The Udderly Legen-dairy History of Dairying at MSU: Part I

I am a Midwestern stereotype: I grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. We sold our milk to a creamery in the Cheese Curd Capital of the World (Ellsworth, WI). Milk runs through my veins. I admire my vegan friends for their ability to resist the creamy deliciousness of cheese, ice cream, and yogurt, without which I would languish in despair. As you can guess, my interest in anything dairy-related is rather high.

Therefore I was delighted upon my arrival in East Lansing to discover the MSU Dairy Store. Most of you who have spent any time at MSU are familiar with the delicious flavors of the ice cream and cheese produced here on campus. Since we are in the middle of project documenting early foodways of the college, I thought it would be fun to explore a topic integral to both my personal history and the agricultural origins of MSU. This first in a series of two blogs about the history of MSU dairying will chronicle dairy production and manufacturing on campus.

Prized cows of the early MSC dairy herd. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Prized cows of the early MSC dairy herd.E. L. Anthony, History of Dairy Development at MSC, 1929. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

In the earliest days of the College, the only cows on campus were kept by the families of the professors. Frank S. Kedzie, a former MSC president, was the son of one of the first professors, recalls that his mother made the first cheese on the campus grounds (UA 17.107, Folder 1, Box 2411). In 1867, Dr. Manley Miles, Professor of Practical Agriculture, bought the first dairy cattle for the college, which were Ayrshires. Jerseys were added to the herd in 1871, and the first Holsteins, the black and white standard dairy cattle, arrived in 1880 (Anthony 192: 12-13). Brown Swiss and Guernseys were slowly added into the mix, as well. We know from the early account books that the boarding halls were acquiring milk from the early herds of the  Farm Department by 1871, if not before.

MSC dairy barns built in 1900 and 1929. E. L. Anthony, History of Dairy Development at MSC, 1929.Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

MSC dairy barns built in 1900 and 1929. E. L. Anthony, History of Dairy Development at MSC, 1929.Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

The first dedicated Dairy Barn was built in 1900 and held 100 cows. A new barn was constructed in 1929, which could house almost 150 heads of cattle and contained the most up-to-date equipment of that time (Anthony 1929:19). While updates were part of the reason for this move, another reason was disease. Tuberculosis wiped out most of the herd in 1904 (Anderson 1929), and contagious disease continued to plague the herd in the decades after. Those in charge of the dairy hoped the move to a new, sanitary location would break the disease cycle (Anthony 1929:16).

The first building containing a plant dedicated to dairy manufacturing was constructed in 1913. Known as the Dairy Building, it was located on the north end of Farm Lane and cost $55,000 (Anthony 1929:16). It contained a well-equipped creamery for the practical training of the students. The original Dairy Store was opened in this building, although the exact date of this event is unknown.

MSC Dairy Store in the Dairy Building (post-1913) Photo courtesy of Dr. John Partridge

MSC Dairy Store in the Dairy Building (post-1913). Photo courtesy of Dr. John Partridge

M.S.C. Dairy Ice Cream Bar wrapper Photo by S. Kooiman, courtesy of Dr. John Partridge

M.S.C. Dairy Ice Cream Bar wrapper
Photo by S. Kooiman, courtesy of Dr. John Partridge

The Dairy Department and Plant remained in the Dairy Building until 1954, when Anthony Hall was constructed. Letters from the Michigan Agricultural Conference (1948), Michigan Purebred Dairy Cattle Association (1950) and Michigan Livestock Improvement Association (1952) to the state complained about the poor facilities and outdated equipment of the Dairy Building plant and called for improved agricultural, livestock, and dairy facilities at MSC (UA 16.37, Box 521, Folder 8). Following the construction of Anthony Hall—which was named after Ernest L. Anthony, the former head of the Dairy Department—the new dairy plant was highly productive. They provided milk to all of the residence halls, and made products such as chocolate milk, cream, half-and-half, sour cream, cottage cheese, buttermilk, dry milk, butter, and, of course, cheese and ice cream (including ice cream bars).

Milk cans outside of the Dairy Building awaiting delivery to campus dorms. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Milk cans outside of the Dairy Building awaiting delivery to campus dorms. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

M.S.C. Dairy Plant milk can Photo by S. Kooiman, courtesy of Dr. John Partridge

M.S.C. Dairy Plant milk can. Photo by S. Kooiman, courtesy of Dr. John Partridge









Dr. John Partridge, an emeritus faculty member of both the Dept. of Food Science and Nutrition and the Dept. of Animal Science, could be considered the Oral Historian of dairying on campus. He showed me and Lisa, our Campus Archaeologist, his stash of old dairying equipment, packaging, and photos from the mid-century era of the Dairy Plant. It provided us insight into the type of things we might encounter during our archaeological investigations on campus, such as historic milk bottles, bottle crates, and milk cans.

According to Partridge, the high level of productivity during the 1960’s become a point of contention with local private dairies, who did not feel it was fair that the MSU Dairy should have a monopoly on the campus milk market. Therefore, the dairy plant closed in 1968. In the meantime, local dairies found out how difficult it was to handle the fluctuating demands for milk of a college campus, and the dairy plant opened up again in the early 1970s. After this time the plant ceased to distribute fluid milk. The plant was gutted in the early 1990s and refitted with updated equipment.

M.S.C. Diary Plant worker making ice cream bars. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

M.S.C. Diary Plant worker making ice cream bars. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Historic apparatus for making ice cream bars in M.S.C. Dairy Plant Photo by S. Kooiman, courtesy of Dr. John Partridge

Historic apparatus for making ice cream bars in M.S.C. Dairy Plant
Photo by S. Kooiman, courtesy of Dr. John Partridge








John Engstrom, the Dairy Complex Manager, kindly gave Dr. Goldstein and several CAP fellows (myself included) a tour of the dairy plant in early February. The facilities are spacious, shiny, and clean, and we saw the production of the curd for cheeses take place, which thrilled this Cheesehead. Some of those curds were bagged and sold the following day in that form, while the others were packaged into box forms to be pressed and aged and sold as various kinds of block cheese later on.

MSU Dairy Plant Facilities today

MSU Dairy Plant Facilities today

Diary Plant facilities soon after the construction of Anthony Hall Photo courtesy of Dr. John Partridge

Diary Plant facilities soon after the construction of Anthony Hall. Photo courtesy of Dr. John Partridge











The Dairy Plant currently focuses on producing shelf-stable cheese and ice cream. They produce 40,000 gallons in 40 different flavors of ice cream each year and 40,000 lbs of cheese in 11 different types or flavors. The milk is supplied by the 180 cows milked on campus in the Dairy Teaching and Resource center, as well as those milked in the Pasture Dairy center in the Kellogg Biological Station (although cream is acquired from another source). The MSU Dairy Store is both locally and nationally renowned, and you can even order their products online here.

