The History of Milk Caps, Menko, and POGs

"Means for Capping and Sealing Milk Bottles" Patent No 411,368

Milk was first transported by train in the spring of 1842. The 240-quart shipment traveled in wooden churns for 41 miles from Chester to Piermont, then 21 miles to Manhattan by barge. To meet the growing demand of cities, ice-packed railcars were designed for longer distances. The raw milk was delivered by horse-drawn wagon and ladled from casks or metal milkcans. The consistency of cream varied for each customer. Each stop on a delivery route increased the risk of contamination.

Dairy distributors experimented with various methods to properly store and transport a pure product. In April 1848, Chambers's Edinburgh Journal reported that corked milk bottles had remained preserved after eighteen months. On August 13, 1873, a milkman in Elmira, New York, was reported to use pint and quart bottles that were returned daily. The corked bottles were secured on racks mounted to the milkwagon.

The first glass milk jar patent was issued to George Lester on January 29, 1878. The "Lester Milk Jar" was sealed with a screw-down clamp. In May 1879, Echo Farm in Litchfield, Connecticut, delivered milk in tin-lid bottles produced by Warren Glass Works. The "Warren Glass Bottle" was patented by Louis Whiteman on March 23, 1880.

The Common Sense Milk Jar, The Rural New-Yorker, March 5 1892, p. 163

Harvey Barnhart and brother Samuel Barnhart patented a seated bottle opening with a disposable fiber cap on September 17, 1889. "The Common Sense Milk Jar" was marketed by the Thatcher Manufacturing Company in 1892. The first fiber milk caps, or plugs, were soaked in paraffin wax.

Common Sense Milk Cap, Pat. 1889. Thatcher Glass Collection, Corning Museum of Glass

The 1897 Sears Roebuck Catalogue lists two sizes of stoppers for "The Common Sense Milk Jar." The more popular "No. 2 Cap" measures approximately 1.625 inches (42 mm). Thatcher would reproduce dairy logos using electrotyping. Printing was free with orders of 50,000 or more.

The Common Sense Milk Bottle, Thatcher Mfg. Co., 1895

Advancements in pasteurization and commercial refrigeration allowed bottles to be transported longer distances. By the turn of the century, the cardboard milk cap cover had become the industry standard. Dairies and bottlers distributed metal picks designed to pry the seated cap.

Common Sense Milk Bottle Caps, Thatcher Mfg Co, 1899

Many variations of the disk cover were created by competitors. A pull tab bottle cap was patented by Henry Bradley on August 11, 1908. The Bradley design is made of two layers of glued pulpboard. A flexible thumb tab is cut from the top layer.

Bottle and Jar Closure, Henry Bradley, August 11, 1908

On June 6, 1909, Frank L. Nichols patented a machine to cut, print, and staple caps. The cap design includes a separate square tab attached with a wire staple. The pull tabs were commonly made of tough red-colored fiber. The American Dairy Supply Company of Washington, D.C., marketed "The Cap with the Red Flap" as "The Certified Cap." Health authorities protested the name for misleading consumers. On February 21, 1923, the "The Certified Cap" trademark renewal was denied by the Commissioner. The decision was successfully appealed.

William Hyde Rice, Ltd., Lihue

The most popular stapled cap design was first patented by Charles C. Parker on September 21, 1909. The caps were cut from a single layer of 40-point sulfite pulpboard and soaked in paraffin wax. The U-shaped tab is reinforced with a wire staple. The "Perfection Pull Cap" was first produced by the Hagerstown Cap Company in Maryland. The company printed dairy logos for free on orders of 50,000 or more. Two-color prints were available in red, blue, green, purple, black, and brown.

Closure for Jars, Charles C. Parker, September 21, 1909

Variations of the "Perfection Pull Cap" were patented by Wilbert L. Smith and Oren F. Baltzley in 1922. Smith was part owner of the Smith-Lee Company in Oneida, and co-founder of the Smith Corona typewriter company. The new designs included a recessed notch to allow for easier prying. The Smith design features an extended wire staple to prevent tearing.

