Milk float - Liverpool - 2005-06-27

A milk float in Liverpool city centre, June 2005

A milk float is a battery electric vehicle (BEV), specifically designed for the delivery of fresh milk. The term is often also used for describing other vehicles such as light vans & trucks fitted with similar open bodies and a canopy that are used to deliver milk. They were once common in many European countries, particularly the United Kingdom, and were operated by local dairies.They took over in the early 20th century from the horse drawn carts that were used from the late 18oos to deliver milk. However, in recent years, as the number of supermarkets, small independent grocers and petrol stations stocking fresh milk has increased, most people have switched from having a regular daily home delivery to obtaining fresh milk from these other sources.


Because of the relatively small power output from its electric motor, a milk float travels fairly slowly, usually around 10 to 16 miles per hour (16 to 26 km/h) although some have been modified to do up to 80 mph (130 km/h).[1] Operators often exit their vehicle before they have completely stopped to speed deliveries; milk floats generally have sliding doors that can be left open when moving, or may have no doors at all. They are very quiet, suiting operations in residential areas during the early hours of the morning or during the night. Some earlly milk floates were pedestrian controlled with no cab, the delivery man walking infront and controlling it with a tiller. As distances from dairy to customer grew in the 1920 & 30s with vast new suburban housing estates the ride on float grew in popularity.


In August 1967 the UK Electric Vehicle Association put out a press release stating that Britain had more battery-electric vehicles on its roads than the rest of the world put together[2] It is not clear what research the association had undertaken into the electric vehicle populations of other countries, but closer inspection disclosed that almost all of the battery driven vehicles licensed for UK road use were milk floats.[2]

Glasgow has one of the largest working milk float fleets in the UK. Most of the vehicles operate from the Grandtully Depot in Kelvindale. Some dairies in the UK, including Dairy Crest, have had to modernise and have replaced their electric milk floats with petrol or diesel fuel-powered vehicles to speed up deliveries as the area covered by individual milk rounds has increased.


Manufacturers of milk floats in Britain in the 20th century included Smith's, Wales & Edwards, Osborne, Harbilt, Brush(Electricars & Morrison Electricars), Bedford and British Leyland. As of 2009, Bluebird Automotive[3] and Smith Electric Vehicles[4] remain in the industry.


Before BEVs, dairy supplies were delivered using horse-drawn milk floats. This lasted from the late 19th century until the 1950s.[5] Today, with rounds expanding in coverage to ensure profitability in the face of falling levels of patronage, the limited range and speed of electric milk floats have resulted in many being replaced by diesel-powered converted vans or pick-up trucks for rural areas.


A large collection of milk floats and other BEVs is kept by the Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Trust at their museum.


See alsoEdit


  1. "Electron E150". Bluebird Automotive. Retrieved on 2010-11-27.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "News and Views: Britain's Electric Vehicles", Autocar 127 nbr 3729: page 55. 3 August 1967. 
  3. "Bluebird Automotive - Delivering The Future - The QEV70". Retrieved on 2009-09-04.
  4. "Welcome to SEV for Industrial Vehicles and Fleet Maintenance". Retrieved on 2009-01-04.
  5. "Commercial vehicles: As it was in the beginning". National Transport Museum of Ireland.

External linksEdit

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