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Modern 2008 "rotary milking parlor" (Rotolactor), Großerkmannsdorf, Germany
Process typeCow milking apparatus
Industrial sector(s)Dairy
Main technologies or sub-processesMilking a large number of cows
Product(s)Rotary milking parlor
Main facilitiesWalker-Gordon Laboratories dairy
InventorHenry W. Jeffers
Year of invention1930
Developer(s)Borden Company

The Rotolactor is the first invention for milking a large number of cows successively and largely automatically, using a rotating platform. It was developed by the Borden Company in 1930, and is known today in the dairy industry as the "rotary milking parlor".[1][2]


The Rotolactor was the first invention for milking a large number of cows using a rotating platform.[3][4] It was invented by Henry W. Jeffers.[3][5] The Rotolactor was initially installed in a "lactorium," a building specifically designed for milking cows, in Plainsboro, New Jersey.[3] The rotating mechanical milking machine was first used by the Walker-Gordon Laboratories dairy and was put into operation on November 13, 1930.[3][6]

Jeffers conceived the idea for the Rotolactor in 1913 as a cost-cutting and labor-saving method for milking a large number of cows. Development of the project was put on hold during World War I. In 1928, the Walker-Gordon Laboratories dairy was purchased by the Borden Company, and Rotolactor development resumed in earnest.[7] Borden provided $200,000 in 1929 for building the Rotolactor at the Walker-Gordon Laboratories dairy farm.[8]


The first line of the Abstract of the 1930 Cow Milking Apparatus (Rotolactor) patent starts:

"The object of this invention is to provide an apparatus whereby an indefinitely large number of cows may be milked successively and largely automatically..."[9]

The Rotolactor (roto + lactor ium) was a large rotating "merry-go-round" style platform[10] for holding 50 cows.[8] The machine brought the cows into position for milking with automatic milking machines. The rotating platform machine was sixty feet in diameter and made one complete revolution about every twelve and a half minutes, which was the time required to prepare and milk each cow.

The first step for each new cow was receiving a bath. They were bathed with warm water and automatic showers, supplemented by two men using pressure hoses, who "devote their attention to the cleansing of udders and flanks."[11]

The next operator prepared the udder for the milking. Then the teat-cups of the automatic milking machine were attached to the cow's udder. The cow was then milked for the twelve and a half minutes during the Rotolactor's one-time complete rotation. The teat-cups would then be detached at the end of the twelve and a half minute rotation.[12] The cow would then step off the platform and return to the barn to her stall.[6]

The milk was drawn by a vacuum to sealed glass containers above the cow's head.[10] It was then transported in pipes to weighing and recording apparatuses.[6] Then it was piped to another room where the milk was cooled and bottled.[10] This was faster and more efficient than the methods previously used.[6] Human hands never touched the milk, and the milk never came into contact with air,[6] which was important to prevent premature spoiling.[6] The Rotolactor could milk the Walker-Gordon dairy's 1,680 cows three times daily.[6] This produced 26,000 quarts of milk.[8]

The August 1931 issue of the American Journal of Public Health and the Nation's Health described the Rotolactor as an advance in cleanliness and hygiene for milk production.[11]


The Rotolactor and the Walker-Gordon farm in Plainsboro became popular tourist attractions, showcasing the unusual and modernistic features of the dairy.[7][13] The farm building in Plainsboro containing the Rotolactor had an observation room to accommodate visitors, including large groups of school children.[8]

A 1930 film was titled: "New Jersey. 'The Rotolactor' - hygiene's latest - automatically washing and milking 50 cows at one time in 12 1/2 minutes - inaugurated by Mr. Thomas Edison."[14]

The Rotolactor was also featured at the 1939 New York World's Fair in the Borden’s exhibit.[7][12]

The dairy operation at the Walker-Gordon farm ended on June 18, 1971.[7]

As of 2013, a working Rotolactor is open to the public as a part of the "Dairy Adventure" tour at Fair Oaks Farms in Fair Oaks, Indiana.[15] There is also a working Rotolactor open to the public in Caldermeade, Victoria, Australia.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Dairy Farming History: Page 4 of 9". Elsevier Ltd. J E Shirley, Kansas State University, Tompkinsville, KY, USA. 2012. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |url= (help)
  2. ^ "Milk - The White Stuff". GEA Pharma Systems. 2013. Retrieved 12 July 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d Kane, Joseph (1997). Famous First Facts, A Record of First Happenings, Discoveries, and Inventions in American History (5th ed.). H.W. Wilson Company. p. 5, item 1056. ISBN 0-8242-0930-3. The first rotating milking platform was the Rotolactor, invented by Henry W. Jeffers and installed on November 13, 1930, in the lactorium of the Walker Gordon Laboratory Company at Plainsboro, NJ. It permitted 1,680 cows to be milked in 7 hours by means of a revolving platform that brought them into position with the milking machines.
  4. ^ The Market Milk Industry. McGraw-Hill Book Company. 1950. p. 130. Retrieved 12 July 2013.
  5. ^ Patton 2004, p. 172.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g ""Rotolactor" Milks 50 Cows in 12 Minutes". Modern Mechanix. No. February. 1931. p. 51. Retrieved 2013-07-12.
  7. ^ a b c d "Walker Gordon farm". MICO Management. 2013. Retrieved 12 July 2013.
  8. ^ a b c d Hart 2003, p. 112.
  9. ^ Cow Milking Apparatus, Patent number: 1787152, Washington D.C.: US Government, p. 1, retrieved 12 July 2013
  10. ^ a b c Frandsen, p. 690 "Milking Parlor"
  11. ^ a b Hardenbergh, J. G. (August 1931). "Hygienic and Sanitary Features of Milk Production by the Rotolactor Process". American Journal of Public Health and the Nation's Health. 21 (8): 895–897. doi:10.2105/ajph.21.8.895. PMC 1556626. PMID 18013326.
  12. ^ a b Sam Moore (2011). "Looking Back / The Rotolactor". Ogden Publications. Retrieved 12 July 2013.
  13. ^ "Plainsboro museum". Plainsboro Museum. 2013. Retrieved 12 July 2013.
  14. ^ ""THE ROTOLACTOR" - HYGIENE'S LATEST - British Pathé". Retrieved 2013-07-12.
  15. ^ "Dairy Adventure at Fair Oaks Farms, Fair Oaks, Indiana". Retrieved 2013-07-12.
  16. ^ "Caldermeade Farm". Melbourne Playgrounds. Retrieved 2022-03-06.


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