Greater Greater Washington

Lost Washington: Thompson's Dairy

Though one wouldn't know it by looking at Washington today, industry was once an integral part of the city's economy. The Thompson Dairy is one example of Washington's industrial past.


Thompson's Dairy ca. 1930. From "Book of Washington," 1930.

The dairy was founded in 1881 by John Thompson who had a dairy farm near Washington. Prior to 1881, Thompson would bring his milk to the city each day and find a distributor. When distributors were hard to find in 1881, he decided to become his own distributor and opened a business at Seventh and L Streets, NW.

Upon his death, his three sister's took over operation of the business which continued to grow and expand. By 1927, a new plant had been built taking up nearly the entire block bounded by 11th, 12th, U and V Streets, NW. At the time of its opening on November 7th, the plant handled 5,000 gallons of milk a day.


From Library of Congress collection.

The modern plant at 2012 11th Street, NW, consistently received numerous awards from the Health Department for the quality of their milk. To encourage the highest standards of milk production, the dairy offered incentives to dairy farmers to produce richer and cleaner milk. The dairy was described in 1930 as supporting a large fleet of motor trucks and horse-drawn delivery wagons to serve all sections of Washington and adjacent territories.

Over the years, the firm grew and expanded from 41 employees to 580 workers in 1965, making it one of the largest private firms in the Washington area. Dairy routes had also grown by 1965 to include 535 routes using a fleet of refrigerated trucks.

The Dairy closed in 1971 and the property was ultimately redeveloped.


Interior of Thompson's Dairy. Undated photo from Library of Congress.
Kent Boese posts items of historic interest primarily within the District. He's worked in libraries since 1994, both federal and law, and currently works on K Street. He lives in the Park View neighborhood, and is the force behind the blog Washington Kaleidoscope

Comments

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Interesting article. Any idea what it was redeveloped into?

by Paul C on Sep 7, 2010 5:39 pm • linkreport

This is amazing-at almost the same time that this article was posted, I was visiting my 91 yo grandfather who is in Reston hospital after suffering a stroke. We were joking that he had been up since early in the morning and hadn't taken a nap when he reminded us and his nurse that he was a former milkman for Thompson's Dairy! He would get up at 4am, get to the dairy and make his rounds starting at 7am. I asked him where was the dairy and he said, 11th and M NW, quick as anything! So strange that this shows up on GGW, today of all days!

by gina a on Sep 7, 2010 7:57 pm • linkreport

I guess they'll never know if they spill any milk, given that Thompson seems to have painted every surface imaginable in the factory white.

by andrew on Sep 7, 2010 11:11 pm • linkreport

Would that be who the old downtown elementary school "Strong John Thompson" was named for?

by pf on Sep 8, 2010 3:00 pm • linkreport

Found a milk bottle under my porch with the name Thompson's on it.

by c.s.d. on Dec 10, 2010 6:44 pm • linkreport

Children's Hospital (which at the time was across the street) used some of the dairy for the Psychiatry Dept in the early 1970's--they had sold the Hillcrest Building at 1325 W St to the YMCA.

by jlo on May 30, 2011 2:23 pm • linkreport

They didn't say why the plant closed which was the most interesting part.
The 500+ employees went to Unionize the shop, they were warned not to as the Thompsons took very good care of everybody, they proceeded and the Thompsons shut the dairy down and fired everyone.
I still have the metal Thompson's box that the milk man would put the glass bottles of milk in when I was a kid.

by John Trottman on Aug 22, 2011 7:05 am • linkreport

I was a employee at Thompson dairy from 63 to 69. I have been trying to find an old mike bottle if anyone still has one. I meet my wife who worked in the office. We both have many fond memories of working with the Thompson family

by Dale mort on Aug 26, 2011 10:57 pm • linkreport

Hey Dale,

Recently my dad and I were running a wire through our crawl space so we are able to install a tv in the living room. As we were in there we found an old Thompson's milk bottle complete with hand grip. My dad thinks it was left from the original construction of the house, but if you are interested in the bottle please respond and we can figure out contact info.

by Ian M on Sep 5, 2011 10:08 am • linkreport

Yes Ian we would love to get your bottle if you could let us know how much you want for it.

by Dale on Sep 6, 2011 11:51 am • linkreport

I grew up in the Rose Hill subdivision, Faifax County. We had Thompson"s dairy deliveries; the day Alan Shepherd made his suborbital flight into space, our Thompson's milkman pulled into the driveway, my mother announcwed "They're shooting him off" from the back stoop, and the Thompson's milkman sat on our couch and watched the whole seventeen minutes.

by leo Arico on Dec 2, 2011 7:11 pm • linkreport

the New Embessy milk company bought out most of the local farmers closed them up and Ms,Thompson sold they still have a farm in La Platta Md. i think .

