It is dawn on 125th Street. Families are rising. The train booms overhead; trolley tracks run between the cobblestones and the early morning traffic. Workers hurry to their jobs at the local automobile factories, printers, and storage companies. The largest employer in the area is the Sheffield Farms dairy, whose proud billboard boasts the motto, “For the Rising Generation,” and shows a healthy child enjoying a glass of milk. Horse-drawn wagons emerge from a nearby stable building to distribute bottles across upper Manhattan. The year is 1929. New York City at the time is said to have “the best milk supply of any large city in the world.” But, this had not always been the case.
This exhibition examines the fifty-year crusade to turn milk from a “deadly fluid” into a mainstay of a healthy diet. The milk reform movement involved community activists, city officials, scientists and business leaders working together to find solutions to improve public health. Much of the movement’s activity and success occurred here in the Manhattanville neighborhood.
Drawing on the expertise of leading scholars and scientists this short documentary describes the rise of Manhattanville as a center of milk processing and distribution in New York City history. Positioned at a nexus of transit networks, industry and population hubs, the neighborhood served a crucial role in the history of public health in the metropolis at a time when procuring healthy milk was literally a matter of life and death.