Making cheese in the Anthony Hall Dairy Plant, Image courtesy of Dr. Partridge.

Making cheese in the Anthony Hall Dairy Plant, Image courtesy of Dr. Partridge.

Making cheese in Anthony Hall today.

Making cheese in Anthony Hall today.








While the long history of diary production and manufacturing on the Michigan State Campus is intriguing, the role of dairy in our institution extends far beyond just the delicious output of the Dairy Store. Part II of this series will explore the illustrious history of diary research and education and MSU, so stay tuned!



Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections:

Madison Kuhn Collection. UA17.107, Folder 3, Box 2411
E. L. Anthony, History of Dairy Development at MSC, 1929.

Madison Kuhn Collection, UA17.107, Box 2411, Folder 2
A.C. Anderson, “The Dairy Herd” (1929)

Madison Kuhn Collection, UA 17.107, Folder 1, Box 2411
F.S. Kedzie, Letter to Mr. G.A. Bowling, Graduate Assistant in Dairy Husbandry, ca. 1955.

UA 16.37, Box 521, Folder 8

Can You Smell What the Past was Cooking?

​Home Cookbook (Chicago, 1877). Image courtesy of MSU Special Collections.

​Home Cookbook (Chicago, 1877). Image courtesy of MSU Special Collections.

We are continuing our quest to chronicle historic campus cuisine, so I hope you are starving for more information. I have recently been exploring cookbooks from the latter half of the nineteenth century to get a feel for the kinds of recipes and dishes that my have been made and served in the early MSU boarding hall (ca. 1855-1870). The MSU Library Special Collections department is home to a vast array of rare and unique books, including the Cookery and Food Collection (, which includes over 10,000 cookbooks. They also created Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project (, an online collection of some of the most important and influential American cookbooks from the late 18th to early 20th century.

It would be foolish of me not to take advantage of such wonderful resources right here on campus, so I jumped in. I decided to use the online cookbooks that were published during the MSU Early Period to get a feel for recipes and ingredients that were popular nationally at the time. Additionally, I visited Special Collections to inspect some unique regional and local cookbooks that were not digitized in order to get a feel for dishes common in the Midwest during the late 19th century. I paid special attention to recipes that included the ingredients I found while perusing the account books but also noted popular recipes that recurred in various cookbooks, since many ingredients may not have been itemized in the account books at the time of purchase.

Roasted calf's head - is thy hunger not whetted? Image source.

Roasted calf’s head – is thy hunger not whetted? Image source.

Most recipes in these books focused on cooking meats/poultry/fish, breads, pies, and cake, with some space devoted to vegetables and beverages. Recipes for beef, veal, mutton, were plenty, and all three meats are seen in the account books. There are fewer recipes for pork and ham, and they are also somewhat less common in the account books. Plenty of fish and oyster recipes were featured, and both appear on the boarding hall books (look for Mari’s upcoming blog on the apparent 19th-century obsession with oysters). There are plenty of chicken recipes featured, yet, oddly, chicken was not a common item purchased by the early campus boarding halls. The reason for this is unclear. In general, meat recipes were inclusive of ALL parts of the animal—roasted calf’s head, calf’s head soup, calf’s foot jelly, veal brains, beef tongue, liver, “brain balls,” and other delicacies were included in most cookbooks.

Nineteenth-century vegetable and salad recipes would seem a bit curious to the modern health-food fans. Veggie sections, as mentioned earlier, were usually shorter than other sections of nineteenth-century cookbooks, and included macaroni (yes, the pasta), rice, and baked beans. Other vegetables mentioned were mostly potatoes, root vegetables, and salsify, correlating closely with the vegetables purchased by the Agricultural College boarding hall. Salads were generally what I like to call “Midwestern salads”: light on the veggies, heavy on the mayo. Potato, chicken, and lobster salads dominated these sections, although occasionally “lettuce salad” made an appearance.

​Blancmange--how refined. Image Source

​Blancmange–how refined. Image Source

Desserts comprised, in some cases, almost half of the recipes in some of the books. A multitude of cakes and pies were listed, popular flavors including lemon, plum, ginger, and “cocoanut.” Cookies were usually listed in the “cakes” sections and included but one singular recipe, meaning that cookies were not the varied and popular treat they are today. Chocolate cake and other chocolate recipes were not common in the 1850s and 1860s, but become more visible towards the end of the century. “Puddings” at the time were not the sweet custard desserts we think of today, but were baked, boiled or steamed confections of a grain, a binder, and other various ingredients, that could be sweet or savory. Most cookbooks had substantial pudding sections. Other common desserts included blanc mange and Charlotte Russe, jelly and cake confections formed with molds.

Items that appeared in the cookbooks that were not seen often in the accounting books include chicken, rice, oats and lima beans (succotash was featured in most cook books). Perhaps these were purchased in bulk orders from butchers and grocers and never clearly itemized, or perhaps they were simply not incorporated into the daily cuisine on the early campus.

Illustration of boiling from Cookery in the Public Schools (1890). Image courtesy of MSU Special Collections.

Illustration of boiling from Cookery in the Public Schools (1890). Image courtesy of MSU Special Collections.

Cuisine encompasses not only ingredients and food combinations, but also cooking techniques. While frying, baking, and broiling are often recommended, boiling is by far the most common cooking method featured in these recipes. Sally Joy White’s Cookery in the Public Schools (1890), an instructional book on the tenants of cooking, describes boiling as “one of the simplest ways of preparing meat” (p. 88). Recipes for boiled beef, ham, and even whole chickens and turkeys are numerous, and boiling is almost universally recommended for cooking vegetables.  It might be assumed that this method of cooking both meat and vegetables was employed by campus cooks to feed the large numbers of students and staff since efficiency may have been favored over flavor. However, dishes weren’t entirely devoid of spices—mace, nutmeg, allspice, clove, rose water, and sometimes even cayenne were common features of recipes.

Unsurprisingly, pickling food was also commonly suggested, since this would have been some of the best ways to preserve fruits and vegetables long-term during an era of limited refrigeration. From the traditional pickled cucumber to pickled peaches, pears, and even walnuts, pickling seemed very important and were undoubtedly a component of the early campus diet.

