Nathan Straus’ First Milk Depot, opened in the summer of 1893, courtesy of the Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library, Columbia University
The utilitarian building at 151 Avenue C between 9th and 10th Streets would hardly elicit a second glance from the casual passerby today. But its unassuming looks belie the incredible story of how Gilded Age science and philanthropy converged here to save thousands of children’s lives. In the 1800s, intestinal infections and diseases like tuberculosis caused by bad milk was running rampant in the city’s child population, especially in poor communities like the Lower East Side. To combat the problem, Macy’s co-owner Nathan Straus instituted a program to make pasteurized milk affordable or even free. And on Avenue C, he set up a “milk laboratory” to test the dairy and distribute millions of bottles.