Bottle Cap, Wilbert L. Smith, January 3, 1922

Thatcher bottles were used by over 80% of the largest American dairies in 1923. Thatcher Manufacturing provided dairy suppliers with 23 different milk cap sizes.


Milk cover games resemble the Japanese game of Kamimenko (紙めんこ). Kami means "paper" and menko means "small face." The origins are traced back to anaichi, a throwing game played during the Edo period. Folded origami squares, or tato, were used as makeshift game pieces. Doromenko and Keshi-men made of molded clay were popular before the introduction of stamped lead namari menko.

Playing cards were introduced to Japan with the arrival of missionary Francis Xavier in 1549. Tenshō Karuta were copied from Nanban Karuta, or "southern barbarian cards" from Portugal. Hand-painted game decks were first produced in the town of Miike during the Tenshō era from 1573–1592. Western cards were banned by the Tokugawa shogunate in 1648, leading to the creation of matching games and floral hanafuda cards. Hanafuda were commonly used for gambling and the cards were banned by Kansei Reforms in 1791.

Paper menko appeared as shōya-ken and kitsune-ken card games produced during the late Edo period. The ken games are variations of "rock, paper, scissors" known as kitsune (fox), ryōshi (hunter), and shōya (headman). In 1828, botanist Philipp Franz von Siebold returned from Japan with shōya-ken painted on wooden cards. Early Meiji era examples are painted on layered washi paper.

Shōya-ken, c. 1877–1886 (Japan Playing Card Museum)

Nintendo Koppai was founded by Fusajiro Yamauchi in Kyoto on September 23, 1889. Yamauchi played illegal hanafuda games before restrictions were eased in 1885. Nintendō (任天堂) is loosely translated as "leave luck to heaven." The origin of the name is possibly related to yakuza gambling culture. Nintendo originally produced artisan hanafuda playing cards. The 48-card Daitōryō decks were hand-crafted from mulberry bark mixed with clay. The images were woodblock printed on washi paper and stenciled with natural inks.

An English paper machine was imported to Ōji by Eiichi Shibusawa in 1873, and a mechanized mill opened on December 16, 1875. Shoshi Kaisha, later known as Ōji Paper, began producing sulfite wood pulp in 1889. A toy merchant in Nagoya first sold shōya-ken images on pulp paperboard around 1892. The woodblock-printed cards were sold in two square sizes that measure 2.5 cm and 5.5 cm.

Shōya-ken, c. 1892–1896 (Japan Playing Card Museum)

Shōya-ken were sold as Kamimenko in Osaka around 1894. A player places menko cards are placed on the ground and an opposing player throws another menko, winning any cards that have overturned. Children would sometimes cut the square corners to create an octagonal shape. The first baseball menko card is an unidentified player on a circular disk from 1897. Rectangular menko cards appeared in Japan following the nationalization of cigarettes in 1898.

Kamimenko Shoya-ken, c. 1897–1906 (Japan Playing Card Museum)

The Japan Home Ministry banned lead from all toy manufacturing in 1900. The shift from lead-based products and the introduction of machinery helped the paper menko industry to flourish. Early 20th century menko feature a variety of illustrations that include samurai, soldiers, and sumo wrestlers. The "fox, hunter, shōya" images were gradually replaced by "rock, paper, scissors" hand symbols.

Miyagawa Shuntei, Children Playing Menko, 1897

Cigarette insert cards were introduced by New York manufacturer Thomas H. Hall in April 1877. The San Francisco Examiner reported that local children were playing a card-throwing game called "Crusoe" in March 1889. Each player tosses or shoots a tobacco card, trying to land near a mark or a wall. The closest player "picks up all the cards and flops them into the air. All that land face uppermost belong to him if he calls 'heads' and vice versa, and the next boy has a chance to throw whatever cards remain." The game was played across America under various names including "flipping," "scaling," or simply "cards." The games were commonly played for pennies or "keepsies."