​Port Huron residents loved their whitefish. And codfish balls... (from What the Baptist Brethren Eat, 1876). Image courtesy of MSU Special Collections

​Port Huron residents loved their whitefish. And codfish balls… (from What the Baptist Brethren Eat, 1876). Image courtesy of MSU Special Collections

To get a sense of the local flavor, Michigan cookbooks, often assembled by churches, were only available only for later years, but were useful for insight into more everyday, regional and local cuisine since recipes were submitted by ladies of the church or organization. These include one from Port Huron from 1876, Des Moines, IA, from 1876, Chicago from 1877, Ann Arbor from 1887, and Lansing from ca. 1890. Cookbooks from Michigan included more recipes specific to whitefish, not surprising given the proximity to the Great Lakes. Grander, more complex recipes, such as calf’s head dishes, were not as common in these books, attributable to either the “everyday” nature of the cookbooks or to changing tastes over time. The Lansing cookbook was the only one to devote whole sections to croquettes and cheese, indicating local food preferences for fried foods and delicious dairy products.

The information found during my foray into historic cookbooks helps give us a sense of what the early MSU cooks were cooking, and what early students were eating. These recipes will also serve as a base for the meal recreation we are planning for the end of the semester, so stay tuned to find out what we will be making!


Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book. Harper & Brothers, New York, 1846.

The American Home Cookbook, with Several Hundred Excellent Recipes, by An American Lady. Dick & Fitzgerald, New York, 1854.

 Collins, A.M. The Great Western Notebook, or, Table Receipts, adapted to Western Housewifery. New York, A.S. Barnes & Company, 1857.

The American Family Cook Book; Containing Receipts for Cooking Every Kind of Meat, Fish, and Fowl, by Mrs. Leslie. Boston: Higgins, Bradley & Dayton, 1858.

Mrs. Putnam’s Receipt Book, and Young Housekeeper’s Assistant. Phinney, Blakeman, & Mason, New York, 1860.

Knight, S. G. Tit-Bits; or, How to Prepare a Nice Dish at a Moderate Expense. Boston: Crosby and Nichols; New York: O.S. Felt, 1864.

Dorman, O. A. Come and Dine: A Collection of Valuable Receipts and Useful Information. Tuttle, Morehouse, and Taylor: New Haven, 1872.

Choice Receipts, Selected from the Best Manuscript Authorities, published for the benefit of Christ Church Fair. Worthington, Dustin & Co., Hartford, CT, 1872.

What the Baptist Brethren Eat, and How the Sisters Serve It, a variety of useful and reliable recipes compiled by the Ladies of the first Baptist Church, Port Huron, Mich. Times Company, Port Huron, 1876.

“’76”: A Cook Book, edited by the Ladies of Plymouth Church, Des Moines, Iowa. Mills & Company, Des Moines, 1876.

Home Cook Book, compiled from recipes contribute by ladies of Chicago and other cities and towns: originally published for the benefit of the Home for the Friendless, Chicago. J. Fred. Waggoney, Chicago, 1877.

The Jubilee Cookbook: A Collection of Tested Recipes, compiled by a Committee from the Ladies’ Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Ann Arbor, Mich.

The Courier Steam Printing House, Ann Arbor, 1887.

White, Sally Joy. Cookery in The Public Schools. D. Lothrop Company, Boston, 1890

Selection of Choice Receipts, compiled by St. Paul’s Guild of the Episcopal Church, Lansing, MI. Jno. H Stephenson, Lansing, n.d. (possibly 1890?)

Accounting for Historic MSU Foodways

Last semester I focused much of my attention on the account books from the boarding halls (i.e, dining halls) during the Early Period of MSU history. The books cover a period from 1866 to 1874, during which the school was known as the State Agricultural College. While I have written about some of the information gleaned from these books (check them out here and here), below are some final themes and observations:

Food Logistics and Transportation

Example of A Boarding Hall Accounting Book (this is Vol. 108 listed in my references - says it goes until 1869 but actually goes to 1871). Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Example of A Boarding Hall Accounting Book (this is Vol. 108 listed in my references – says it goes until 1869 but actually goes to 1871). Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Today, MSU faces the challenge of keeping its many cafeterias and coffee shops stocked with enough food to feed 40,000 students on a daily basis. While this is quite a feat, they have the advantage of modern transportation and bulk food suppliers to make the task a bit easier. Although the student population was much smaller in the nineteenth century, it must have been a great challenge for the State Agricultural College to acquire the amount of food needed to feed the students and faculty, considering the limited amount of transportation available in and out of East Lansing at the time. Railroads reached Lansing by at least the 1860s, but all roads leading into campus/East Lansing were reportedly very poor, making the delivery of goods from town an unsavory task for horses and wagons (UA.17.107 F10 B2410). However, certain items were ordered via mail or train, such as teas and extracts, which are always noted to have the added expense of “express”. The first direct railroad line between Detroit and Lansing opened up in August of 1871 (MDOT 2014), and the first mention of food items being purchased occurred in April of 1872, when “express on extracts from Detroit” was paid. By early 1873, “freight from Detroit” was a very common listing amongst provisions purchases, indicating a change in the ways in which food was being procured and perhaps even influencing the types of foods being selected. “Fresh fish from Detroit” became increasingly more common after this time as well.

Fry Me an Egg and Butter My Biscuit:

Much of what is listed in the account books is eggs and butter. Eggs and butter. Butter and eggs. Over and over again. It’s obvious that these items were important ingredients for the boarding hall cooks. Sometimes the accountant listed the people from whom butter and eggs were purchased, usually the names of individuals. The college therefore had to coordinate with various local farmers and producers to procure enough eggs and butter to feed hundreds of students and faculty. In May of 1871, one account book (UA 107.17 Vol. 32) lists payments for 273 pounds of butter and for 246 dozen eggs! Can you feel your arteries clogging?

Self-Sustainability at the Agricultural College

While it might be assumed that an agricultural college would produce a lot of its own food, evidence of this in the account books is sparse. Not until 1871 does one account book specifically list vegetables purchased from the “garden” (and later the Horticulture Department). Garden purchases include items such beets, parsnips, salsify, pickles, onions, cabbage, and carrots (UA 17.107, Vol. 32). In 1872 they begin listing purchases of meat and milk from the Farm Department. The boarding hall bought 6838 lbs. (795 gallons) of milk from the MAC farm in June of 1872 alone! It must be assumed that the boarding hall was acquiring food from the Horticulture and Farm Departments prior to this date, but did not record these as monetary transactions prior to the school’s expansion post-1870. Therefore, while food needed to be purchased from sources outside of the college, it was partially self-sustaining. In 1872, Beal himself mentions that crops in garden did well and were used in the boarding halls, but that the “orchards and fruit gardens are a disgrace to the Agricultural College” (UA 17.4, B891, F16). Records we found from 1863 indicated plans for a pear orchard on campus (UA 17.107, F2412,) – this was evidently not very successful.

So…What Else Were They Buying?

