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Favorite Milkman

a white outline of a large building on a black background

Constructed in the late 19th century, when
Kensington was known for industry and
working-class character, Harbisons Dairy
was considered a powerhouse.

In 1865, Irish Immigrant, Robert Harbison, moved his
family from Gwynedd, Pennsylvania to Kensington in
Philadelphia, where he began to serve milk to homes in
his neighborhood. Robert Harbison slowly grew his milk
delivery business, ladling fresh milk to those who did not
have access to home refrigeration.

a green wall with a white cross on top of it

As family lore has it, Robert’s dairy days started at age nine,
when he delivered fresh milk with his father after school.

a black and white photo of a man in a suit and tie


Thomas Harbison joined his brother Robert as a partner. The brothers established their first dairy in three small houses, serving customers with nine routes. During the 1890s, business expansion led to the construction of the first building of the dairy complex. Harbisons would deliver fresh milk twice daily by horse-drawn carriage across the city. In 1915, the milk bottle water tower was constructed to serve as a supply for the sprinkler system, holding 30,000 gallons of water. It’s presence became a Kensington icon and company symbol.

--------   It’s presence became a Kensington icon and company symbol.


In the 1940s, the Harbison family dipped into ice
cream making, supplying notable manufacturers like
Baskin-Robbins with quality products. Over the next
century, horse-drawn carriages were replaced by
delivery trucks, allowing for more efficient delivery
and establishing Harbisons as the “most modern
dairy plant in America”.

In 1968, the Harbisons sold the dairy plant to
Southland Dairy, leading to its eventual demise
in 1990.

a drawing of a horse drawn carriage on a city street
Artist rendering of early milk delivery service, completed 1965.
Courtesy John Harbison, a descendant.
a sketch of a bottle on a white background

Today, the milk bottle water tower is
all that remains of the dairy empire.


a group of men standing next to each other
Employees of Harbisons’ Dairies atop a building with the Milk Bottle tank in the background.
Ca. 1940s. Courtesy John Harbison, a descendant