October 1935: This month last century

77 years ago the distribution of free milk to 5500 primary school children in Auckland begins (14 October 1935)

 This world first began as a temporary measure in Auckland for primary school children up to Standard 4 (year 6). The experiment, paid for the Auckland City Council, was closely watched by the government.

Initially, over 1500 litres of milk was distributed each day to 18 schools in the city.

Milk bottle, unknown, New Zealand. Maker unknown. Gift of the Guard Family, 1993. Te Papa

Milk bottle, unknown, New Zealand. Maker unknown. Gift of the Guard Family, 1993. Te Papa

Each child received half a pint (just under 300ml) of pasteurised milk in a glass bottle, like the one pictured above, with a cardboard lid. The lids had holes in them for drinking straws. Later the caps often carried promotional messages such as ‘Make a good start. Drink milk every morning’ and  ‘Full Marks to Pasteurised Milk’.

The free milk scheme was prompted by concerns about the low rate of consumption of milk, which meant that New Zealanders were degenerating into ‘a  B grade people’, according to Dr E B Gunson. Depression conditions and the associated poor diets and health of children were also causing anxiety.

This pilot scheme in Auckland was launched just before the election of the first Labour Government (led by Prime Minister Michael Savage, below), which became synonymous with the implementation of universal social security initiatives.

Autograph album, 1930s, New Zealand. Maker unknown, Roberts, Benjamin. Gift of anonymous donors, 2007. Te Papa

Autograph album, 1930s, New Zealand. Maker unknown, Roberts, Benjamin. Gift of anonymous donors, 2007. Te Papa

Concerned with creating equal access for New Zealanders to basic health, education and welfare, this government made free milk available to all New Zealand primary school children in 1937. This was complemented by other health measures for children such as free dental care at school dental clinics. School dental nurses continued to stress the importance of milk in children’s diets.

The school milk scheme continued under successful governments, both National and Labour, until October 1967.

Read more about the government’s involvement in children’s health, the Depression and social welfare measures on the Slice of Heaven website

See nzhistory.net.nz for more details about the school milk scheme

Read more about the beginning of the school dental clinics and nurse on previous Te Papa’s blog

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