In early 1891, Dr. Thomas M.
Rotch of Boston, MA determined that infant deaths could be greatly
reduced by careful prescription feeding. He met with Mr. Gustavus
A. Gordon, a scientist, and they came up with modified cow's
milk in an effort to change a cow's milk to closer resemble
human mother's milk. Mr. George H. Walker, a Boston businessman,
was interested in the project and was the one who supplied the
financing. The first laboratory opened in Boston on December
The team decided that in order
to produce a clean milk, they needed their own farm. So in 1897
Walker-Gordon purchased 180 acres of prime farmland in Plainsboro,
New Jersey, a small village located in the center of the state,
halfway between New York City and Philadelphia, on a main highway
and a few hundred yards from the mainline Pennsylvania Railroad.
Walker-Gordon’s products exceeded all
of the standards of health for that time. They marketed "Guaranteed
Milk" which later became known as "Certified Milk".
Many of the concepts and procedures developed by Walker-Gordon
are considered standard practices on today's dairy farms.
In 1929 the Borden Co. purchased Walker-Gordon.
In 1930 they invented the soon to be world famous Rotolactor
(above). Borden wanted to have a topnotch dairy exhibit at the
1939 New York World's Fair, so they had built a " Rotolactor:"
a giant, glass-enclosed turntable on which cows were milked
by automated machines. The Rotolactor was a modern marvel. Cows
entered the building and were washed, then loaded onto the carousel.
Hoses were attached to their udders for milking. When the milking
was completed, they exited, the stall was hosed off and another
cow climbed on board. The Rotolactor was very futuristic and
a hit with fairgoers, but it was only used twice a day during
milking and crowds were thin in-between. Borden had to come
up with an idea quickly to keep people interested in their exhibit.
They decided that they needed a celebrity to promote Borden's
products and draw a crowd.
Searching for a solution, Borden's
ad agency scanned a list of questions asked by visitors. They
were amazed to find that six out of every ten asked, "Which
cow is Elsie?" Elsie was an animal that existed only in
a series of cartoon magazine ads for Borden milk. Could Elsie
be the solution? The agency combed the Borden herd of 150 Fair
cows and quickly settled on a good-natured, big-eyed Jersey
named "You'll Do Lobelia." She was re-christened Elsie,
put on the Rotolactor between milkings, and a celebrity was
born. People lined up to see the famous cow with the daisy necklace.
By the time the Fair closed in 1940, "Elsie" had become
its #1 attraction.
After the Fair, Elsie went on tour. She was the guest of honor
at press dinners in swank New York clubs. She starred in an
RKO feature, "Little Men," in 1940. She made a series
of cross-country appearances in her custom 18-wheeler (later
dubbed the "Cowdillac"). But on April 16, 1941, while
on her way to Shubert Alley in the Theater District of New York
City, her truck was hit from behind by another truck while stopped
at a traffic light on Route 25 in Rahway, NJ. She suffered neck
and spine injuries and was returned to her home at the Walker-Gordon
Farm in Plainsboro, NJ.
The Veterinarians determined she could
not be saved so she was "put to sleep" and buried
on the farm. A headstone was erected at the farm's entrance,
praising her as "one of the great Elsie's of our time."
Borden quietly christened a new Elsie and the promotional juggernaut
moved forward, unaffected.
In 1944 the Borden Company sold the dairy
and the Jeffers family became the principal owners. From its
small beginning, Walker-Gordon, by 1945 had grown to be the
world's largest Certified Milk Farm. They had over 1500 cows
producing more than 24,000 quarts of milk per day. It took 160
employees to run the operation. There were about 2500 acres
of land to grow the roughage feed for 1650 milking cows, 520
dry cows, 650 young stock and 22 bulls. Due to various financial
reasons, by 1971, it became unprofitable to continue as a dairy
operation. So on June 18, 1971 the dairy operation of the Walker-Gordon
Laboratory Co. ceased. Walker-Gordon went on to raise beef cattle
plus grow and sell general field crops (corn, wheat, soybeans,
etc.). Years passed into decades, the Walker-Gordon Dairy Farm
went out of business, and in June 1999 "Elsie's" headstone
was moved further west on Plainsboro Rd. A little gazebo was
built next to it, ideal for wedding vows. A plaque was added
to the site, praising Elsie as "a celebrated advertising
trademark" and claiming that this was her burial site,
even though it isn't exactly (Nor, for that matter, was the
headstone's former location.). The true grave was lost under
the landscape years ago.
Today, on the property made
famous by Walker-Gordon Laboratories, sits the new Walker-Gordon
Farm. It's a homeowners association comprised of 355 single-family
homes. The gravesite of "You'll Do Lobelia", the first
Elsie, remains as a historical landmark to this day.
||Walker-Gordon Boarding House
Walker-Gordon Boarding House The building was also known as the
"club house" and housed the single men who worked at
the farm. Built in1918, the building was used as living quarters
until 1971 when Walker Gordon ceased milk production. This was
also the site for the first Boy Scout troop meetings in Plainsboro.
(The Girl Scouts met in the Record Room of Walker Gordon). The
on-site manager was Mrs. Ridgway