1867 Ad for Andrew Bertch Meats, Lansing Michigan. Image Source

1867 Ad for Andrew Bertch Meats, Lansing Michigan. Image Source

While the account books give us good information about the types of raw foods being purchased, there are a lot of specifics that get left out because of the nature of the account book listings. Meat was purchased almost exclusively from a butcher named A. Bertch – he was billed monthly but the types of meats purchased are usually not listed. Some individual meat purchases were recorded – veal, beef, mutton, and pork were all offered on the boarding hall menu at some point or another. Flour was purchased in bulk from vendors like Thoman & Co. and Reitz & Beiderslatt. “Groceries” were obtained from the grocers E.B. Miller and J. Esselstyne & Son, and the details of the items within those bulk purchases are lost to time.

It’s clear from these books that some foods were reserved for special occasions or came at too high a price to buy in bulk for students. President Abbot purchased beef steak, veal, and oysters through the college account (UA 17.107, Vol. 32), all items that do not frequently appear in the books otherwise. Canned oysters were purchased for students only occasionally: “oysters and jelly for commencement” and “18 cans of oysters, supper for students, Week of Fires” both show up in 1871 (UA 17.107, Vol. 32). Who knew canned oysters were such a special treat?

Canned Oysters - mmmm!!! Image source

Canned Oysters – mmmm!!! Image source

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, the account books have given us a good idea of the types of foods being purchased and consumed. While the types of food chosen for consumption are strongly tied to culture, so too are methods of food preparation and dishes/recipes – all of it is part of cuisine, or food culture. In the coming weeks I will be exploring what dishes were prepared from the ingredients that were purchased—as well as how these dishes were received by the students.



Madison Kuhn Collection, Folder 11, Box 2533, Vol. 108, Collection UA17.107, “Boarding Hall Account Book, 1866-1871”.

Madison Kuhn Collection, Folder 11, Box 2531, Vol. 82, Collection UA17.107, “Cash Account with Boarding Hall 1869-1874”.

Madison Kuhn Collection, UA 17.107, Vol. 32, “Accounts 1867-1873”.

Madison Kuhn Collection, UA.17.107 Folder 10, Box 2410, “Student Life at MAC 1871-1874” by Henry Haigh.

Madison Kuhn Collection, UA 17.107, Folder 52, Box 2412, “Pear Orchard Report,” 16 June, 1863.

Beal Papers, UA 17.4, Box 891, Folder 16, “Reports to the President of MAC”, 11 Nov. 1872.

Michigan’s Railroad History 1825-2014. Michigan Department of Transportation, Lansing, 2014. Accessed online at

Seasons’ Eatings! Seasonality of Food Acquisition and Consumption on the Early MSU Campus

Behold the Seasonal Bounty!" (source:

Behold the Seasonal Bounty! Image Source

Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the long winter holiday season, and as we don our elastic-wasted pants and prepare to eat until we hate ourselves, there seems no better time to, once again, talk about food. As you sit down to your holiday meal this week, take some time to think about the food traditionally served at Thanksgiving. Some of the signature dishes include items such as cranberries, yams, apples, squashes, and pumpkins. These are late-autumn harvest foods, and they demonstrate how deeply food traditions are embedded in the seasonality.

What is seasonality, you may ask? The term refers to foods, usually fruits and vegetables, that are only available during the season of the year in which they ripen or are harvested. In our modern world of industrialized agriculture and global markets, it is easy to forget that people were once at the mercy of the nature for their food. In the past, fresh fruits and vegetables were not available all year round like many types of produce are now. Today, once-seasonal foods can now be grown in climates that produce year-round or in specialized greenhouses, and then distributed across the world via modern transportation. That’s not to say that we are not completely unaffected by seasonality, but societies in the past, including the early MSU population, were affected by it to a much greater degree.

College Hall & Boarding Hall (Saint's Rest) 1857. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

College Hall & Boarding Hall (Saint’s Rest) 1857. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

During MSU’s Early Period (1855-1870), the boarding houses, or dining halls, faced the challenge of feeding hundreds of students based on the availability of local resources. Routinely transporting foods in from long distances would likely have been generally too difficult and costly during most of this early period. A report from 1874 notes that there was a railroad to Lansing but none to campus, and all roads leading into campus were very poor. Therefore, acquiring food from MSU’s own fields, gardens, and livestock, and purchasing additional foodstuffs from local farmers and stores would have been the preferred and necessary means by which to procure food.

I and other CAP fellows have been mining account books from the early days of the college and boarding halls to determine early food purchasing habits. In three separate receipt books, all spanning the general time frame between 1866 and 1874 (which captures the end of the Early Period and the beginning of the Expansion Period), food seasonality patterns become strongly apparent.

The boarding house bought berries exclusively between July and September, while cherries are purchased almost every year, only in the month of July. Other summer items purchased only in summer months include plums, tomatoes, beets, radishes, summer squash, and salsify, a root vegetable that tastes like oysters (what a treat!). Grapes and pears, which are available in the fall, were both purchased in November, and turnips, and autumnal vegetable indeed, were procured in August and September. Dried fruit, dried apples, and dried peaches, however, were purchased mostly between February and April, although dried peaches were also bought in July. Therefore in the absence of fresh fruit, it seems dried alternatives were sought to supplement the daily nutrition of students and faculty.

Boarding Hall Provisions Account. Salsify purchase highlighted. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Boarding Hall Provisions Account. Salsify purchase highlighted. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Salsify. Sadly, it does not instantly turn things into salsa." (Source:

Salsify. Sadly, it does not instantly turn things into salsa. Image source

Other seasonal items were also noted in the account books. Maple syrup was purchased in March and April, when sap would be flowing freely through the Michigan maple trees. MSU diners happily guzzled down cider as the apples ripened and the weather turned chilly from September to November. And of course, MSU maintained holiday traditions as well. Pumpkins were bought annually in October, either for decoration or consumption, and large numbers of turkeys were procured in November. Even our earliest students were lulled into tryptophan comas following their Thanksgiving feasts.

So let us follow in the footsteps of our predecessors and dine upon the season’s ripest and most delectable comestibles. Let the starch of yams and squashes fill our bellies, the juice of cranberries stain our tongues, and the grease of turkey glisten upon our hands and faces. ‘Tis the season, the season for eating!



Kuhn Collection, Folder 11, Box 2533, Vol. 108, Collection UA17.107, “Boarding Hall Account Book, 1866-1871”.

Madison Kuhn Collection, Folder 11, Box 2531, Vol. 82, Collection UA17.107, “Cash Account with Boarding Hall 1869-1874”.

UA 17.107, Vol. 32, “Accounts 1867-1873”.

Madison Kuhn Collection, Folder 10, Box 2410, UA.17.107; “Student Life at MAC 1871-1874” by Henry Haigh.

