Courtesy of Anuta Research Center
A two-story brick building on Main Street (1st Street) was the production center for “Menominee Butter” more than a half century ago. George Bomber was a pioneer in the butter-making business in the M&M area, coming here in 1913 to begin a 40-year run. He launched his operation in a building formerly owned by Henes & Leisen Brewery. The building was located across the street from the old Rinker Coal Co., now a part of Veterans Memorial Park.
Courtesy of Anuta Research Center

A two-story brick building on Main Street (1st Street) was the production center for “Menominee Butter” more than a half century ago. George Bomber was a pioneer in the butter-making business in the M&M area, coming here in 1913 to begin a 40-year run. He launched his operation in a building formerly owned by Henes & Leisen Brewery. The building was located across the street from the old Rinker Coal Co., now a part of Veterans Memorial Park.

Home milk deliveries disappeared from the American landscape a long time ago, but for many seniors the memories stalk. Visions of the friendly milkman delivering bottles of fresh milk that rivaled present-day phenomenon, Amazon, shadow our doorsteps.

It wasn’t only the local dairies and their milk wagons, but those that produced cheese, ice cream and other dairy products. I’m sure every oldtimer has a favorite story to tell about their milkman and the way he did business.

Reminiscing about the neighborhood milkman makes it easy for nostalgia to rush to the top of pleasantries of history, much like the cream did in a bottle of milk left on the porch at home that sent siblings racing to the doorstep to fetch the morning breakfast delivery. Licking the cream from the pasteboard cap on the milk bottle was considered a badge of honor in the household.

Stories about the milkman are endless. The recollections can stretch to the family joy rides on Sunday afternoons, which usually ended at one of the local dairies where ice cream was featured. The stop for ice cream was an effective way for parents to bribe their kids into good behavior during the journey or miss the chance for ice cream.

Small family-owned and family-operated dairies were once plentiful in the Twin Cities. Some dairy operations were sited on the outskirts of the city limits. Many of our area’s former dairy farms have vanished and the farmland converted to other uses, including cozy residential neighborhoods in pleasant rural settings.

Some of the bygone milk dealers in the Menominee area were pitched in the northwest sector of the city where land was appreciable in the vicinity of old Birch Creek Road, Bay de Noc Road, and west of Taylor Avenue (38th Avenue). The pioneers included George Bomber, Peter Larsen, Alfred Reuss and Henry J. Weber. Alvin Walander was located on old Birch Creek Road. Reuss had his dairy operation on Lealah Street (18th Street), which was west of Broadway (13th Street).

Some of the well-remembered family dairies, operated in later years, were run by the Callow and King families, the latter operating on Highway 577 under the name Ideal Dairy.

Marinette had seven dairies operating in the 1920s made up of Boulevard Dairy, Peshtigo Dairy, and others owned by William L. Flynn, Anton Nelson, Thomas Nixon, George Reines and Earl Pruden. It was not unusual for some milk dealers to change their business locations to a different address.

One of the pioneers in the Menominee area was George Bomber who came to the area from Rapid River, Mich., where he ran a creamery business. Bomber believed Menominee was in dire need of a creamery and because it was the county seat of the largest dairy-producing county in the Upper Peninsula.

He launched his operation in the spring of 1913 in a building formerly owned by the Benes & Leisen Brewery. The starting point was on Main Street across from what is now Veterans Memorial Park. He had a 40-year run in the dairy industry.

Bomber’s company functioned under several nameplates, but perhaps the better known was Menominee Dairy Products Co. In 1926, the company was known as Bomber Bros. Creamery Co. when George was joined by his two brothers, Theodore and Antone. Theodore and Antone resided in Marinette. George lived on the second floor of the creamery.

Not long after the three brothers partnered in the business, Theodore and Antone left the venture, and George partnered with Wilbur Lied.

He and Lied continued to run the creamery at the same location, but under the name Safe Milk Co. Eventually, Lied departed and Bomber continued to operate under the Safe Milk label. Years later, the dairy was known as Producers Dairy.

George Bomber was enthused about his chances of running a successful operation when he set foot in Menominee. His first major venture was to turn out a “Menominee Brand” butter at the rate of 12,000 pounds to 14,000 pounds per day. Ice cream and cottage cheese were other strong sellers.

Bomber pumped $15,000 into the business to improve machinery and update the creamery’s production capacity. He enlarged the rear of the building to accommodate a growing business in the twin county region. The fact that Menominee County was ranked among the top dairy producing counties in Michigan influenced Bomber’s decision to invest in his company.

While milk, butter, cottage cheese and ice cream were at the top of the company’s production line, Bomber was disappointed at the slow sales in marketing buttermilk.

“All the buttermilk you can carry is to be had for practically nothing,” he said in a public statement in the Menominee Herald-Leader. “All we ask is that buttermilk drinkers come and carry it away.”

Bomber’s operation wasn’t a large one. It employed three full-time hands in the plant. The owner handled office and marketing tasks.

As the local dairy industry continued to expand to other milk dealers in the area, a young Menominee and Marinette Milk Producers Association did yeoman work in promoting and marketing the dairy industry.

In the fall of 1940, as the Great Depression of the 1930s was nearing its painful end, Bomber was running his company under the Safe Milk Co. label. Workers were cranking out 700 pounds to 1,000 pounds of butter per day at a time when oleomargarine was cheaper to make in family kitchens during the Depression.

The brand name “Menominee Butter” was a favorite for former residents who had left the area. Bomber shipped his butter by Parcel Post.

An unidentified woman who ran an exclusive boarding house in a city about 60 miles from Menominee came to town for a visit. After tasting “Menominee Butter” she went to the Safe Milk plant and inquired about a standing order of 15 pounds of butter per week to be shipped to her place of business. Bomber declined the order because he feared it would place too much pressure on the demand for his product with local merchants.

Cottage cheese was another hot-selling item that was shipped outside the city. Chocolate milk, buttermilk, ice cream, cream and milk and most of the butter was reserved for area customers.

The demand for “Menominee Butter” was so active that Bomber was compelled to purchase cream from farmers some 150 miles from the Menominee plant to keep up with orders. In 1939, Bomber paid out $37,000 in milk checks to local farmers for their cream used in the production of butter. The subsidy checks were a big boost for farmers and helped them work through the harsh financial woes during the Great Depression.

Several different owners followed Bomber in the dairy business at the same site. The building eventually deteriorated and sat vacant for years before the city condemned the property in 1965. It marked the end of an era in the local dairy industry.