At 35 years old, Orville A. Dean first started selling milk to friends and acquaintances. In 1886, he built a large farmhouse on Mayfield Road, which served as his family home and the office for the OA Dean Dairy Company for seventy-one years. In the early years, milk was delivered by horse-drawn wagons. The delivery men dipped large ladles into the 10 gallon cans, and then poured the milk into each housewife's pitcher.
In 1920, Harry N. Dean took over the company from his father. By then, Dean's had grown to eight retail outlets and one wholesale store, with new machinery and equipment. During these years, the Dean's Dairy's many fine horses were displayed at shows and fairs throughout the area. The World War II years were difficult, with food rationing and drivers leaving for the war, but luckily for Dean's, dairy products remained in demand. Grove P. Dean, grandson of Orville, originally moved east to try his hand in other businesses, but was drawn back to home. Under his guidance, Dean's converted most of the wagons from horse drawn to automotive, although some horses were still used. Rubber tires were added to these "very modern units" to cut down on noise during early morning deliveries.
Wilburt McCarthy, who retired in 1975 after 40 years as a Dean's milkman, remembered delivering "to the home every day then, seven days a week. We'd go out and load up the wagons at two or three o'clock in the morning and we'd put in our 10 to 12-hour work day. The pay wasn't much for a milkman." "Dean's had the best chocolate milk, barring anyplace," remembered milkman McCarty. "It was really out of this world. In the summertime, we serviced a lot of house painters. And we'd sell off the truck to those fellows all the time, buttermilk and chocolate milk."
Cleveland Heights mayor Ed Kelley worked for Dean's Dairy in the early 1970s, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, milkman William Rapp, his uncle, father and brother. Mr. Kelley filled 500 sacks of ice for the milk trucks each day. Since the trucks were not refrigerated, the milkmen used the sacks to keep the dairy products cool during deliveries. Mr. Kelly worked during the summers and after school in the early fall, until the temperature dropped. He also worked as a weekend night watchman, listening to Casey Kasem's Top 40 on the radio. His favorite memories of working at Dean's were the wonderful stories the drivers shared with him. "The drivers were very kind to me," Kelly remembered, "and they encouraged me to stay in school and go on to college." Dean's was "a great place to work," although going from the hot summer weather outside to the cold air of the cooler could be a shock.
Two other dairy companies operated in Cleveland Heights as well. Hillside was started in 1932 and located on Center Road, near Noble and Mayfield. Many people remember the wonderful tours of Hillside Dairy and their delicious lunch counter. Hillside is also remembered for having one of the first female milk drivers. In one month, they had 18 drivers called up for service in World War II, so they hired the "first feminine milk-carrier, six feet, 170 pounds." Bruder's dairy opened in the early 1900s. One of Bruder's busiest retail stores was located in what is now Seitz-Agin Hardware on Lee Road.
Innovations in refrigeration and the proliferation of convenience stores and supermarkets in the 1970s signaled the end of small dairies that specialized in home delivery. People no longer wanted the more expensive, home-delivered milk products. Even so, many Cleveland Heights residents still hold fond memories of the milk trucks making their regular deliveries throughout the community.
Text by Mazie Adams, courtesy of the Cleveland Heights Historical Society