Milk home delivery in metro Atlanta is now a thing of the past

By Maria Saporta

It is an end of an era.

This past week marked the end of home delivery of milk products in metro Atlanta.


A sign of the R.L. Mathis Certified Dairy Farm (Photo provided by Kelly Jordan)

Preston Born and his partner, Rick Lee, operated the last milk home delivery service in the Atlanta region – serving about 240 customers who had held on to the tradition of yesteryear.

As one of those 240 customers, Born broke the news in a note that was included with my last delivery of milk (and eggs) on Jan. 3.

For the past 35 years, it has been my privilege to offer home delivery of dairy products to metro Atlanta residents. Some of you have been with me the entire time while others started more recently. I cannot find the proper words to express my appreciation for your support.

However, the time has come when I am afraid that I can no longer offer the home delivery service…. For several years, all the home delivery has been done by Rick Lee, but he recently celebrated his 70th birthday and feels it is time for him to cut back.

We have talked about this for several years but wanted to try to continue at least through 2017. This is a tribute to Mr. R.L. Mathis, who started Mathis Dairy in 1917. Since both Rick and I got our start at Mathis Dairy, we wanted to see it last 100 years…

The words – Mathis Dairy – were also a throwback to a simpler time. Many Atlanta natives remember going to the Mathis Dairy Farm in Decatur for picnics combined with an opportunity to milk Rosebud, the famous dairy cow.


Vintage Mathis milk bottles stored in a Mathis milk crate (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

My parents started our family tradition of getting Mathis milk delivered to our home every Wednesday morning. I still remember the unique glass milk bottles would be left in our milk container. And I’ve never tasted chocolate milk that was better than the Mathis brand.

In the early 1990s, Mathis sold its dairy business to a company from Ireland, and that may have been the beginning of the end. That company switched from the milk bottles to plastic. And the brand of the milk changed over the years.

Recently, we’ve been receiving milk from Prairie Farms, and even though it was not Mathis milk, I still appreciated the convenience of getting milk delivered to my home every Wednesday morning.

But times change. Just ask Preston Born.

Born was only 12 years old when he started out helping his brother deliver milk – then from Puritan Dairies.

“I would get $3 a day plus my breakfast,” said Born, explaining he was a “striker” – also known as the driver’s helper.

By the time he was 16, he was given his own route, which he drove in the afternoon after school. Puritan shut down its home delivery service in 1980, and it sold its business to Mathis. Two years later, Mathis offered its drivers an opportunity to buy their routes. And Born has been in the home delivery business ever since.


Kids would get an “I milked Rosebud” button when they went to visit Mathis Dairy and milk Rosebud

“At one point, Mathis was huge. It had over 70 routes,” Born said in a telephone interview. “I’m not aware of anybody else still delivering milk today. I would probably have more business than I would know what to do with if people knew we were here.”

Jack Mathis was the last person to run Mathis Dairies – a business started on Jan. 6, 1917 by his father R.L. Mathis, someone who Born referred to as Mr. Lloyd.

“At one time, we had more than 30,000 (home delivery) customers,” said Mathis, who has become a historian of dairy industry. He was only 21 when he started working at the Mathis Dairy Farm.

“Everything has changed,” Mathis said.

Born has seen it firsthand.

“There’s been a change in people’s shopping habits,” Born said. “There are far more grocery stores around today than when I was growing up.”

Born can remember when Puritan Dairies, Atlanta Dairy, Mathis and Irvindale Dairies all delivered milk in metro Atlanta.


Some people still have the Mathis Milk aluminum container (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

“I really hate to see it shutting down,” Born said. “It has enabled me to make a living for me and my family. I just hate to see it go away.”

Born and Lee will continue to deliver milk to daycare centers and smaller schools. But the home delivery service had to come to an end because Born and Lee had gotten to an age where they could no longer do it.

“It’s hard to find people who will get up at 1 a.m. to go to work,” Born said. “What we really were selling was a service. I would have liked to have kept it up.”

And his customers felt the same way.

“I have been overwhelmed by the responses from customers,” Born said, adding that one of his lady customers said she had been getting her milk delivered for 75 years.

Although Mathis Dairy is no more, Born and Lee still felt so connected to the company that they wanted to stay in the home delivery business until the centennial anniversary of Atlanta’s most famous dairy.

“All things must pass,” Born said. “There’s a season for all things.”

certified milk

A flier talking about the value of certified milk (Courtesy of Kelly Jordan)


A home delivery product and price list from Mathis Dairy dating back to 1974 (Courtesy of Mathis Dairy)

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

12 replies
  1. Greg Hodges says:

    As a small boy many years ago, I recall lying in bed and hearing the Atlanta Dairies milkman motor his truck up our long gravel driveway at our home just south of Atlanta. This was in the predawn. He would walk briskly up our sidewalk and deposit the two large bottles of cold milk on our front stoop and retrieve the 2 empties my mother had placed there the night before. The bottles had paper stoppers, and there would be a dollop of cream at the top when opened. The Atlanta Dairies facility on Memorial Drive ….long derelict….is currently undergoing a restoration for a new generation.Report

  2. Deisha T Oliver-Millar says:

    Oh that was one of my favorite memories as a child growing up in Atlanta – our delivery of milk every week. I always wanted to be the first one to a glass once it came. Sigh. Certainly an end to an era.Report

  3. B.. Kight says:

    Maria what a great story. As a native Atlantan, I remember going to Mathis Dairy with my elementary school to milk Rosebud! My grandmother had milk delivered to her house at one time. It was the best. Thanks for the memories.Report

  4. Janet Rechtman says:

    I remember the milk man as well. In the mid-70’s i suffered a stomach ulcer and the best thing about it was skimming the cream off the whole milk, per doctor’s orders. Oh! How times have changed. BTW I also remember home seltzer delivery — in blue bottles like those Clarabelle used to spritz Howdy Doody — thanks to Harry Barron’s Deli. Interesting, now instead of local businesses bringing foodstuffs to our doors, we have international conglomerates using international conglomerates to brings food produced by international conglomerates for our still completely local consumption. Hmmmm.Report

  5. Charlie says:

    I was a classmate with Jack at Southwest DeKalb High School, and have many fond memories of the dairy. Among the most outstanding was one year we were planning the homecoming parade and needed a convertible for the homecoming queen. Jack’s older brother Bob was the only person we knew who had one. When approached about about us using his car, Bob said I have a date that day, but I’ve got 20 trucks I can use for that, take the car. Talk about community service!!!!Report

  6. Tim Duncan says:

    I’m learned to carry two quarts in each hand-Mr Casper was the driver-
    Also ashamed to admit stealing bottles from porches when camping ⛺️ out overnight-Report


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