Carnation condensed milk first manufactured in Kent on September 6, 1899.

  • By Priscilla Long
  • Posted 8/06/1999
  • Essay 1608

On September 6, 1899, Carnation condensed milk is manufactured for the first time. The first Carnation milk factory is located in Kent, in King County.

In 1898, the Washington Condensed Milk Company established a condensing plant in Kent, Washington. Within one and one-half years the company went bankrupt. The Pacific Coast Condensed Milk Company, established by Elbridge Amos Stuart (1856-1944), acquired the plant and machinery and on September 6, 1899, produced the first cases of evaporated milk, called Carnation Sterilized Cream. The company would later change its name and become the world famous Carnation Milk Company.

Cheese John's Invention

Following is an account by Stuart of the Kent plant’s beginnings.

"We located a small plant at Kent, Washington which had been established for the processing of sweetened condensed milk. The company had failed and the machinery and equipment were bought at Sheriff’s sale by the First National Bank of Helena, Montana. We purchased the equipment for the sum of $5000 and rented the realty. We had to reassemble the machinery and make certain additions so as to adapt it to the processing of evaporated milk. While we were preparing the plant for operation we employed a high class Swiss dairyman, nicknamed ‘Cheese John,’ who worked with the local dairymen educating them as to the method of producing a high quality fresh milk so that we could produce a high quality evaporated milk. On the 6th of September 1899, we received about 5800 pounds of fluid milk which we processed into 55 cases of evaporated milk" (Lentz).

"Cheese John" was John Meyenberg. He patented the important innovation of preserving milk by means of high heat to sterilize the milk. The old method had been to add sugar as a preservative.

From Contented Cows to Downtown Development

The company began producing 10,000 pounds of condensed milk per day. Within two years production was up to 40,000 pounds per day.

E. A. McDonald, the State Dairy and Food Commissioner, reported in 1902 that Carnation milk was a favorite brand among grocers. The company's Kent plant turned its first profit in 1903. To assure the quality of his dairy supply, Stuart established a farm in the Snoqualmie Valley in 1908, and stocked it with prize Holsteins -- which Carnation's advertising agency immortalized as "contented cows."

In 1911, Stuart invested in the Metropolitan Building Company, which took over development and management of the University of Washington's "Metropolitan Tract," the downtown Seattle site of its original campus. His name was given to the last extension of the Henry White Stuart Building which once lined the east side of 4th Avenue between University and Union streets (demolished in 1977 for Rainier Square). Stuart remained active in downtown development until his death in 1944.

Note: This article is part of Cultivating Washington, The History of Our State’s Food, Land, and People, which includes more agriculture-related content, vidoes, and curriculum. 


E. A. McDonald, "Fourth Biennial Report of the State Dairy and Food Commissioner of the State of Washington ... November 1, 1902," (Seattle: Metropolitan Press, 1903), 10; Florence K. Lentz, Kent Valley of Opportunity (Chatsworth, CA: Windsor Publications, Inc., 1990), 35-36; Adam Woog, Sexless Oysters and Self-Tipping Hats (Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 1991), 127; Neal O. Hines, Denny's Knoll, A History of the Metropolitan Tract of the University of Washington (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1980).

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