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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 1, 1891.

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

 

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