Four Pickles for Dinner? Trials and Tribulations of Archival Research and Tips for Success

History is fleeting yet enduring. We hardly ever realize that we are making it, but the remnants of our historic actions can sometimes remain long after they are done. Things casually jotted down, random papers and notes tucked away—these are items we don’t realize that someone may use for information in the future. Fortunately for Campus Archaeology, the Michigan State University Archives serves as a repository for these bits of history, housing both official records and other written information collected from MSU alum and faculty emerita.

As lovely as such resources are, the often pose a problem for researchers. Diaries and notebooks, etc. were not written for the public and may only make sense the author. More official records, such as account books, weren’t necessarily private, but still bear the marks of individuals living in certain times and places, which doesn’t always translate for later generations.

In my efforts to recreate diet and foodways on the early MSU campus (1855-1870), I have been begun recording the food purchases in account books for the boarding houses. Boarding houses and clubs were the original cafeterias, so they are key to understanding early MSU food culture. However, the documents I have surveyed thus far, dating to between 1866 and 1871, have given me as much trouble as information.

Here are some of the issues facing researchers using historic archives:

  1. Illegibility:  Most handwriting prior to the last couple decades was in cursive, particularly in official records. Some record-keepers’ handwriting is clear and perfectly legible, but most of the time, this is not the case. As we move further away from using and reading cursive in the modern era, our untrained eyes find further difficulty with deciphering it. This problem will only continue to worsen, as many elementary schools have ceased teaching cursive writing.

Exprep on extracts from Saints Rest account books. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

2. Outdated Terms:  Some of our problems with reading past documents can be attributed to the use of terms that are no longer commonplace. Early on I ran into a word I could not read (see photo), but upon a text conversation with Lisa, we decided the word may be “exprep”. Googling this phrase didn’t turn up anything useful, and we concluded that it may have stood for external preparation (hiring an outsider to prepare something). Later I ran into the phrase “express in tea”, referring to postage for a tea delivery. I thought perhaps I had misread it the first time around, but the last letter of the previous entry simply does not look like two esses. I remain confused! (And please help if you can!)

Express on tea seen in Saints Rest accounts book. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Express on tea seen in Saints Rest accounts book. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

3. Incomplete information: One issue I have been running into with the receipt books is the lack of itemization of food purchases. Sometimes entries are very specific (e.g., “4 3/12 dozen eggs”), while others simply say “Pd Bill to Hentch for meat” without specifying the amount or type of meat that was purchased. Often the bookkeeper would simply reference the person paid without indicating the goods for which they were paid. This means that we are only able to get information about some food goods being purchased and not others.

So, how can you deal with the issues we face when researching in the archives? Here are some tips:

  1. Talk to an archivist:  This is the most obvious and probably most useful tip of them all. If you are having problems reading something, then it’s likely that the archivist has encountered the same problem and is much more experienced at reading and interpreting old records. This is a resource I have yet to tap—I’m  saving up all of my problems so I only have to bug them once!
  2. Discuss with friends:  Visiting the archives with friends can make the tedium a little less painful, plus you can ask them if they can decipher a word that has you flummoxed. If you go alone, you can take a picture (with permission of the archives) and send it to a friend for help.
  3. Revisit:  Take note of words you can’t read and revisit them later. Sometimes looking at them again or after you’ve seen a certain word or term written more clearly can help you read it the second time. I kept thinking I was seeing the word “sand” but later realized that it actually said “lard,” which makes more sense for a boarding house…
  4. Utilize alternate resources: Since certain documents often include only one type of information, you must draw on other resource types for context and other types of data. The account books list only foods purchased, so how foods were prepared, the recipes used, and students’ perception of the food are still unknown. I will be drawing on a variety of other sources for this information, so stay tuned…

These methods, however, cannot solve everything. One entry in the boarding house account book said “four pickles for dinner.” Did they really just buy four pickles? Or did they forget a word? Pounds? Jars? Barrels? And why were these pickles specified to be used for dinner? Was it a special dinner?! Or were pickles banned during lunch?!? Oh 1870 account book keeper, why do you vex me so?!?

Mystery word in Saints Rest account book. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Mystery word in Saints Rest account book. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Some remnants of history may always remain a mystery.


Kuhn Collection Vol. 108, Boarding Hall Account Book 1866-1871

Feast your Eyes on This: Banquets and Changing Cuisine at MSU (or: How I Wish I Could Time Travel to 1884 and Eat All the Cake)

During a recent visit to the MSU Archives, I was beginning my search through records pertaining to food and came across a rather interesting folder containing programs for various MSU and other local banquets. These programs all featured menus for the event, and demonstrate changes in taste and cuisine over time. Naturally, they piqued my interest.

Class of 1886 program banquet cover

Class of 1886 Banquet Program – Image Source: MSU Archives & Historical Collections

The first menu is for the “Class of ’86 Banquet” held on August 1, 1884. This banquet seemed to be quite a grand affair. It was held at the Lansing House Hotel in downtown Lansing, which became the Downey Hotel a few years later and was the premier luxury hotel in the area (it was later torn down and the famous Knapp Building was built in its place). The menu for the banquet was extensive; topping the menu was “Chicken Salad, a la Mayonaise” and “Lobster Salad.” Cold dishes included items familiar to us now, such as sliced turkey, chicken, and sugar cured ham, as well as some less familiar fair—“boned turkey with Jelly,” “Beef Tongue, Spiced” and “Pressed Beef”. Boned turkey is a whole turkey carefully de-boned and baked or boiled for a long period of time, served cold over a savory jelly made of calves’-foot (yum!). Spiced beef tongue is much as you would imagine. Variations have been popular in parts of Latin America, where it is know as “lengua”, but tongue has rather fallen out of typical modern American cuisine. Pressed beef is made when a joint of silverside beef is boiled, pressed, sliced and served cold.

1886 Banquet Menu - Image Source: MSU Archives & Historical Collections

1884 Banquet Menu – Image Source: MSU Archives & Historical Collections

“Relishes” on the menu include something called “Chow Chow”. This relish is around today in the southern US, and consists of some combination of tomatoes, cabbage, onion, carrots, bean, asparagus, cauliflower, and peas, which are all canned and pickled together.

Now here’s where things get really exciting: Under the “Social” category on the menu are listed ten, yes, TEN, different types of cake. Cake is one of my favorite foods, so this is my kind of party. Most of the flavors are typical, although you may not recognize “white mountain cake,” which is 3-layer white cake flavored with lemon, frosted between layers and over the outside (YUM). In addition to the cake were “Desserts” such as various ice creams and fruits.

