Power Churn

This is a Creamery Foot Power Churn.  The handle allows one to use their foot as well as their hand to swing the churn.  It is stenciled as a No. 1 or 10 gallon small family size with the capacity to churn 1 to 4 gallons.  It was manufactured in Louisville, Kentucky by Creamery Churn Manufacturers.  The butter churn pictured above was patented by William H. Curtice of Eminence, Kentucky on December 26, 1893 and January 15, 1895.  The 1893 patent shows an early version of the foot lever.  The 1895 patent details the foot lever as it appears on this butter churn as well as drawings for a screen or strainer to insert in the body of the churn to separate the butter and buttermilk when the churn is drained.  Thanks Dennis for letting us picture your churn.

This company also sold a swing churn without the foot power called the Creamery Swing Churn.  It had upright handles on each end of the churn box so one could swing it by hand.  The Creamery Swing Churn was advertised in 10, 15 and 20 gallon sizes.  It also was patented by William Curtice along with his brother Jesse on September 8, 1891.  

Actually the Creamery Swing Churn was first manufactured by J. F. Hillerich and Son of Louisville, Kentucky.  They called it the Dairy Swing Churn (picture) and also manufactured it under the Curtice patent of 1891.  J. F. Hillerich and Son would become famous as the manufacturer of Louisville Slugger baseball bats.  Switching from butter churns to baseball bats turned out to be a great business decision.  Thanks Dave and Myra for the picture of your churn.

Some of William Curtice's early patents were his most unique butter churns.  On August 28, 1888 he patented a butter churn that was powered by foot pedals similar to a sewing machine (picture).  The operator sat facing the churn.  This churn had a large, ball shaped counter weight that hung below the churn on a rod to keep the churn swinging once the motion was started.

Star Barrel Butter Churn

This is a Star barrel churn.  The oak barrel was just tumbled end over end until butter formed.  There were no paddles inside the barrel but since the barrel was only filled half full the cream would churn as it fell inside the barrel.  The barrel was rotated between 40-80 revolutions per minute depending on size.  Smaller churns would be rotated between 60 to 80 revolutions/minute and as the churns got larger the revolutions/minute could be decreased, approaching the 40 revolutions/minute on the largest sizes.  It was important not to over crank a barrel churn.  The cream needed to fall from one end of the barrel to the other as it rotated.  If the barrel was cranked so fast that centrifugal force held the cream at the end of the barrel the butter would not form.  One disadvantage of any churn that revolved was that it needed to be sealed tight so it would not leak.  The lid had to fit tight and the churn could not be vented.  If pressure built up during the churning process the churn needed to be stopped and the pressure relieved.

The barrel churn pictured above is a size 0 which was 5 (later called 6) gallons and the smallest size.  It sold for $2.85 in the 1896 Sears and Roebuck catalog, decreased to as low as $2.35 in 1912 and went back up to between five and six dollars in the 1920's and 30's.  Star barrel churns were still available in the 1942-43 Sears, Roebuck and Company catalog but the price jumped to $7.19.  They did not appear in the 1945-46 Sears catalog.  The Montgomery Ward catalog listed their brand of barrel churns in this size for $3.00 in 1894-95, $5.00 in 1922, $5.95 in 1935-36 and $6.25 in 1940-41.  The fact that this style of butter churn was sold for over 50 years tells one how popular they were.  These butter churns were also available from Sears in 9 (later called 10), 15, 20, 25 and 35 gallon sizes although by the 1920's the two larger sizes were no longer sold in the hand crank version.  Sizes 15 gallons and above could be ordered with a pulley to be driven by an external motor, engine or treadmill.  For many years Sears referred to their power driven churns by the name "Success". 

The earliest Sears barrel churns had a star symbol stenciled on the barrel and in the mid 1920's the butter churns had the word "Star" like the butter churn pictured above.  The 1927 Sears catalog referred to the factory being in northern Illinois.  We suspect that the Star barrel churns were made for Sears by J. McDermaid of Rockford, Illinois.  We have seen a J. McDermaid counter weight that refers to the Star churn.  In addition, John McDermaid was granted at least three patents for a lever system to seal the lid of a barrel butter churn that was identical to the lid used on the Star butter churns.  The dates of these patents were October 9, 1888, March 19, 1889 and September 8, 1891. 

