First churned some 4000 years ago, butter became a basic and important food. It all began, as the story goes, one hot day when a Nomad tied a pouch of milk to his horse's neck and later found the heat and jostling had churned a tasty yellow product. Before butter became exclusively a food, it was used as money – a form of commodity. Its value was recognized by the Pilgrims who stored several tubs aboard the Mayflower.
For years, butter production was an individual home activity. Cream was mixed in a container to form butter lumps. As the butter became thicker, the liquid buttermilk was drawn off, the butter washed and removed. Churns evolved from skin pouches to earthenware pots which were rocked, shaken or swung to separate the fat. Later, the dasher, a wooden stick with a blunt end was used to churn butter in a conical wooden vessel. Eventually modern production techniques developed glass and metal churns.
When the washed butter was removed from the churn in the olden days, it was placed into a "butter" bowl to be weighed. Paddles were used to remove the butter from the flat wooden bowl and to shape butter balls. Or, the butter was placed in a specially designed mold, usually a family's treasured possession, or formed into rolls or blocks. If the butter was to be stored for later use, salt was worked into the mixture and the butter packed into molds or tubs and stored in water crocks in the family well.
In 1848, after being a family owned business with local butter distributed through country stores, the first butter factory was established near Goshen, New York. Farmers brought their milk to this receiving station to sell it for conversion to butter. From that small beginning, the butter industry spread to become a vital part of the dairy industry.
Butter has been the basis for naming characters in plays and comic strips, for identifying a specific color or song, as a colloquial term and rule of behavior; for example, "buttering up" your boss for a raise, "knowing which side your bread is buttered on" and writing a "bread and butter 'thank you' letter."