Antiques have a story to tell

Wisconsin State Farmer

When visitors to our home see this little contraption, they wonder what it is. No one has yet to correctly identify it. Like so many antique farm items I have collected over the years, this one is most unusual. It originated with my grandfather, William Witt, who had given it to my mother and she, in turn, gave it to me. It has a story to tell, a story much bigger than the item itself.

Author Jerry Apps' grandfather used this little wooden box along with the design block to prepare butter for sale.

Most Wisconsinites know that in the early days of the state’s settlement, wheat farming was king. There were but a handful of dairy cows, which were tended to by the farm women who fed them, milked them and, in their kitchens, churned butter and made cheese.

Wheat continued as the primary agricultural pursuit in Wisconsin into the 1870s as dairying slowly took over after the failure of the wheat crop. The transition to dairying was hindered by the macho wheat farmers who believed anything having to do with cows was women’s work.

Some farmers continued to churn butter in their homes well into the early 1900s—my grandfather was one of them. Grandpa Witt used this little wooden box along with the design block to prepare butter for sale. This was before milk trucks began making the rounds picking up milk from farmers for the cheese factories.

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: It’s important to know where we’ve been, as we try to figure out where we are going.

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work go to