J. McDermaid manufactured four barrel butter churns under his own name, the Boss, the Favorite, the Columbian and the Belle Churn (picture).  John McDermaid was granted one of the first barrel churn patents on October 24, 1876.  This original patent described a barrel churn that had beaters inside of the barrel to help break the cream and separate the butter from the milk.  These beaters were soon determined to be unnecessary.  Although this 1876 patent was not assigned in the original patent papers, at some point John McDermaid must have granted a half interest to H. H. Palmer and Company, which would become a major competitor.  We have also seen an advertisement from the Aquatic Cream Separator Company of Rochester, New York for a Eureka Churn which listed all the McDermaid patent dates.  J. McDermaid most likely manufactured this barrel churn also.

In addition to the J. McDermaid patents, there were many other barrel churn patents.  The majority of these concerned the closure or sealing of the lid.  One of the most prolific patent holders was H. H. Palmer and Company of Rockford, Illinois.  They manufactured two popular barrel churns; the Acme Bail Churn and the Boss Churn.  We have also seen a Fairy Churn manufactured by H. H. Palmer and Company but it is not as common as the Acme Bail and the Boss Churn.  An 1887 advertisement claimed that 150,000 H. H. Palmer and Company barrel churns were in use in the U. S. and Canada.  The counter weight on some of their barrel butter churns listed 10 patent dates.  All these patents were either granted to Samuel Palmer or assigned to Henry Palmer.  The dates of these patents were September 2, 1879, June 1, 1880 (reissue of a Sept 4, 1877 patent), February 21, 1882, February 21, 1888, two patents on December 17, 1889 and four patents on December 31, 1889.  The Palmers were granted additional patents throughout the 1890's.  Also as mentioned above, H. H. Palmer and Company literature claimed they owned a half interest in John McDermaid's original October 24, 1876 patent.  An 1891 H. H. Palmer and Company price sheet listed the price for a 5 gallon churn like the one pictured here as $8.00.  One sees the great effect that Sears and Wards had on prices as just a few years later competition from these mail order houses had pushed the price on the same churn to $3.00 and below.

Even though H. H. Palmer and J. McDermaid shared McDermaid's 1876 patent they were fierce competitors located in the same little town.  In 1892, H. H. Palmer sued J. McDermaid in court.  Palmer claimed that butter churns manufactured by McDermaid were infringing on three of his patents, one dated February 21, 1888 and two dated December 31, 1889.  The court decided in McDermaid's favor, concluding that none of the Palmer patents covered any novel features.  In fact a patent granted to William Dobson, a third churn manufacturer also from Rockford, Illinois, on July 5, 1881 covered all the features that H. H. Palmer was calling their ideas.  We see this often in early patents.  Often the ideas described in the patents were not new or unique but manufacturers still applied for patents to validate or approve their products.

Barrel butter churns are sometimes found with a lever system or foot pedal that rotates the barrel from a more comfortable standing position than the hand crank found on the churn shown above (picture).  This lever system we see more often on Canadian barrel churns however William Dobson of Rockford, Illinois did patent a lever system to rotate a barrel churn on October 15, 1901.  His company, Dobson Manufacturing Company of Rockford, Illinois, sold a conventional, hand cranked barrel churn called The Favorite and also sold a lever operated barrel churn called The Favorite Special.

Barrel butter churns were very common and many companies made them, especially in Illinois.  Sizes up to 150 gallons were available for use in larger creameries.

