By John Lauritsen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Got milk? There was a time when the milkman was as common as the mail carrier. And a Minnetrista man is going all-out to make sure people never forget that.

In this week’s Finding Minnesota, John Lauritsen shows us how Bill Ewald single-handedly preserved his family’s 97-year history of milk deliveries.

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It seems like a relatively new concept: getting groceries and other knick-knacks delivered right to your front door. But long before Amazon and Target Shipt, there were the Ewald Brothers.

“We would bring it right to your home and install it in your refrigerator if you wanted,” said Bill.

That was 70-plus years ago. Today, Bill is more than happy to make a delivery down memory lane. His great grandfather, Christ, started Ewald Brothers Dairy in 1886 after arriving in Minneapolis from Denmark.

“At 16 years old my great grandfather took the family’s savings, all of it, and bought a horse and an existing milk route. One milk wagon and one horse,” said Bill.

With that, he built an empire. He learned to speak English on his routes while delivering milk and dairy products in all kinds of Minnesota weather. In 1920, the Ewald’s built a creamery.

Before there was Theodore Wirth Park, as we know it today, they were on that property.

“Seven-hundred acres of what you see here is what is now Theodore Wirth Park,” Bill said.

By the 1950s and 1960s, the Ewald’s business was the biggest delivery service in the Midwest, delivering to two out of three homes in Minneapolis. Their golden goose was Golden Guernsey milk.

(credit: Ewald family)

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They were the first to put milkmen in uniforms, and among the first to find the value in advertising — from signs and promotions to radio spots.

Bill’s grandpa Ray even took pride in having both Gov. Luther Youngdahl, a Republican, and Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Humphrey, a Democrat, in his advertising. Perhaps proof that milk is bipartisan.

“Now in many cases, there were three-generation milkmens. So as the grandfather would retire, the son may take over,” said Bill.

But as supermarkets emerged, the business began to dry up. By the early 1980s, it had ended for the Ewalds, though the hunt was just beginning for Bill.

It’s like a Minnesota milk museum. Bill says he believes it’s one of the largest.

He’s spent the past 40 years searching for his family’s collectibles. What he’s put together in his basement is just a fraction of what he’s found. To recapture the past, Bill also spent two years building a model of the Ewald creamery.

“We trucked this over to the State Fair. It did earn a blue ribbon and an $8 first prize. We have the uncashed check still hanging here,” said Bill.

The goal with all of this is to remind people that things do come full circle. In their later years the Ewald’s also delivered laundry detergent, soap and candy. Sound familiar?

“Two hundred and fifty-plus men and women really drove the business. They were the face of dairy when they took that bottle of milk to the consumer,” said Bill.

Bill wrote a book about Ewald Brothers Dairy with 100% of the proceeds going to Minneapolis-based therapeutic care centers for children.

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Click here for more information on the Ewald Brothers Dairy.

John Lauritsen