by calton blanchard on Dec 13, 2011 12:39 pm • linkreport

John Trottman , they got bought out by Embessy milk !

by calton blanchard on Dec 13, 2011 12:55 pm • linkreport

I worked at Thompsons also from Feb, 1968 to 1971. I ran the IBM 1440 computer system. I worked with one of the grandson's, Lee Thompson.

by Frank Lazo on Dec 31, 2011 8:31 pm • linkreport

I have an orginal metal box and 6 glass bottles if anyone is interested in buying it.

by Mary Ann on Jan 15, 2012 10:19 am • linkreport

I have a Thompsons Dairy pint glass bottle with raised script looking to sell

by Mrs c on Jan 31, 2012 3:16 pm • linkreport

Many years ago a friend of mine had an old farm out near Manassas, I found an pile of half pint Thompson "TD" Dairy bottles along with old coiled barb wire that I think may have been left from when the Army did maneuvers there around 1913. I kept a few of the nicer ones, but always wondered about the history of the Thompson Dairy. Great website, Thanks!

Mike arclight88@hotmail.com

by Mike on Feb 12, 2012 12:21 pm • linkreport

My father, Wiley Garman, worked for Thompson's Dairy in the late 30's.

by Rachael Spinks on Feb 27, 2012 2:41 pm • linkreport

My father worked for Thompson's in the early 50's.
I was born I the children's hospital.

by James Hurst on Feb 27, 2012 5:10 pm • linkreport

Actually, there were never any births at Children's Hospital, but if you were ill you might have been transferred there. THE place to be born in the '50s was Columbia Hosp for Women-it marked you as a true Washingtonian. The hospital is now condos--24th and L, NW.

by jlo on Feb 27, 2012 5:16 pm • linkreport

I worked there 65 to 69 and I was born at Garfield Hospital I met and married my husband Dale while working there.
He was a helper and delivered milk to the White House and later got his own route in Virginia

by Carole mort on Feb 27, 2012 6:25 pm • linkreport

I have an old Thompson's dairy clock. Says quality checked dairy products. Was wondering if anyone knew anything about it? ( ricodot55@Gmail.com

by steve on Mar 14, 2012 8:01 pm • linkreport

This message is for James Hurst. My father also worked at Thompson's Dairy in the 50's. On my birth certificate is occupation - bottle washer Thompson Diary. I grew up in DC. His name was Charles Norris Lowe.

by Helen Davis on May 25, 2012 11:35 am • linkreport

Ah yes, I too remember the metal box that we kept on our front porch for the Thompson Milk delivery. The good ole days. I work transfer archival films and just saw a movie about Washington DC in the early 1900s. And sure enough there is a horse drawn Thompson Dairy wagon.

by Jim T on Jun 15, 2012 1:05 am • linkreport

I have a old bottel that reads 324 b st. but all the streets that are mentiond are south?

by Tom L on Jul 15, 2012 10:51 pm • linkreport

ISTR reading that the original Thompson dairy farm was in Alexandria, south of Old Town, in the area near where Hollin Hall shopping center is now. I know a lot of Quaker farmers came to the NOVa area in the late 19th century and I think the original Mr. Thompson may have been one of them.

by SMcK on Aug 3, 2012 7:57 am • linkreport

Carlton Blanchard, What John Trottman described is exactly the way I remember it happening. Embassy may have bought up a lot of assets, but I believe that Thompson's closed down in order to avoid (what they considered to be) outrageous Union demands.

by Don A on Aug 27, 2012 2:15 pm • linkreport

I have an old thompsons milk bottle passed on from my great grandmother if any is interested in buying it. Just send me an email. Thanks!

by ashley on Aug 31, 2012 2:35 pm • linkreport

My email is ashleybgee@aol.com! Sorry didnt include that in my last
Post!

by ashley on Aug 31, 2012 2:38 pm • linkreport

We recently cleaned out my father in law's out buildings and found and old dairy can. I believe it was used to transport the milk in long ago. The name on the top of the can is C.F. Dairy, Washington D.C. Does anyone have any information on this dairy?

by Angela on Nov 7, 2012 6:32 pm • linkreport

I grew up in HampshireKnolls, east of TakomaPark, 1961-1982. We got milked delivered but then my mom would send me to the grocer(Co-op)to buy milk. I remember news of a stike just prior to Thompson's closing. Was that a factor?

by Danny on Nov 21, 2012 3:14 pm • linkreport

Angela, I believe the C.F. initials on the milk can stand for Chestnut Farms. My grandfather worked for them in the 30's or 40's.

by Patsy on Feb 2, 2013 7:41 pm • linkreport

was working at the American.U. doing some deep diges,found a one pint bottelsharon dairy,c.thompson 1 pint324 b st.s.w. could not find any inpho on the adress,it looks like the bottom was handblown.do you have any thing on the address?