Other barrel butter churns include:

The Babcock Favorite and The Jackson manufactured by W. W. Babcock Co., Bath, New York
The Batcheller Barrel Churn manufactured by H. F. Batcheller & Son, Rock Falls, Illinois
The Challenge and Diamond Churns manufactured by The Challenge Churn Manufacturing Co., Paw Paw, Michigan
The Double Lever Churn manufactured by the Aspinwall Manufacturing Co., Jackson, Michigan
The Hawthorne listed in 1922 Montgomery Ward catalog, shipped from northern Illinois
The Magic Churn manufactured by The American Woodenware Manufacturing Company, Toledo, Ohio
The O. K. Churn manufactured by John S. Carter, Syracuse, New York
Reid's Cedar Churn manufactured by A. H. Reid, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The Standard Barrel Churn manufactured by Standard Churn Company, Wapakoneta, Ohio (click here to go to the page with wood churns made by the Standard Churn Co.)
The Stoddard Churn manufactured by Moseley and Stoddard Manufacturing Co., Poultney, Vermont
The Surprise Churn manufactured by Chapin & Smith, Poultney, Vermont
Union Barrel Churn manufactured by the Union Manufacturing Company, Toledo, Ohio

Click here to go to the page with stoneware barrel butter churns.
Click here to go to the page with metal barrel butter churns.

Whipples Butter Churn

The style of butter churn pictured above is a rectangular churn.  The one shown here is specifically a Whipple's rectangular churn.  This one was made by Cornish, Curtis and Greene Mfg. Co. of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin.  They were patented January 21, 1868 and July 7, 1885.  In the 1868 patent papers Samuel Whipple of Orville, California proposes the idea of a box shaped butter churn that revolved on trunnions from diagonal corners.  The 1885 patent was granted to David Curtis of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin and dealt with improvements in the sealing of the churn lid and a drain through one of the corner supports.  This patent was assigned in two thirds to Oscar Cornish and Walter Greene.  These men formed Cornish, Curtis and Greene Mfg. Co., which was a large manufacturer of dairy items.  

The pictured butter churn is the smallest model, a No. 0, that was 7 gallons.  The price for one of these in the 1896 through 1898 Sears catalog was $3.50.  They also were sold in a 10, 12, 20, 26, 40 and 60 gallon size.  The 40 and 60 gallon sizes were sold with cranks on both ends of the box and could be adapted to be driven by an external power source.  The last year we found these listed in the Sears, Roebuck and Company catalog was 1906 and the price for a 7 gallon had dropped to $3.23.  The strong buying power of Sears, Roebuck and Company forced manufacturers to keep prices in line or risk Sears dropping their product.  Montgomery Ward also advertised rectangular churns in their early catalogs.  The Creamery Package Company which acquired Cornish, Curtis and Greene Mfg. Co. still offered these churns in their 1912 catalog.  By then the 7 gallon size cost 8 dollars.

There are no paddles inside this churn.  Cranking made the box tumble corner over corner and in the process the cream was churned into butter.  The earliest churns used a lid that wedged tight with a slight rotation (picture).  This design was also shown in the patent papers.  Later churns, like the one pictured here, utilized the sealing mechanisms found on many barrel butter churns.  We suspect that these lids formed a tighter seal and as the patents ran out they could be used on this churn.  The stenciling on the churn boasts of first place premiums won at state fairs in Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Illinois, St. Louis and Iowa.  The stenciling also tells of a first place premium and medal from the World's Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition in New Orleans, a gold medal from the Grand Union Dairy Fair in Milwaukee in 1882 as well as a sweepstakes gold medal awarded in St. Louis in 1883.

Although this butter churn design was patented in 1868 and 1885 the design was still in use in 1939.  Click here for a picture of a revolving churn installed in the Oakland plant of the Challenge Cream and Butter Association in that year.  At the time this was the largest butter churn in America.  It could churn 660 gallons of cream into 2580 pounds of butter in 30 to 45 minutes.  The castings were aluminum and weighed 1500 pounds.  At the time they were some of the largest pieces of aluminum ever cast.  This butter churn was manufactured by the Jensen Machinery Company of Oakland, California.  The churn and the process to use it was patented by Clyde Mitchel of El Monte, California and Elbert Wetmore of Alhambra, California by way of two patents issued on May 14, 1940.  They assigned both patents to the Challenge Cream and Butter Association.