On February 7, 1903, The Evening Star reported that children in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia were playing "milktops." The game had reached D.C. sometime before Christmas of 1902. Only caps printed with dairy names were desired and some could sell for a penny each. Boys were commonly seen following dairy wagons to ask customers for the covers. The Evening Star wrote, "They are thrown on the ground, and those that fall with the printed side on top win."

On February 4, 1906, The Washington Times reported that milk tops were more popular than cigarette cards and postage stamps. Milk cap gambling had been banned by several D.C. public schools. On February 24, The Evening Star noted that milk and cream tops from smaller dairies carried more value. "They toss them in the air, so that by this game of chance they lose or win heavily."

In April 1908, it was was widely reported that ten-year-old Quentin Roosevelt, son of President Theodore Roosevelt, had traded White House garden roses for milk covers. The Columbus Journal wrote, "The children have a game which they play by means of these disks, and, moreover, certain prestige attaches to the boy who can show the longest string of 'milk tops'."

Honolulu Dairymen's Association, Ltd

According to legends, immigrants on Maui plantations played milk cover games around 1923–1927. Japanese and Filipino residents referred to the game as pachi (ぱち). Milk covas are stacked in a vertical tower, each facing the same direction. A player throws a kini, or slammer cap, and wins any caps that have overturned. A thumb tab can produce a random spring element. The University of Hawai'i reported that Maui contained ten dairies and 263 milk cows in 1928.

The kini was often made by gluing together two milk caps. Kini is short for kinikini, a Ni'ihau name for the seeds of Kākalaioa that means abundant. The medicinal Guilandina bonduc is a thorny bush native to Tonga. Kākalaioa is commonly known as nickernut, nicker bean, or Hawaiian pearls. The yellow flowers produce pods that each contain two glossy, spherical seeds that measure roughly 15–20 mm in diameter. The hard seeds were commonly used as marble shooters by children throughout Polynesia. 

A photograph of two Los Angeles children playing milk tops was published in the September 1931 issue of Camera Craft: A Photographic Monthly. "Milk Tops" by Hideharu Fukuyama won second place in the September Advanced Competition. The composition has been compared to Christian Annunciation motifs. A gelatin silver print is held by the Yokohama Museum of Art.

"Milk-Tops" by Hideharu Fukuyama, 1931 (Yokohama Museum of Art)

As the US prepared to enter World War II in 1941, Roberts Dairy of Nebraska issued the first collection of Superman milk caps for the Roberts Superman Defense Club of America. Roberts later produced a series of twenty "Code Note" caps for the Supermen of America organization. Each full set of caps could be redeemed for premium prizes.

1941 Roberts Superman Defense League : Pledge Stamp No. 1

The demand for daily milk deliveries steadily declined. In 1940, about 45% of American households owned a refrigerator. By 1960, ownership had increased to over 80%. Pure-Pak cartons and plastic containers had widely replaced glass for all milk packaging. The last two horse-drawn milkwagons in America were retired by the Urbana Pure Milk Company in 1968.

Haleakala Dairy, Kahului

The POG tropical juice drink was created by Mary Young Soon, a food product consultant at Haleakala Dairy in Kahului, Maui. POG is an acronym for passion fruit, orange, and guava. The fruit combination has been a popular Hawaiian beverage since the 19th century. Frances "Effie" Cameron, daughter of board member Colin Cameron, is credited for naming the drink POG. The trademark application lists the date of first use as November 2, 1970. The POG trademark was filed on December 15, 1972, and registered on January 22, 1974.

POG, Haleakala Dairy, Inc

In August 1984, collector Vance Cannon created a milk cover exhibit for Ali'iolani School reunions. Cannon placed a notice in the Honolulu-Star Bulletin looking for other collectors. The reunion committee used milk covers for older alumni to become reacquainted, and the game had a brief revival on the islands.