by tom lee on Apr 5, 2013 12:02 pm • linkreport

I grew up in the Del Ray section of Alexandria in the early 60's.There was a Thompson's Dairy store across from Mt. Vernon elementary school on Mt . Vernon ave.I bought a lot of baseball,football,Beatle,& Civil war cards there.Los Tios restaurant now occupies the site.

by Rick Henzler on Aug 20, 2013 11:10 pm • linkreport

I have a very old metal 10 gallon? Milk can with an image of a steam engine on it as well as raised letters indicating Thompson's Dairy, Wash DC. I have no idea how old it is, but it seems to be a century or greater. Does anyone have an idea how to find out? I took pictures.

by Jenny V on Oct 8, 2013 5:03 pm • linkreport

I'm here because I found an old plastic kiddie record (78RPM) from Thompson's Dairy. It's entitled "Happy Birthday from Uncle Al" and addressed to Virgil Jerman in handwriting. It was sponsored by WARL radio station (780AM). It plays and it is Uncle Al with a sidekick doing a poor imitation of Bugs Bunny wishing the recipient a Happy B-day and reminding them to have Thompson's milk with their cake and ice cream. 11:04AM M thru F ran advertisement

by Jim M on Nov 7, 2013 12:13 pm • linkreport

My wife's grandparents were the owners of Thompson's dairy. They lived and farmed in Vienna Va just outside DC.
Any info or pictures anyone has would be appreciated.

by Dan W on Jan 6, 2014 10:41 am • linkreport

Dan W, I would be happy to share photos of my milk container, but cannot find a way to post pictures here. if you'd like for me to semd them to you, or if anyone can advise how to post, I'd be happy to share.

by Jenny V on Jan 26, 2014 9:59 am • linkreport

send request for pictures of the metal milk jug in subject line to my email: jennyvithoulkas@verizon.net

by Jenny V on Jan 26, 2014 10:44 pm • linkreport

Great article and comments, thanks. Our neighbor in Silver Spring, Ed Mescher, was a milkman for Thompson's for years and year... the milkman on our route in the McKenney Hills area was Mr. Gregan. We moved out to the Colesville are in 1961 and the milkman was Skip - I wish I knew his last name. I remember our family coming home from a vacation in 1965 to find that Thompson's had closed... heartbreaking. I honestly don't think I've ever had as good a glass of milk since then... I swear, I didn't even know it could be bought in the grocery store until that time, and I was fifteen years old!

by Doug on Apr 4, 2014 10:13 pm • linkreport

Whoops, had the wrong year above, closing was several years later.

by Doug on Apr 5, 2014 3:24 pm • linkreport

@ Dale & Carole, did you ever get a Thompson's milk bottle?

(I too was born at Garfield in Feb 1950, our family doctor was William F. Luckett, who lived at Reno Road and Chevy Chase Parkway NW)

by Doug on Apr 5, 2014 3:28 pm • linkreport

Attention "Mary Ann": I see you posted a couple years ago about a metal box and milk bottles - do you still have these items available to purchase?

by Robin on Jul 31, 2014 2:21 am • linkreport

LOVE this site. I am not a collector [per se] of milk bottle or dairy memorabilia, but I do so enjoy reading comments about the local DC dairies. Many years ago, as a young stagehand in IATSE Local #22, I was called to go to the old Lowe's Palace Theatre [13th and F Street, NW] for a work call. Once there I discovered, up in a downstage right wall niche an old milk bottle. Curious, because I grew up as a post-war baby-boomer who remembered milk delivery trucks coming to our house, I took the old bottle home, cleaned it up, and started to examine it. Some stagehand must have taken it up there on lunch break and left it there. I can't say for sure how old it is, but it was bottled for Sharon Dairy by C. Thompson, 324 B Street, S.W., Washington, D.C. Perfect condition, clean, not a blemish, with the 8 fluted ribs on the neck. I did some research after reading the Washington Post's John Kelly"s piece on "Old dairies?" In fact, that's how I found this site.
Aside from collectors, I want to hear from serious dairy history buffs in the D.C. area. If you are one, give me a call at my business: Theatrical Technicians, Inc. -- 202-332-4907.

by Bert Morris on Sep 3, 2014 6:29 pm • linkreport

Some time ago, while digging in front of a residence in D.C., I came upon a pint-size glass milk bottle. It was in mint condition with "Thompson Dairy, 2012-11th St.N.W." in raised letters on the front. Also, in back and on bottom are the large and raised letters "TD". I am interested in selling. If you would like to make an offer, contact me via email at ljedger1@aol.com

by Larry E on Nov 1, 2014 7:15 pm • linkreport

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