1886 Banquet Dance Card - Image Source: MSU Archives & Historical Collections

1884 Banquet Dance Card – Image Source: MSU Archives & Historical Collections

The other half of the interior Banquet program listed the order of dances with a space to fill in your partner for each one—a dance card. The owner of this program had but one blank filled in; he was to do the Grand March with Grace Boosinger. Curiosity prompted an internet search of her name, which turned up the alumni update section for the Iota Chapter (Michigan Agricultural College) of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity in 1892. It reported that H.E. Thomas married Grace Boosinger (“his old freshman girl) on July 12, 1982, and that he had been “re-nominated as circuit court commissioner.” Harris Thomas was a mover and shaker – he began his career as a lawyer but served as president of multiple companies later on and even served as a US Postmaster. He and Grace lived in Lansing their whole lives and are buried here as well. It seems he only had one name on his dance card for a reason…

But I digress. Let’s jump ahead to 1926, from which we have a program for the “All-College Night Banquet… Celebrating Jointly the Sixty-Ninth Birthday of the Founding of the Michigan State College and the Opening of the New People’s Church.” The menu this time is a bit simpler with fewer options, and approaching closer to the types of food we might expect at a banquet today. Menu items include fruit cocktail, veal birds, mashed potatoes, gravy, head lettuce with Thousand Island dressing, rolls, butter, ice cream, cupcakes, and coffee. Veal birds are pounded strips of veal rolled or wrapped around a stuffing, and while perhaps not a staple of American cuisine, one can find modern recipes for them online.

1926 Banquet

1926 Banquet Program – Image Source: MSU Archives & Historical Collections

1926 banquet menu

Menu from 1926 Banquet – Image Source: MSU Archives & Historical Collections











The menu for a banquet held by the Michigan State College Board of Publications in 1939 grows even closer to modern feasting fare. The spread consists of cocktail, baked ham, au grautin potatoes, corn, spring salad, assorted rolls, coffee, and fresh strawberry sundaes. I would expect to find this exact menu at certain catered events today.

1939 Banquet Card - Image Source: MSU Archives & Historical Collections

1939 Banquet Card – Image Source: MSU Archives & Historical Collections

1939 menu banquet

Menu from 1939 Banquet – Image Source: MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Over the course of fifty-five years, it is interesting to see evolving food preferences on the MAC/MSC/MSU campus. Early banquets featured a wide variety of foods, many of which were labor-intensive for preparation, and included a number of dishes not readily familiar to the modern palate. They were also heavy in meat, which was considered a symbol of wealth. The 1884 MAC banquet seems to have been an attempt by the class or college to display or at least mimic the upper class traditional of “conspicuous consumption.” Display of a wide variety of foods, especially meat, which was expensive, was a tradition dating back to medieval times.

Moving into the 20th century, the variety of food offerings became narrower, the options generally easier to produce en masse. There is a trend of simplicity and subtle flavors during the pre-war era, expressed in fare such as potatoes, salad, and rolls. Also, it is presumable that as class sizes grew on campus (including the addition of women), that budgets were tighter and food choice had to be more economical. There are likely a variety of other factors influencing these differences, which I hope to investigate further in the future.

We still know little about the food traditions of the early MAC period (1855-1870), neither in terms of daily student and faculty diets in the campus boarding facilities, nor of special event food traditions. This will require digging deeper into the archives and using archaeological evidence to recreate the earliest diets of our academic predecessors. I, for one, have both my trowel and my fork ready to dig in.


The Rainbow of Delta Tau Delta, Volume xvi, No. 1 (1892). Hall, Black & Co., Minneapolis, MN. Accessed online at

Food for Thought: Documenting Early Food Habits at MSU

I love food. Ask anyone. I didn’t begin my archaeological career studying food, but my interest in ancient pottery eventually brought me around to the study of cooking and diet. It is not surprising, then, that my passion for eating ultimately led (albeit indirectly) to research focusing on culinary traditions and behaviors.

I love studying food because its central role in both our biological and social lives makes it an ideal, dynamic, and engaging topic of anthropological inquiry. Our daily schedules are constructed around meals, and food is often the centerpiece of holidays and celebratory events. The consumption of food brings people together, like families at mealtimes or friends meeting up for dinner. Shared food preferences can help bridge gaps and form bonds between strangers—a mutual love of barbeque chicken pizza may serve as the foundation of a new friendship. But regional or ethnic differences in food traditions can also divide—people from Chicago and New York may argue about which style of pizza is the best.

Students eating in their dorm circa 1914 - Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Students eating in their dorm circa 1914 – Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

When Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright first mentioned her idea, recreating a meal based on archaeological food remains found in a historic privy on campus, my interest was piqued. The brick-lined privy, located near the MSU Museum, was discovered and excavated by CAP in the summer of 2015. It contained a variety of interesting items, from dolls to broken dishes and various bottles. Also in this privy were discarded food remains. Privies were perfect places to throw smelly food leftovers and bones since they are already quite malodorous. And some remains, such as seeds, were probably deposited there…by some other means (you might call it “delivery method #2”).

Women cooking class at school of human ecology 1890-1899 - Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Women cooking class at school of human ecology 1890-1899 – Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

This year, fellow CAP fellow Autumn Beyer and I will be using the food remains from the privy and the Saints Rest excavations to explore and recreate the food environment of the MSU campus during the Early Period (1855-1870). We will be exploring the archives for information about early MSU food production, acquisition, purchasing, preparation, serving, and consumption. Autumn, a trained zooarchaeologist, will conduct in-depth analysis of the animal bones from the collection, of which primary identifications of cow, pig, chicken, and fish have been made. Other food remains include egg shell and raspberry seeds. We may even try to sprout one of the raspberry seeds with the help of CAP intern Becca Albert!

A perusal of CAP blogs from throughout the past year will show that we have already researched many of the types, origins, and prices of some of the dishes found in the privy, which helps us connect the food being cooked to how the food was served. A bottle of flavoring extract was also present in the privy (check out my blog on this item from April!), so we know that campus cooks were beginning to dabble in adding synthetic flavoring to dishes.

Ultimately, we hope to work with MSU Food Services to recreate a meal based on the remains in the privy and create an educational video documenting the process. Autumn will also spearhead creating a website for the project, which she will detail in upcoming blogs.

Horticulture Students 1884 - Image from MSU Archives & Historical Collections Flickr

Horticulture Students 1884 – Image from MSU Archives & Historical Collections Flickr

Understanding the foods prepared, served, and consumed by nineteenth-century students and faculty at MSU will help us recreate what life was like during the earliest years of MSU. Archaeology is all about connecting the present to the past, and what better way to make these connections than through our stomachs?

