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Otto Milk

Photographer: Mike Kraynak
Date: March 13, 2004
Place: Smallman St, Strip District
Why this sign?
A giant sign for Otto Milk painted on the side of the old Otto Milk plant.� This beautiful old building originally housed the Phoenix Brewery at the turn of the century.

Latitude: 40.4541
Longitude: -79.9814

Posted by Mark at May 20, 2004 06:52 PM


Thank you for posting this sign.

I like the way the Os in Otto and Co. seem to be the same size as the round windows above.

(I also just like to say, "Otto Milk.")

Posted by: Elizabeth Perry at May 21, 2004 02:32 AM

Thank you for noting that the Otto Milk Plant was the location of the Phoenix Brewery. The picture posted on your site shows a statue/relief just to the left and below the Otto Milk sign. It is on the corner of the building perched on a small ledge. I could only see it was a winged creature on a recent visit. The photograph on your site shows it fairly well and I now believe it is a Phoenix. I would really like to see a close-up of this detail to be sure. Are any available?

Joseph Spencer came from England in 1841. He made nails until 1848 when he became the proprietor of the Bull's Head Hotel. In 1859 he purchased the Adam Wood Steam Brewery at the corner of 24th and Smallman. (24th was Wilkins then) After a fire in 1865 it was rebuilt "with the most complete and approved machinery" and called it the Phoenix Brewery. In 1873-1874, it produced 60,000 barrels of ale, nearly double that of any other brewery in the city. Joseph Spencer was in business with a Mr. Garrard, then James McKay and finally Robert Liddell. Mr. Liddell was Joseph's son-in-law and he was also a mayor of Pittsburgh from 1878 to 1881. I am researching the 24th and Smallman location. I am trying to determine if the structure we see today is the one built by Joseph Spencer in 1865 as I believe it to be. The Otto Milk Company Building and 6 warehouse buildings at that location are for sale. I am afraid it will be razed for development. It has such a rich history. I believe it would be a wonderful asset to the Strip District, given a new purpose, a new life. I hope someone can see an office building, apartments, a commercial venture of some kind, maybe a brew pub/museum (my favorite).

I do not have the resources or connections to raise the $1.2 million purchase price or any clue as to what would be required to develop it. I just wish I knew how to light a fire under someone who did. I am interested in all of the history/businesses of 24th and Smallman. I will be happy to share what I know and connect interested parties with family historians who are more informed than myself. This includes a grandson of Robert Liddell and Maria Spencer Liddell and a great, great granddaughter of Joseph and Maria Spencer. I owe much of what I know to them and to the archives housed in the structure just up the street at 1212 Smallman, the site of the Heinz History Center which in its previous life had been an ice house. Now there is inspiration.

I am sure I am straying from the purpose of your site, but even a small hope of finding a new bit of information or getting someone interested in saving this piece of my family history cannot be resisted. I am Ann Macdonald Thomas a great great granddaughter of Joseph Spencer. Until 2 weeks ago I did not even know if the brewery building still stood. All of the sudden I discover this wonderful building is standing, abandoned for 12 years, is for sale and it could be gone in months. Thinking it was more than likely the same one my great grandfather built, I felt elated and saddened in the same moment. I stood looking at it for a long time with the thought that I may be seeing it for the first and last time. Until then Pittsburgh had always been where my family was from, but in that moment I felt connected in more than an abstract way.

By the way there was a Phoenix Brewery listed as one of the businesses that was part of the formation of the Pittsburgh Brewing Co. in 1899. Joseph Spencer and Robert Liddell were dead by then. I have not found information on the owners of the Phoenix Brewery in 1899 so have no idea if this building was part of that deal. I am hot on the trail of the 1899 financial records of the Pittsburgh Brewing Company. Maybe this will gave a clue. I had contacted the historian of the PBC, but on this matter I knew more than he did. I have been told the owner of the complex at 25th and Smallman lives in Philadelphia but not who it is. The property is being handled by Beynon and Company who inform me it is zoned Urban Industrial. There are 81,840 sq., ft in 7 buildings with The Otto Milk Building comprising 15,750 sq. ft. They have provided me with this basic information.

I have no clue on the condition of any of the structures. They have offered to give me a tour of the site. I have no idea how to evaluate what I would be seeing. I would not want to waste their time just being a tourist even though I am tempted. Also I live near Cleveland so dropping in for a quick meeting or tour is not an option. My plan is to find out as much as would be necessary to interest the right groups and individuals in taking up the good fight. Once I have documentation of the age of the building and its link to Joseph Spencer and Robert Liddell I hope to interest someone in writing a story (Pittsburgh History/ historic preservation/human interest) about their colorful lives and then slipping in the part about this wonderful building, linked to these individuals, that just happens to be available. Then perhaps a bit about how it would be a shame to let this colorful bit of Pittsburgh history slip away.

