Star Dairy

 Star Dairy
Father A.C. Schaper and son E.A. Schaper Sr. pose by their mule driven milk wagon.

It has been a tough start to summer for Texas dairy lovers. This spring Blue Bell ice cream was pulled from shelves after concerns over Listeria. But the latest outbreak is not the first time the dairy industry has dealt with health concerns. During the Progressive Era reformers that included civic and business leaders passed a milk ordinance to quell growing concerns over the safety of the island’s dairy supply. The law required dairy farms to obtain a permit, allow inspections, and test samples for bacteria. In 1906 dairymen and farmers formed an association to promote their interests and coordinate health inspections. By 1927 the public’s trust in the dairy industry had largely been restored and an iconic company, Star Dairy (re)opened for business.

 Star Dairy
The Star dairy ice cream and milk shop located at 1816 45th street was a welcome sight for many children.

The original Star Dairy, located at 4702 Ave. S, operated from 1901 until 1917. It was owned by an English immigrant named Walter J. Jones. Ten years later James Carlson took over operations from Galveston Milk Company at 2212 Strand and renamed the company Star Dairy. Carlson, a Swedish immigrant who moved to Houston in 1892 and settled in Galveston in 1903, was involved with the firm until his death in 1943. Upon his passing, his wife Fridea’s family – the Schapers – took up the family business. While the ownership changed, the Schapers continued to work in the dairy business for many years. One of their decedents, Steve Schaper, recently donated some fascinating photos of his great grandfather and grandfather working as milk delivery men and other objects related to the Star Dairy. These items, along with other historic memorabilia, made up this July’s Rosenberg Library Treasure of the Month.

In 1929 Star moved to a new building at 21st street and Ave. H. Twenty years later it moved again, this time to 1816 45th Street. The iconic ice cream shop is fondly remembered by many as a special treat for the island’s children. In the following years the company operated eight delivery routes serving 3,200 local residents. In 1958 Star merged with Kobarg Dairy, but changed ownership in 1962. In addition to milk, Star sold cottage cheese, cream, 4% milk, and ice cream. Most of the company’s milk came from the west end, Algoa and Arcadia. Consolidation within the industry forced many small and mid-sized dairies out of business and by 1964 Star ceased operations.

One of the most enduring images of the dairy industry from the period Star operated was that of the milkman. Usually seen as friendly, punctual and reliable, the milkman was a mainstay in popular culture making appearances in early sitcoms, lauded in songs (like 1934’s My Very Good Friend, the Milkman, written by Johnny Burke). Star milkmen like most, wore a distinct uniform of white slacks, cap and dress shirt. The clean white outfit conveyed purity and cleanliness. Star further emphasized its sanitary facilities by allowing school students and medical classes to visit their processing plant. One of the bottles on display further highlights the point. It reads ‘I’m Not Old Fashioned I’m Just Smart! I Buy Milk In Glass and Check The Quality.’

 Star Dairy
The milk men of Star show off their fleet of trucks outside of their headquarters at 21st Street and Ave. H.

The milkman offered a convenient way for customers to get fresh dairy to their homes daily. This was especially important in the days before home refrigeration was common. Star began deliveries with a mule-drawn carriage that used ice to keep their product from spoiling. Eventually the company had a fleet of over a dozen trucks to deliver dairy to 3,000 customers around the county.

Star was very progressive in its advertising. It took out print ads lauding the health benefits of milk with slogans like “Drink a quart of milk daily for health’s sake – the advice of thousands of physicians” and “Star Milk makes better babies.” Star joined other local dairies and offered promotional items like shakers for mixing chocolate malted milk powder into milk. In an era when the adverse health effects of tobacco were not widely understood, Star had Travis Club Cigars print the firm’s name on promotional cigar boxes, one of which was on display. Star also had a soccer team in the 1930s that regularly made it into the sports section when it played traveling foreign teams (some from as far away as Germany) and other local clubs. The dairy even partnered with the Galveston News-Tribune and offered free cooking classes.

Past Treasures