Wisconsin Extracts: A Tasteful Tale of Artificial Flavoring in the Midwest

I am from Wisconsin. Not only was I born and raised there, but I am also a Wisconsin stereotype—I grew up on a dairy farm. After 25 years in the Dairy State, I relocated to Illinois, but I never felt at home on the flat plains. I moved to Michigan a few years later and although the Great Lakes State has its own unique cultural flavor, there is a sense of familiarity here among the lakes and woods.

However, a sense of excitement still moves through me whenever I find a connection to my home state here in Michigan. The discovery that yet another treasure from the privy excavated by CAP last summer also originated in Wisconsin filled me with curiosity. The artifact in question is a bottle embossed with the words “Flavoring Extract” on the front panel and “Tallman and Collins” on the side.

Extract Bottle from West Circle Privy

Extract Bottle from West Circle Privy

Side of Extract Bottle from West Circle Privy - Reads "Tallman & Collins"

Side of Extract Bottle from West Circle Privy – Reads “Tallman & Collins”

William Henry Tallman - Image Source

William Henry Tallman – Image Source

Tallman and Collins Manufacturing was a company in Janesville, WI. The company’s founder, William Henry Tallman, was the son of William Morrison Tallman, a renowned lawyer and abolitionists, whose grand house (now a museum in Janesville) hosted a short stay from Abraham Lincoln in 1859. William Henry did not follow in his father’s political footsteps, instead purchasing a stake in a local drugstore business. By 1857, Tallman was running the company and took on Henry W. Collins as his new partner. Initially, Tallman and Collins was an import and wholesale business, selling medicine, drugs, chemicals, perfumery, and liquors. By 1864, Tallman expanded the business to include manufacturing a new line of perfumes and extracts. However, by 1869, Tallman and Collins ended their business partnership and Tallman continued on, focusing solely on perfume manufacture. Tallman perfumes and colognes were incredibly popular in the 1870s, but the company closed in 1883 due to William’s poor health.

Tallman and Collins offices, 609 W. Court St, Janesville, WI

Tallman and Collins offices, 609 W. Court St, Janesville, WI – Image Source

While it may seem odd that a company known for its perfumes also manufactured flavoring extracts, it was, in fact, a common pairing. The rise of organic chemistry in the mid-nineteenth century led to a flourishing field of crafting new fragrances, and given the close relationship between smell and taste, also led to the discovery of synthetic flavors. Various fruit-flavored candies, full of delicious synthetic flavor, were one of the attractions of the 1851 Crystal Palace exhibition in London, which was a celebration of the world’s technological advancements.

Advertisement in the Wisconsin and Minnesota Gazetteer, Shipper's Guide and Business Directory for 1865-'66

Advertisement in the Wisconsin and Minnesota Gazetteer, Shipper’s Guide and Business Directory for 1865-’66

In the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution and increasingly mass-produced food, there was a need to make otherwise bland processed foods a bit more palatable. Spices and natural flavoring extracts, a major component of worldwide trade, were expensive, so chemically synthesized flavors became a cheaper alternative for giving food some extra delicious flavor. Tallman and Collin’s company jumped on the flavoring market a mere thirteen years after its world debut, demonstrating Tallman’s business acumen. Although better know for his perfumery, the presence of its extracts in Michigan suggest their demand was great enough to warrant distribution to other parts of the Midwest.

Cheese extract - it actually exists!"

Cheese extract – it actually exists!

The flavor contained within our privy bottle remains a mystery (a chemical analysis of the contents are perhaps a bit out of the scope of CAP’s resources). The likeliest candidate is the one of the earliest and most common artificial flavors, vanilla (synthesized through the chemical vanillin), used to make early MSU campus food just a smidge less bland. However, in my vivid imagination, it contained cheese extract, obtained by another Wisconsinite desperate for the flavor of home while away at school. Fanciful interpretations aside, this small bottle provides us the opportunity to explore the history of chemistry, product distribution, and food trends and preferences of the recent past, a delicious addition to our knowledge, indeed.


Hayes, Dayle and Rachel Laudan
2009    Food and Nutrition, Volume 7: South Asian Cuisines to Yogurt. Marshall Cavendish, Tarrytown, NY.

Wisconsin and Minnesota State Gazetteer, Shippers’ Guide and Business Directory for 1865-’66. Geo. W. Hawes, Publisher and Compiler, Indianapolis.


History’s A-Brewin’: The History of Beer and the People Who Love It

In my previous blog, I discussed the history of the Philip Kling Brewing Company of Detroit, inspired by fragments of two Kling beer bottles found in the Gunson house debris last summer. While the story of the Detroit brewing industry was interesting, it was all history and no anthropology. And that makes Susan a dull girl. So this time I will explore how beer can be examined archaeologically and used to look at social relationships between people in the past.

Humans have been brewing beer for thousands of years. Some have proposed that beer-making was the primary motivator for the transition to sedentary, agricultural life ca. 10,000 B.C., although hard evidence of its existence is more recent. Beer is mentioned in some of the earliest writings from ancient Babylon (ca. 4000 B.C.) and earliest archaeological evidence comes from a pottery vessel from the site of Godin Tepe in Iran, which dates to approximately 3400 B.C. But how do archaeologists detect ancient beer, you ask? SCIENCE!! Patrick McGovern, the so-called “beer archaeologist,” is a biomolecular archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and he has made a career out of identifying the chemical traces of fermented beverages in ancient ceramic vessels. He looks for certain “fingerprint compounds,” such as calcium oxalate for barley beer and tartaric acid for wine, which can be identified through elemental analysis. McGovern has used his identifications to trace the history of brewing practices and trade across the Old World.

Gamo pottery from a farmer's household in southwestern Ethiopia

Gamo pottery from a farmer’s household in southwestern Ethiopia

John Arthur, an archaeologist at the University of South Florida – St. Petersburg, observed that ceramic vessels involved in the fermentation of beer in present-day southwestern Ethiopia showed signs of interior attrition. This means that the fermentation process eats away at the interior surface of the vessel, leaving a distinctive pattern that can then be identified in pottery excavated from archaeological sites. Arthur then uses this information to make social inferences about the past. Among the Gamo of Ethiopia, which is a caste society, only the wealthier households from the high caste can afford enough grain to make beer (farso). Thus pottery with interior attrition could provide insight into socioeconomic differences in certain ancient societies.

This brings us to the issue of access and social meaning. Not everyone has access to either the resources to make beer or to the finished product itself. Chicha, or maize beer, was consumed primarily in the Andes region of South America as long ago as 3000 B.C. Not only was it a sacred drink, but it was available only to elites. In Medieval Europe, however, beer and ale were produced in the home and provided nutrition for the everyday laborer, while wine was reserved for the upper classes. Prior to AD 1000, women in Europe baked bread and brewed beer for their families. After this time, the formation of Brewer’s Guilds moved the preparation of beer from the homestead to licensed brewhouses and under the control of men. By 1700, most beer-making was conducted by large European breweries. In the North American British colonies, ale was considered a “civilized drink” and breweries were built on the grounds of prominent plantations and estates to sate the thirst of their esteemed owners.