Actually any story which even mentions the building at all would be great. A full feature story, well one can dream. I will be happy to send their histories to any interested party, writer or not. I have the story but little of the primary source documentation.

There is great stuff like Joseph Spencer liked to fight bare knuckles. His wife Maria did not approve. He used to sneak out and return bruised and pleased with himself. I believe that is a family story and not verifiable but still a good tale. In life he was reported to be worth $500,000 (his own report). I may be wrong, but somehow I do not believe he was on the social level with the Mellons, Fricks or Heinzs. From the one picture I have seen he looks more like a worker in his brewery than the owner.Therefore, I find it ironic that in death Joseph and his family are in very close association with these VIPs as they are just "a stones throw" from each other in the same section of Homewood Cemetery.

Posted by: Ann Thomas at October 25, 2004 01:39 PM

My father was a pasturizer for Otto milk for 25 years. He is still living. If you have any questions please drop me a line.We have fond memories of this place. I could almost small and hear the sounds of the plant.
Looking forward to hearing from you.
Cindy Skiles

Posted by: Cindy Skiles at April 27, 2005 06:30 PM

I have a quart milk bottle from this company,otto milk. could you tell me anything about it? how old this bottle is or anything else?
Thank You !!!!

Posted by: John Harlow at July 4, 2005 12:52 PM

My family owned the brewrey at the turn of the century. I live north of Pittsburg and was down to visit the building a couple of months ago for the first time. I am a desendant of Dorthy and Malcomn McDonalds daughter Janet

Posted by: david klasen at July 6, 2005 01:24 AM

I'm glad this site exists. I was looking around the building today and wondering about its history. If anyone would want to send me more info, I would be extremely happy to read it. I probably won't be able to shed any more light about the building, though.

Posted by: Dave Bernabo at August 25, 2005 06:31 PM

The Otto milkman came to our neighbohood only on Saturday's. I was his helper, at the ripe old age of 7. I helped him with his deliveries from 8 until noon. For my efforts I was paid a quarter and an icecream bar. 'circa 1956'

Posted by: Wes Young at August 30, 2005 11:40 PM

Hello all,

My interest in the Otto Milk Co. is due to its early use of milk tank cars to carry milk from distant creameries to Pittsburgh for processing. Does anyone have any information on this to share? I am also aware that Otto had two other locations, one in New Bethlehem, PA, and another in Sligo. Not sure of the spelling of the last one. In any case I'd like to learn more about the company, too, such as when it started and when it closed.

Thanks very much,

Don Valentine

Posted by: Don Valentine at October 31, 2005 10:12 PM

We used to get Otto milk delivered at home, in Shaler, in the early 1960's. I was in gradeschool then and still remember how cheerful their deliveryman was. I think we paid not a penny more than we'd have paid at the grocery, for dairy products delivered to the door.

Posted by: Doug Barber at November 23, 2005 06:16 PM

My dad used to be one of those cheerful deliverymen. It's nice to see a picture of the old Otto Milk building. My thanks to Mike Kraynak for taking and posting it.

Posted by: Kevin Doughty at October 3, 2006 02:50 PM

Enjoyed reading this information. Robert Liddell is my GGG grandfather and Joseph Spencer was my GGGG grandfather. If interested I can supply quite a bit on the Woodward side.


Posted by: Mark Woodward at October 21, 2006 11:45 PM

I don't know if this site is still active or not... My grandfather was Benjamin F. Otto of the old Otto's Suburban Dairy on Camp Horne Road. Any history, comments, photo's, etc on either Otto Milk or Ottos's Suburban would be greatly appreciated.

Posted by: Gary R. Otto at November 7, 2006 12:55 PM

I found an old bottle digging at a site in Oakland. So we looked it up and found this site.

Image url: http://i45.photobucket.com/albums/f64/redbeets/dresserswithasideofdigger.jpg

Posted by: J. French at November 27, 2006 06:11 PM

My grandmother was Buelah Otto. Her brother was Richard Otto. He was of the Otto Milk Company. I have an old Otto Milk Co. creamer bottle. Family "legend" is that Otto invented that style of bottle. I don't know if it is true or not.

Posted by: Larry Tredrea at December 11, 2006 09:43 AM

I have a can from Otto Milk Co. When did this company start and how old would my can be.
Thank you

Posted by: peggy at December 31, 2006 05:23 PM