The POG trademark was transferred to the Baldwin Pacific Corporation in 1986. Haleakala Dairy distributed "'Milk Cap Cover' game" caps for Mountain Fresh Milk and POG juice in 1987. The caps were printed by Stanpac Inc. in Smithville, Ontario. Stanpac operated "Perfection Pull Cap" machines manufactured in the 1930s. The two-color discs and tabbed, stapled and waxed. Each cover measures approximately 1.625 inches (42 mm), the original "No. 2" size for Thatcher milk bottles.

The POG marketing campaign was headed by Charlie Nalepa. The Pogdlodyte mascot, originally the Izard of POG, was created by Nalepa and a Walt Disney designer. The surfing Poglodyte displaying a shaka sign was trademarked by Orchards Hawaii, Inc. on July 12, 1988.

Haleakala Dairy POG

Blossom Iwalani Galbiso was a guidance teacher at Waialua Elementary School on O'ahu. After observing an aggressive match of sham-battle, Galbiso wanted to introduce a safe, but challenging activity. Galbiso played milk covers as a child and she had previously seen caps being used at another school.

In April 1991, Galbiso's daughter purchased two tubes of POG covers and two tubes of Mountain Fresh covers from Haleakala Dairy on Maui. The caps were used for various math lessons and classroom activities, and the old game was immediately popular with students. According to Galbiso, "Something magical occurred and the students were hooked."

Blossom Iwalani Galbiso (1949–1994)

Blossom Galbiso wrote, "Although I had introduced the game as 'milk covers' they favored the red POG design from Haleakala Dairy and hence renamed the game 'POGs'." In March 1992, the First Annual Milk Cap Tournament was held at Waialua Elementary. By May, Haleakala Dairy was selling 25,000 caps a month to customers on the North Shore. Nostalgia from older generations helped the revival to spread. Branded caps from nearly every school and business began appearing throughout the islands.

In April 1992, "Perfection" caps were used as promotional coupons for the Hawaii All-Collectors Show, held July 31 to August 2, 1992. The Honolulu Police Department and the Hawaiian Medical Services Association issued 100,000 "Perfection" caps for the D.A.R.E. program in September 1992, later followed by an additional 300,000. Copycat disks with unlicensed images and holographic foil began appearing from local printers, as well as California and Taiwan.

Blossom Iwalani Galbiso, Milk Cover Collector (March 1993)

In January 1993, SkyBox trading card representatives took notice of the game while attending an industry convention in Honolulu. In March, the company began marketing DC Comics SkyCaps with a promotional sheet for the "Reign of the Supermen!" story arc.

Sample packs of various SkyCaps licenses were distributed at the 14th National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago from July 22–25, 1993. In June 1993, an estimated 8,000 people attended the Hawaiian Milkcaps Summer Slam! in Honolulu. KIKI-FM sponsored the SlamFest '93 Milk Cap Tournament during Kaneohe BayFest '93 on July 31 and August 1, 1993.

1993 SkyBox : DC SkyCaps #1 - Superman

Throughout the summer of 1993, Stanpac was shipping roughly four million POG juice caps per week. Stanpac was the sole producer of "Perfection Pull Caps" in North America. The company operated six original machines to fulfill the continuous demand. Stanpac employees learned the game from a videotape sent by Blossom Galbiso. Stanpac owner Steve Witt would visit Galbiso in Waialua. Witt printed a limited collection of 2,000 Canada and US flag caps to raise money for Waialua Elementary.

A series of Blossom Galbiso disks were commissioned by husband Frank Galbiso in the summer of 1993. The "Mother of POGs," passed away on December 27, 1994, at the age of 45.

Mother of the Milkcap Revival - Blossom Galbiso (1991)

POGs had already become a generic term for the disks and the game itself. In September 1993, Armor All founder Alan Rypinski purchased the POG copyright and trademark from Haleakala Dairy. Rypinski established The World POG Federation (WPF) and the "old-fashioned game of the future" exploded as a global marketing phenomenon. The Poglodyte mascot became Pogman. In November 1994, Rypinski settled an agreement to retain exclusive rights to the POG name.

