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75 years for BouMatic and its founder, 97-year-old Lawrence Bouma

June 25, 2014 | 0 comments

A recent newsletter and advertising material published by Madison-based BouMatic (the only full-line US-based dairy equipment company) noted its 75th anniversary.

Like any company that has been around for three quarters of a century, there has to be a story behind just celebrating an anniversary, and there is.

The year was 1939 when Lawrence Bouma, a young dairy producer with a knack for innovation, established BouMatic MIlkers, Inc., in Ontario, CA. The new company was based on a milking machine using an alternating pulsator and a larger claw, both invented by Bouma.

According to a BouMatic history, this was the 1930s, and the dairy industry was searching for a mechanical milking machine that was reliable and safe for dairy cows; and mastitis was running rampant.

Research on milking equipment and udder health at the University of California-Davis caught the attention of Bouma. He gathered all of the expert advice and information he could find and developed an alternative to milking equipment of the time.

The small company grew as other dairy producers bought the efficient milking system the BouMatic machine offered.

"The new system did have a significant impact on dairying at the time," said Rolf Reisgies, Rhinelander, founder and former owner of Germania Milking Systems.

Dairy Equipment Company founded in Madison

A year earlier, in 1938, Gilmon Albrecht had started a dairy equipment dealership, Dairy Equipment Company, in Madison selling Chore-Boy products that, by 1947, was serving wholesale and retail customers in 11 states. One of his main products were farm milk can coolers as dairy farmers were seeking better milk cooling methods than offered by the traditional stock watering tank.

Albrecht, who saw the need for a better system, developed the front-opening Kari-Kool milk can cooler system, which enabled farmers to slide, rather than lift, the full can into the cooler.

In 1951, he began manufacturing and marketing the Dairy-Kool bulk milk cooler that was manufactured in Hartford.

In 1955, Albrecht was killed in an auto accident in a trip from Hartford and was succeeded by his son Charles.

BouMatic Milkers moves to Madison in 1961

In 1961, Dairy Equipment Company made a major move by purchasing the California-based BouMatic Milkers that was increasingly successful and still owned by Lawrence Bouma.

As I wrote in a column of April 2002, the purchase partially came about because of the encouragement of John C. Dahl, a Clintonville veterinarian who was working as a consultant to Dairy Equipment Company. Dahl was familiar with BouMatic Milkers after hearing about the company at a seminar and had become friends with Lawrence Bouma.

Note: John Dahl later joined Dairy Equipment Company and served as president from 1971-1983. (Dr. John C. Dahl, age 86, died May 5 of this year).

Proud of the past

Bouma told me in 2002 that he was extremely proud of the contributions his efforts and that of his company had made to the dairy industry. He was also pleased that his name "Bouma" as in "BouMatic" continued to be used.

At the time, and still today, Bouma and his son-in-law Steve Whitten owned Mat-Tec Products, the leading milking parlor mat distributor in the dairy industry. Whitten told me Bouma, at age 97, now resides in a California nursing home.

BouMatic remained a division of Dairy Equipment Company until the company bankruptcy in 2001, at which time the BouMatic division was sold to John P. Kotts, a Texas businessman.

A company official said it is doubtful if Dairy Equipment Company would have survived if they had not bought BouMatic Milkers in 1961. "We needed a milking equipment line."

It's always interesting to me to find out how big and well-known companies got their start — often it turns out that the farm machinery and equipment was originated by a farmer who was also a tinkerer. It's certainly true in the development of the milking machine.

Many years of failure

A Kansas State University report printed in 1906 said "we have intimations that inventors have been at work with milking machines as far back as 1819, and later in 1837 and 1854, but we have been able to obtain neither a good description nor an illustration of these machines. (We know) that real earnest work along the line of milking machines began in 1878."

During the 1800s, many farmers dreamed of a milking machine to ease the chore of hand milking, especially since they were beginning to milk more cows in larger herds. By the year 1900, hundreds of patents had been granted for milking machines. But none of them proved to be worthy on the farm. Milking machines quickly developed a bad reputation for ruining good cows.

The web site "History of the Surge Milker" carries the milker story forward.

Success in 1898

"The pulsator was first introduced in the "Thistle" vacuum milker in 1895. While the Thistle machine presented problems of sanitation, it proved an effective milker. The USDA granted approval to a pulsator milking machine in 1898. With the invention of the pulsator, practical usable milking machines were now possible.

One of the early milking machines was the Pine Tree Milker, built by the Pine Tree Milking Machine Company — a marketing project of Babson brothers, Henry, Fred and Gus, who formed Babson Brothers Company in Chicago, a catalog mail order company.

In 1916, Babson Brothers began manufacturing and selling The Pine Tree Milking Machine — an upright floor pail designed like many others, but it used the Pine Tree pulsator that outperformed any other pulsator made.

The Surge breakthrough

In the fall of 1922, Herbert McCornack invented the Surge Bucket Milker that hung under the cow suspended on a steel spring rod that was attached to a leather surcingle strap over the cows back. The new milker had a natural surging action as the milker moved back and forward while milking, similar to a calf drinking. Thus its name, "The Surge Milker."

Babson Brothers bought the rights to manufacture and distribute the Surge Milker, which by 1940 had 40 percent of the U.S. market, by 1950 just over 50 percent and by 1955, 76 percent of the U.S. market. 1955 is also the year the patent ran out, and soon everyone was trying to make a look-alike pail. Production of the Surge Milker ended in 1999.

Many have come and gone

Over the years, dairy farmers have milked cows with Perfection, Conde, IH, Empire, Ideal, Rite-Way, McCormick Deering, Clean Easy, Hinman, Universal and dozens more milking machines — all gone.

Why? Many reasons including competition, technology, pipelines, milking parlors and perhaps robots in the future.

Like every industry, milking cows is ever changing with new innovations, products and systems. The three major companies, Delaval, GEA and BouMatic; hundreds of companies producing new accessories, pieces and parts; and forever tinkerers make it so.

John F Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications, a Madison-based agricultural information and consulting company. He can be reached at 608-222-0624, or email him atjfodairy@chorus.net.

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