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 and improved packaging have 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 or 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 butter, cream, cheese, eggs,soft drinks, or yogurt.
In some areas, apartments and houses have small milk-delivery doors. These are small wooden cabinets inside the residence, built into the exterior wall, with doors on both sides that are latched but not locked, to allow groceries or milk to be placed in the box when delivered and when collected by the resident.
Horse-drawn vehicles were originally used. These were still seen in Britain in the 1950s and parts of the United States until the 1960s. Now, motorized vehicles are used.
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. An historical tradition is that the ancient ruling class of some Ugandan kingdoms were Hema peoples, who were cattle holders.
In 1963, nearly 29.7 percent of consumers had milk delivered, but by 1975, the number had dropped to 6.9 percent of total sales.
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 100 years, with interest continuing to increase in the 2010s as part of the local food movement.
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 the Philippines, the milkman or milkmaid is called lechero. The tradition stemmed from the community production of carabao milk, which the lechero delivers fresh to his or her designated barangay (village). The lechero heritage used to be widely practiced in the country but 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.
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.
Milkmen appeared in Britain around 1860, when the first railroads allowed fresh milk to arrive in cities from the countryside, and by 1880, the milk was delivered in bottles. By 1975, 94% of milk was in glass bottles, but by 1990, supermarkets offered plastic and carton containers, reducing bottled milk to 3% by 2016. From the 20th century, milk delivery in urban areas of Europe has been carried out from an electric vehicle called a milk float.
The film Cover Girl (1944) features a milkman.
Tevye the Dairyman (Tevye der milkhiker) is the fictional pious Jewish narrator and protagonist of a series of short stories by Sholem Aleichem, and various adaptations of them, the most famous being the stage/film musical Fiddler on the Roof.
Stephen King's short story "Morning Deliveries (Milkman No. 1)" (in the horror anthology Skeleton Crew (1985)), 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 (1977), the main character's nickname is "Milkman".
The title of the pop hit "No Milk Today" (1966) 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.
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.