Ph. Kling Brewing Company Beer Serving Tray

Ph. Kling Brewing Company Beer Serving Tray – Image Source

The Industrial Revolution allowed for an increase of commercially available beers for public consumption and led to the rise of major beer producers, such as Phillip Kling Brewing in Detroit. I was unable to find information on the public’s view of Kling beer, such as whether it was considered a cheap, “everyman’s” beer or a higher class brew. They certainly seemed to have marketed themselves as the latter, as shown by rare decorative trays that depicts a dolled-up couple “after the theatre” and proclaims to be “A Beer for Guest and Host.”

Throughout much of the 20th century, however, the bland, mass-produced beer, marketed by clever commercials and large horses, made beer the signature blue collar and frat boy beverage, but in the last few decades or so, the rise of microbrews and hipsters have increased the interest and status of beer, which now comes in a broad range of varieties, full of flavor. It has also renewed interest in resurrecting the flavors of ancient brews, which were once complex recipes involving herbs and multiple sources of sugar, as opposed to the simple recipe of your average Bud Light. McGovern’s research has helped Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware create a line of Ancient Ales, the most famous of which is Midas Touch. The Field Museum in Chicago also recently announced they will release a recreation of a maize-and-berry beer made by the ancient Wari people of Peru.

Being a thorough researcher and trying out Dogfish Head's Midas Touch, a recreated ancient ale. You know, for science.

Being a thorough researcher and trying out Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch, a recreated ancient ale. You know, for science.

It comes as little surprise to find that people are using a beverage so beloved in modern American culture to connect with peoples of the past. Professor Gunson and his bottles of PH Kling beer comprise but a small piece of the story of the long love affair of humans with beer. This love affair continues at MSU today, evidenced by the beer cans strewn across the campus after a home football game and by the popularity of taprooms like Hopcat. Beer brings us together, but it can also divide us; beer anchors us to the present, and it connects us to our past.



Blum, Peter H.
1999   Brewed in Detroit: Breweries and Beers since 1830. WayneStateUniversity Press, Detroit, MI.

McGovern, Patrick E.
2009   Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA.

Michel, Rudoph H. and Patrick E. McGovern
1993   The First Wine and Beer: Chemical Detection of Ancient Fermented Beverages. Analytical Chemistry 65(8):408-413.

Two Bottles of Beer in the Ground: The MSU Connection to PH Kling and the Brewing Barons of Detroit

PH Kling Brewery Bottle Fragment - Gunson Unit D

PH Kling Brewery Bottle Fragment – Gunson Unit D

This past week, Lisa, the Campus Archaeologist, discovered fragment of two different beer bottles in the assemblage excavated from the remains of Professor Thomas Gunson’s household. The embossed words “PH Kling” appear on both fragments, although in different fonts, and an internet search quickly brought up references to the Philip Kling Brewing Company in Detroit. Fortunately for me, Peter Blum wrote a lovely book about the history of brewing in Detroit, in which the Kling company features prominently. I summarize that information here, but I would encourage those of you interested in the topic to give it a read (citation below).

Original Phillip Kling Brewery Building: Image Source

Original Phillip Kling Brewery Building: Image Source

Brewing began in the city of Detroit around 1830, where the industry was run by mostly British entrepreneurs making ale. Beginning around 1848, a large influx of Germans into the area brought with it a new era of brewing in the Detroit—one dominated by German lager brewers. Among these German brewers was Philip Kling, a cooper, who along with Michael Martz and Henry Weber, invested in the Peninsular Brewing Company in 1856, which was located on Jefferson Avenue, near the future site of the Belle Isle bridge. Kling gradually took greater control of the company, which was renamed Philip Kling and Company in 1868. Kling became the first president of the Detroit Brewer’s Association and by the end of the 1870s, PH Kling was one of the city’s most successful and prominent breweries. Their offerings included Pilsener, Gold Seal Export, Extra Pale Ale, and Porter.

Post-1893 Philip Kling Brewery with new and expanded brewhouse: Image Source

Post-1893 Philip Kling Brewery with new and expanded brewhouse: Image Source

After reverting to the name Peninsular Brewing from 1879 to 1890, the name Philip Kling Brewing Company was formally adopted. This year also marked the beginning of the great brewing dynasties, which in Detroit included the Strohs, Klings, Martzes, and Darmstaetters. However, Kling was but a middling competitor amongst the giants. The brewery was severely damaged in a fire in 1893, and a new 6-story brewhouse with increased barrel storage was constructed. After Philip’s death in 1910, his son Kurt took over operations, but business was interrupted by Prohibition in Michigan, which began in 1917. Like other breweries, the company replaced the word “brewing” in their corporate name, becoming Kling Products Company. In the attempt to keep the company running and generate income, Kurt Kling built Luna Park next to the brewery, and amusement park that included a roller coaster. However, the company was forced to close in 1921 and the building was torn down.

Following the end of Prohibition in 1933, Kling purchased Daily Brewery in Flint and resumed brewing by 1936. However, former bootleggers in Detroit still controlled distribution in Detroit, and Kling found it difficult to make his way back into the Detroit market. While the other major breweries were quick to make post-Prohibition recoveries, Kling’s Flint venture floundered and was out of business by 1942.

Postcard depicting the post-Prohibition Phillip Kling brewery in Flint: Image Source

Postcard depicting the post-Prohibition Phillip Kling brewery in Flint: Image Source

Back in East Lansing, we believe that the material from CAP excavations this summer is from Professor Gunson’s house, where he lived from 1891 until his death in 1940. A majority of the examples of Kling bottles online have the large, clear block lettering present on the second bottle fragment, while the first has serif lettering, for which I could find no online equivalent. It is possible that these bottles were from two different time periods, meaning Gunson could have been a long-term devotee of the brand throughout the span of its popularity. I could find no information concerning the distribution of Kling beer to other Michigan markets so it is unclear if Gunson purchased the beer locally or in Detroit. In any case, these small pieces of bottle glass tie MSU into the bigger picture of the Michigan brewing industry, which is a legacy in which the state prides itself today. I will hop into a more in-depth discussion of the social role of beer at MSU, in Michigan, and throughout world history in my next blog. In the meantime, relax and throw back a few cold ones—it will make the wait less brewtal.

Blum, Peter H.
1999 Brewed in Detroit: Breweries and Beers since 1830. Wayne State University
Press, Detroit, MI.