Pulaski Pure Milk Company

By Claudia Johnson
In the mid-1950s the recognizable red and white Pulaski Pure Milk carton replaced thick glass bottles. The carton boasted of a variety of product offerings and the company’s membership in the Dairy Guild.
The McPeters family business started as a small operation in 1940 producing only a few gallons of pasteurized milk each day. By the plant’s sell to Purity Dairies in 1982 nearly a million and a half gallons of raw milk was processed into a variety of products distributed throughout the region. The TastSweet cottage cheese sold by Pulaski Pure Milk was one of the few products the company offered but did not produce locally. Inspecting the new containers are Nell McPeters, center front, surrounded by her children, clockwise from left, James, Gene, Jack, George and Alice.
A quart of sweet milk sold for seven cents in 1940 when Pulaski Pure Milk began processing milk from local dairies.
David Eugene McPeters Sr. and his wife, the former Nell LaRue, started their business in a rented building just north of the alley on South First Street on Feb. 1, 1940, with an $8,000 investment that included a pasteurizer but no homogenizer.
Initially the plant produced only a few gallons each day, put production continued to increase reaching up to 4,000 daily by the early 1980s. Collected in a 100-gallon container, milk was brought for the first 11 years to the plant in cans by dairy farmers who had already began using milking machines. When Pulaski Pure Milk sold to Purity Dairy in 1982, milk was collected at each farm by a 200,000 gallon tank truck.
By Christmas of the company’s second year the United States was involved in World War II. James and Gene were called into the armed forces, so Nell and Jack operated the plant, while George kept the family’s Dry Creek Road home place and farm running.
“We sent our paychecks back home to help keep the plant going,” remembered Gene, the only one of the McPeters children remaining.
As the war was winding down, Pulaski Pure Milk was taking off. In 1945 the company was growing so rapidly that the McPeters family constructed a modern milk plant on East Woodring Street. With one truck they started delivering milk around the square and to homes in Pulaski, expanding to 15 or 20 routes that included schools and businesses in multiple counties and two states as the years passed.
David McPeters’ original idea for a milk processing business was to provide opportunities for his children, all of whom worked there during various periods in the four decades to come. Gene became the company president responsible for the business and management aspects of Pulaski Pure Milk. Jack handled maintenance on the increasingly complicated machinery, expanding facilities and growing fleet of trucks. James managed the plant operations and employees. George was over the pick-up and delivery routes and the 20 or so men who ran them. Their sister Alice, who was married to Garland Chapman, helped in the office.
Nell McPeters remained actively involved throughout the plant’s operation, and her husband planned to one day join his family in the plant’s operation. Unfortunately, he died in 1946 in a fatal car crash.
The following year a homogenizer, a machine that mixes the creme with the milk, was installed. With continued growth, the plant was getting crowded. An office building was constructed next door, and in 1951 the management staff moved.
Until the mid-1950s milk was bottled in quart, pint and half-pint containers. The company was delivering milk to schools throughout the area in small glass bottles.
The company transitioned to cartons in 1955, and Gene McPeters remembers problems with flakes of wax getting into the milk. Soon cartons were perfected, and the recognizable red and white Pulaski Pure Milk carton became a staple in every home and on every school child’s lunch tray.
Lemonade, orangeade, buttermilk, which had sold for a nickel a quart back in 1940, half and half, skim milk, whipping cream and chocolate milk were manufactured in the plant. Ice cream was produced for a while in the early years, but the product was dropped when the McPeters decided competitive ice cream production was beyond the scope of what they envisioned for the business. Cottage cheese and butter were sold by the company name but actually produced by a supplier.
In 1960 Pulaski Pure Milk underwent a major expansion, and continued operating full-force until 1982, often using young people home from college as summer and holiday help.
“We had to expand or sell the business,” Gene McPeters said, explaining how he considered offers by bigger companies to buy the operation but settled on Nashville-based Purity because the owners of that company had a similar ethical standard to his family’s own.
McPeters was most concerned about the future of his employees, which by 1982 included around 20 route men, two garage mechanics, clerical help and six or eight in the plant. McPeters helped find employment for anyone who was not offered a job with Purity.
“We processed a lot of milk,” McPeters said, remembering a time when Giles County was known for its dairy farms and local folks had a milk of their own.