The year 1930 had more than its share of low points as the first full year of the Great Depression; however, it wasn’t all bad. History was made Nov. 13, 1930, when Borden Company unveiled the first rotary parlor.

Veselka carrie
Editor / Progressive Cattle

Best described as a “bovine merry-go-round” according to a CBS News article, the parlor, dubbed the “Rotolactator,” was introduced at Borden Company’s experimental dairy farm in Plainsboro, New Jersey. According to the article, the Rotolactator could mechanically wash and milk 50 cows in 12 and a half minutes, something unheard of in the dairy industry before then.

According to the article, the farm became a popular tourist destination, hosting everyone from curious farmers to children on school trips. In fact, the rotary parlor was so popular that Borden Company displayed it at the New York World Fair in 1939.

According to the CBS article, visitors at the World Fair wanted to know which cow was “Elsie,” Borden Company’s advertising mascot. The company picked out a Jersey cow named You’ll Do Lobelia to be the real-life “Elsie.” She became so popular that she received her own on-screen credit when she appeared in the 1940 film adaptation of Louisa May Allcott’s “Little Men.” She has her own headstone in Plainsboro.

Since then, dairy technology and the dairy industry itself have grown rapidly. According to the USDA census, the average herd size in 1939 was roughly 4.7 cows. Today, the average herd size in the U.S. is 187 cows, according to Dairy Management Inc.


Equipment, machinery, herd health, nutrition and a myriad of other aspects of the dairy industry have also come a long way. In 2016, Gracemar Farms in British Columbia installed an automatic rotary parlor that enabled them to milk 1,050 cows in four and a half hours with the help of only a few hands.

What started out as a novelty tourist attraction has grown to be an integral part of the dairy industry. The rotary parlor celebrated its 86th birthday last November. It just goes to show what the power of innovation can achieve.  end mark

Carrie Veselka

PHOTO: The concept for the rotary milking parlors we know today had humble beginnings back in 1930. Staff photo.