Milking Machine

Milking machine safely and effectively milk cows. They vastly reduce the cost of milking a cow.


Nobody likes milking cows by hand. It’s time consuming, laborious, and they poop.

Early attempts at something better involved inserting catheters that would let the milk slide out. However, if not used perfectly these hurt the animal. Catheters often infected cow udders. This caused the co-mingling of infected and good milk leading to sickness in people. American Agriculturist magazine, the trade journal way back when refused advertisements for milking catheters.

Eventually, suction-based machines, that work more like hands, came along. American Anna Baldwin patented an early suction-based milker that, while sub-optimal, was a substantive step on the way towards the modern milking machine. S.W. Lowe built on Baldwin’s machine, sucking from four teats at once.

Finally, L.O. Colvin, cited as “America’s most famous inventor of early milking machines” created a hand-cranked machine that mimicked hands, the modern milking machines.

Women Inventors

A brief digression: we study countless historic innovations, the ones we write about and many more we do not believe are eligible for inclusion. We have never seen so many innovation histories where the inventors use initials for their first name. Way back when milking cows was often a women’s job, milkmaids. We know that Anna Baldwin created and patented one early machine. However, we believe many of these other initials-only inventors were also women. Using initials hid the fact from patent applications, news articles, and men who purchase farm equipment. With this in mind, we refer to these inventors using feminine pronouns.

Colvin’s milk machine received favorable press and sold widely. She sold the English patent rights for $5,000. This was an enormous amount of money in 1860 when the average wage for a skilled laborer was $8/week.

Using iterative development, the modern milking machine came into being. Hand-cranks operated earlier one’s whereas later versions relied on electricity. However, they all operated with a similar mechanism.

At least one publication raises a good question about why it took 50 years from the earliest patents to a fully-functional machine when the grain harvester moved much faster. The answer, they speculate, is that cows are not wheat: they are living animals farmers refused to experiment upon.