Divco and the Growth of a Country
When Divco-Detroit Corporation was formed in 1927, it was in response to the growing need for motorized vehicles in the milk home delivery market. Until after World War II, 80% of milk sold was retailed through home delivery.
The lack of refrigeration (except for ice boxes) made daily home delivery of milk a necessity. In the nineteenth century, the milkman presided over a horse-drawn wagon laden with small tin cans of milk. Using a quart measure, the milkman poured the amount of milk the customer wanted into a pitcher. Later, the dozen or so small tin cans were replaced with two larger ones equipped with stirrers (to mix the unhomogenized milk) and faucets. By the 1920s, the emergence of the motor truck as a replacement for the milk wagon and horse was under way.
In the two decades between the World Wars, milk wagons, and increasingly, milk trucks were familiar parts of the American landscape. Because Divco was best known for its milk trucks, its history was linked to fundamental trends in the consumption of dairy products.
Divcos were also used for a variety of delivery tasks by bakeries, laundries and dry cleaners, parcel delivery firms, drug stores, florists, newspapers, magazines, diaper and linen services, food and beverage distributors, frozen food suppliers, and even airlines for servicing planes.
In its 1958 Annual Report, the Divco company boasted "75% of the milk delivered in the U.S. is delivered in Divco trucks" and that "approximately 88% of Divco truck sales were made to the dairy industry."
A Changing American Landscape
As a result of the need to conserve trucks, fuel, rubber, and labor during World War II, the delivery of milk was converted to an every-other-day (EOD) system. When the refrigeration capabilities of households were limited, every-day delivery was a virtual necessity if families were to have fresh milk. The advent of mechanical refrigeration plus the desire of drivers to have a day off each week, led to six days per week delivery with each customer getting milk on alternate days. Later, delivery was limited to only five days per week. Dairies embraced EOD because it reduced the relatively high cost of home delivery. The cost of retail delivery (including collection of accounts) was between four and five cents per quart in smaller cities and up to six cents per quart in Chicago and New York.
Following the war, every-other-day delivery evolved into three-day-a-week delivery. Drivers enjoyed the tree-day-a-week plan because it assured them of having Sunday and certain holidays like Christmas off. Consumers like the plan because they knew exactly which days each week they would get milk: half of the customers on a route would get milk on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and the other half on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The elimination of Sunday deliveries meant 52 fewer delivery days each year with consequent savings in truck mileage.
As Americans became more affluent, they consumed less milk and more of other food products per capita. Milk dealers responded to the competitive threat to home delivery by increasing the variety of products sold from the milk truck and, ultimately, selling the trucks to the drivers. Many milk trucks became mini-grocery stores on wheels. The products that drivers began to sell from milk trucks included ice cream, chocolate milk, orangeade, and cottage cheese. Increasing the variety of products available through home delivery may have slowed the decline in home delivery, but it certainly did not halt it.
By 1963, 29.7% of milk was home delivered, and in 1985 (the last full year of Divco production), only 1.5% of milk was home delivered. Although Divco manufacturing and product lines would undergo a host of changes over the years, ultimately the company was felled by a changing marketplace and complicated by issues with management and production.
An Enduring Legacy of Service
Divco survived from 1926 to 1986 as an independent producer of multi-stop delivery trucks and in that time it built about 95,000 vehicles.
Ten years after the last Divco was built, businesses engaged in home delivery still endeavor to keep their Divcos on the road. Christiansen Dairy of North Providence, Rhode Island, was running 12 Divcos on eight milk routes in 1997. Its first Divco was purchased in 1940, and Christiansen has used only Divcos ever since. In an interview, John Christiansen stated, "Divcos are the best little trucks ever built."
In the end, the sun set on Divco - a truck that served its owners well for 60 years, a truck that had continuity of distinctive snub-nosed styling for nearly a half-century, a truck that endeared itself to several of generations of Americans who either delivered milk and other products or had milk and other products delivered to them. For 60 years, Divcos delivered milk, bread, laundry, flowers, and a multitude of other products. But Divcos delivered more - they delivered on their promise of reliability, durability, and longevity.
It is in that spirit, and a nostalgic love for Americana and simpler times now gone by, that The Chillwagon Ltd. Co. was founded in 2015 to continue that legacy and carry it forward for the next generation.
Our goal is to produce the highest-quality organic ice cream and frozen treats available, made from scratch by our family and delivered straight to yours in a vintage, completely-restored 1965 Divco milk truck.
The tradition continues...
"A Smile Every Mile"
Divco: A History of the Truck and the Company
Robert R. Ebert and John S. Rienzo, Jr.
Divco Club of America
The Divco Club of America is the oldest and largest group of Divco enthusiasts, collecting, restoring, and operating Divcos for pleasure and business. The Club library is stocked with Divco literature, manuals and advertising materials. The Club provides catalog parts sources to keep Divcos running and facilitate restoration and offers a number of fun Divco related products for members.
Coachbuilt : Encyclopedia of American Coachbuilders
1929 Divco Milk Truck
1936 Divco Model "S"
1938 Divco Patent Drawing
1938 Divco-Twin Delivery
1941 Divco Sales Brochure
1942 Divco-Twin Advertisement
1948 Divco Illustration
1948 Divco, Town & Country Dairy
1949 Divco, Lantz Dairy Co.
Divco Manufacturing Plant : 1950
Divco Manufacturing Plant : 1950
1952 Divco, Borden's Milk
1953 Divco Sales Brochure
1956 Divco Illustration
1959 Divco Models 300 & 306 Spec Sheet
1961 Divco Model 300