Milk was delivered to houses daily in some countries when a lack of good refrigeration meant milk would quickly spoil. Before milk bottles were available, milkmen took churns on their rounds and filled the customers' jugs by dipping a measure into the churn. The near-ubiquity of refrigerators in homes in the developed world, as well as improved packaging, has decreased the need for frequent milk delivery over the past half-century and made the trade shrink in many localities sometimes to just three days a week and disappear totally in others. Additionally, milk delivery incurs a small cost on the price of dairy products that is increasingly difficult to justify and leaves delivered milk in a position where it is vulnerable to theft.
Milk deliveries frequently occur in the morning and it is not uncommon for milkmen and milkwomen to deliver products other than milk such as eggs, cream, cheese, butter, yogurt, or soft drinks.
In some areas apartments and houses would have small milk delivery doors. A small wooden cabinet inside of the residence, built into the exterior wall, would have doors on both sides, latched but not locked. Milk or groceries could be placed in the box when delivered, and collected by the homeowner.
Truck drivers who transport milk from a farm to a milk processing plant are also known as milkmen or milkwomen. Raw milk is picked up daily, or every other day.
From the 20th century, milk delivery in urban areas of Europe has been carried out from an electric vehicle called a milk float. These replaced horse-drawn vehicles, which were still seen in Britain in the 1950s, and parts of the United States until the 1960s. In Australia, the delivery vehicle was usually a small petrol or diesel engined truck with a covered milk-tray. In hotter areas, this tray is usually insulated.
In India, those delivering milk usually use milk churns, a practice that has ceased in western countries. On the road they are put on any kind of vehicle. In big cities such as Mumbai, milk churns are often transported in luggage compartments in local trains.
In 2005, about 0.4% of consumers in the United States had their milk delivered, and a handful of newer companies had sprung up to offer the service. Some U.S. dairies have been delivering milk for about a hundred years, with interest continuing to increase in the 2010s as part of the local food movement.
In the Philippines, the milkman or milkmaid is called lechero. The tradition stemmed from the community production of carabao milk. The lechero delivers the fresh carabao milk to the barangay (village) of his or her designation. The lechero heritage used to be widely practiced in the country, however, declined after the introduction of store-bought milk during the American occupation period. Nowadays, only a few communities have lecheros, notably in Nueva Ecija province, the milk capital of the Philippines.
The frequent deliveries by milkcarriers to homes during the day has led to a high level of familiarity with many homemakers -- often female -- which has made the occupation a central figure in numerous milkman jokes.
In the Uganda region an often used title for "king" is "Omukama", which means "superior milkman/milk bringer": a title that refers to the role of the leader as a feeder of the people and the historical tradition that the ancient ruling class of some Ugandan kingdoms was of Hema stock, the Hema being cattle-holders.
A short story in the horror anthology Skeleton Crew by Stephen King, called "Morning Deliveries (Milkman No. 1)", concerns a milkman who kills people by leaving "surprises" (including poison, toxic gas and venomous spiders) in their milk cans. Reid Fleming, World's Toughest Milkman is a comicbook character created by David Boswell which first appeared in 1980. In Toni Morrison's novel Song of Solomon the main character's nickname is "Milkman."
The title of the 1966 pop hit "No Milk Today" by the British band Herman's Hermits refer to a common notice instructing the milkperson not to leave the usual order of milk on a particular day. In the song this symbolizes the singer's recent breakup with his love interest, who has just moved out of his house. In 1971, British comedian Benny Hill, himself a former milkman, had a hit novelty song called "Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West)".
The All That sketch "The Adventures of Superdude" features a villainous milkman called Milkman (portrayed by Josh Server) who is the archenemy of Superdude and uses milk-based weapons on Superdude as a way to take advantage of his lactose intolerance.