Diamond Balance Butter Churn

The drawing above is taken from an 1893 advertisement for the Diamond Balance churn.  It was sold by the Diamond Balance Churn Company of Balston Spa, New York.  The inventors of this churn were Matthew Hoyt and Hugh Murray, also of Balston Spa.  They were granted a patent for this churn on May 28, 1889.  One problem with tumbling churns such as barrel churns or the Whipple churn was that they tended to be jerky in their motion.  As the container rotated the cream would fall to the low end of the container and then have to be lifted back up.  This meant that the churn tended to crank easy and then hard as it went through one revolution.  In the Diamond Balance churn there was a center divider that basically divided the square box into two smaller triangular compartments.  Half the cream was always on the opposite side of the centerline to balance the weight and give the churn a smooth motion.  They were advertised as being available in hand cranked and power versions.

Butter Churn

Displayed above is a R. W. Fenner butter churn.  Its inventor was Rufus Fenner.  This also was a revolving style of butter churn like a barrel churn or box churn.  However it had a six sided or hexagonal container.  In a barrel churn the cream would fall twice every revolution, in a box churn it would fall four times but in this churn the cream would fall 6 times resulting in a more even, smoother motion.  Advertisements from 1893 listed R. W. Fenner of South Stockton, New York as the manufacturer and sizes from one cow up to 500 gallons were advertised.  This butter churn was also advertised to not only churn the butter but also work out the buttermilk, eliminating the need for a separate butter worker.  This is one churn that we believe was never patented.

At some point Fredrickson Bros. of Cassadaga, New York and later Jamestown, New York purchased the rights to manufacture this butter churn, as many will be found with their name.  We have seen advertisements as late as 1923 for this butter churn.  They advertised sizes from 6 gallons up to 500 gallons.  The larger sizes had a pulley to be driven by a motor and had two covers to remove the butter.

The Perfect Washing Machine and Butter Churn

When we first saw this rocking device it was described as a washing machine but we thought maybe it was a butter churn.  None of the stenciling gave any indication as to the intended function.  It was called The Perfect and was made by T. G. Hutcheson of San Jose, California.  It was stenciled with an October 29, 1889 patent date.  This patent was issued to Enos Churchill of Tulare, California and was partially assigned to William Morrow of San Luis Obispo, California.  The title of the patent is for a washing machine however when one reads the specifications of the patent it is claimed to wash clothes and churn butter.  We are not sure of the effect one job had on the other.  Neither buttery clothes nor sudsy butter sounds too good.  Churchill claimed that as the unit was rocked back and forth the cream would move towards the up swept ends, in the process the trapped air would be compressed and then forcibly driven back through the cream breaking up the fat globules.  The patent said that the churn could be mounted on rockers like the one above or pivoted on spring brackets.  The sides of the churn are wood while the top, ends and bottom with all the curves are tin.

Thanks to the Yolo county Historical Museum in Woodland, California for letting us picture this churn.

Rocker Butter Churn

The churn pictured above is a rocker butter churn.  The cream box is mounted on rockers just like a rocking chair.  We have seen them with wood rockers like this churn or with cast iron rockers.  Often these churns would have some type of fixed dasher in the center of the box.  Not only was the cream churned as it hit the end of the box but it had to also pass through the fixed dasher in the center of the box as it moved from end to end.  These churns were easy to build and many people just built one of their own design.  That probably explains why one comes across unique rocker butter churns.

George Bell of Sumner, Michigan was granted a patent on April 17, 1877 for a churn of this style.  His design also included a false bottom of sheet metal.  The cream was above the sheet metal bottom and water could be added to the space between the sheet metal and the bottom of the wood box.  By adjusting the temperature of the water one could improve the ability of the cream to form butter.

We also came a cross a 1904 advertisement for the Rocker Churn, very similar to the one shown above.  They were made by the Rocker Churn Manufacturing Company for Forsyth, Georgia.  The company advertised eight sizes from 8 to 60 gallons.  The thrust of their advertising was simplicity.  Definitely this design needed little maintenance or adjustment and was very easy to keep clean.