The World POG Federation

POG The Game was distributed by Milton Bradley in 1994. POGs were officially licensed by Canada Games, Animage in France, and Waddingtons in the UK. An official POG measures approximately 1.625 inches (42 mm) in diameter. The back of each official product contains the World POG Federation logo or Milkcap Maker trademark.

POG Classics feature 60 designs printed on waxed, two-color "Perfection" milk caps from Stanpac. Designer POG Milkcaps are multicolor disks printed on white cardstock without thumb tabs, staples, or wax. The official POG KINI are made of Ryton polyphenylene sulfide, a flame-resistant and chemical-resistant thermoplastic. Each POG KINI is mold-injected and decorated with holographic foil. The POG Slaminator slammers are stamped into anodized aluminum disks.


Billions of similar products were produced including Gops, Flippos, TROVS, and Slammer Whammers. Serrated disks known as Tazos were sold by PepsiCo and Frito-Lay in Spanish speaking countries. McDonald's packaged McCaps inside of Happy Meals. Nintendo Power distributed Super Power Club Caps with the monthly magazine. Marvel Comics produced Hero Caps and Todd McFarlane sold Spawn caps as Spogz.

McDonald's, Nintendo, and Marvel would later distribute officially licensed POGs. Other major partners included Coca-Cola, Disney, Keds, Mattel, and Knott's Berry Farm. Official POGs were printed for the White House Easter Egg Roll on April 17, 1995.

Comedian Steve Allen is portrayed as "Inventor of the POG" in The Simpsons episode "'Round Springfield," aired on April 30, 1995. Milhouse trades Bart's soul for a collection of ALF POGs in "Bart Sells His Soul," aired on October 8, 1995. "Remember ALF? He's back, in POG form."

Steve Allen, Inventor of the POG

Father Michael Orsi and the Diocese of Camden ordered 50,000 disks that feature Pope John Paul II. Orsi considered trading cards to be old-fashioned. The unlicensed "Pope POGs" were distributed to 126 different parishes in southern New Jersey. The disks promote a Catholic Mass held at Giants Stadium on October 5, 1995. The Diocese of Camden later distributed a series of 10,000 disks that include Pope Benedict XVI. The second series of "Pope POGs" commemorate XX World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, held August 16–21, 2005.

Pope John Paul II, Giants Stadium, October 5, 1995

The milk covers game received criticism from parents due to the gambling mechanics involved. Teachers voiced concerns of the disks causing distractions, arguments, and thefts. Games for cash and pornographic disks were reported at a Los Angeles middle school in 1994. By 1997, the game was banned by various schools in the US, Australia, Canada, Germany, Iceland, Sweden, and UK.

Approximately ten billion collectible cardboard disks were sold worldwide from 1994–1998. The POG craze had faded by the end of the millennia, coinciding with the crash of the comic book and trading card industries.

In January 1999, Haleakala Dairy was sold to Meadow Gold Dairies, originally known as the Honolulu Dairyman's Association. Meadow Gold was purchased by Hawai'i dairy farmer Bahman Sadeghi in April 2020. The company continues to produce the POG tropical juice drink.

Funrise Toys licensed the POG brand for a brief attempt to evoke consumer nostalgia in 2005. POGs were showcased as a '90s fad in American Pie Trading Cards, released by The Topps Company in 2011. POGs: The Official Mobile Game was announced as an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign on June 3, 2018.

2011 Topps American Pie - Fads & Fashions FF1 - POGs

The World POG Federation returned in February 2021. The brand continues to produce official POG game pieces. Stanpac no longer produces "Perfection" milk caps. In April 2022, The WPF began issuing POGART, original POG designs rendered as digital non-fungible tokens (NFTs).


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