History of Harvard Milk Days Festival

It all began on Thursday, June 18, 1942 with 3,000 men, women and children in attendance to honor the local dairy farmers and industry during war time. The location was on a raised wooden platform at the intersection of Ayer and Brainard Street. Here every one listened to speeches, sang songs, enjoyed the baton twirlers and dancers, and drank 500 gallons of milk.

Planning for the festival was initiated in 1941 under Harvard Chamber of Commerce President Frank W. Lanning, owner of Lanning Bag Company. The idea was put into motion in 1942 by Harvard Chamber of Commerce President R.J. Goll. With the help of Earl McIntyre and Vern Gay the festival came to be.

The program that unfolded was a simple but sincere tribute to the dairy farmer who formed the backbone of the community. The Harvard High School Band performed, under the direction of Carl Huffman. The Harvard High School Chorus led the sing-a-long, under the direction of vocal instructor F.F. Fardig. The keynote speaker was Arthur Lauterbach, general manager of the Pure Milk Association. The Master of Ceremonies for Milk Day was Burley Galvin. The Grand Prize Cow was awarded to Roger Hookstadt. This was a Holstein Bull valued at $175.00 and was donated by W.M. Wittmus.

In 1943, the second annual Harvard Milk Days then called Milk Day was a watershed event, one that destined Milk Days for great things. Art page of WLS brought his radio program, “The Dinner Bell” to Harvard to broadcast Milk Day events to an audience that reached across the Midwest. This tradition carried through most of the 1950’s. WGN radio and Orion Samuelson resumed it from 1962 until 1973. The radio broadcast and coverage from Chicago newspapers helped establish Milk Day as a major summer event.

1945 brought about fundamental changes to Milk Day. The festival moved off Ayer Street to Mary D Park. Norma Garrett Wittmus was crowned the first Milk Day Queen. Fifteen girls competed for the crown of queen, and townsfolk cast more than 5,000 ballots. Queens were chosen by direct popular vote of the people until 1951 when voting was entrusted to dairy farmers. 1959 brought about the Queens being chosen by a panel of judges. In 1945 there were 22 exhibitors which showed 64 entries in the cattle show.

1949 Ayer Street was white washed and became the “Milky Way”

1947 a marching band contest was added for the first time.

Many changes have occurred in 75 years since Harvard Milk Days began in 1942. We have seen the festival go from a one day event to a three day event with many added activities leading up to the weekend. We have seen the site move from Five Points to Mary’s Park to the Speedway to the North side of town to the High School to North Field Park and then to its final location at Milky Way Park. But two things have always been consistent and that is thousands of people still come and enjoy Harvard Milk Days every first weekend in June and we still honor our dairy farmers.

Harvard’s trademark, Harmilda the cow became a permanent fixture at the Five Points in 1966 when Robert Jones of Jones Packing when he traded some meat for the life size fiberglass Holstein. Harmilda was named in 1970 by contest winners Dorothy Mathews and Josie Smith. She replaced a gigantic papier-mâché cow called Princess Blue Ox. Princess Blue Ox was a temporary cow, the creation of the Junior Chamber of Commerce and was stationed at the Five Points just before Milk Days to publicize the festival.