MIT’s legendary milk carton turns 25

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Back in the fall of 1994, an MIT freshman named Justin O. Cave bought a carton of milk at a supermarket in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was planning to use it to make macaroni and cheese, but he forgot to buy either butter or the box of mac and cheese itself. So he put the milk in the shared dorm fridge and forgot about it. Dorm fridges being what they are, the carton stayed there long enough past its expiration date, October 20, that when it came time to clean out the fridge at the end of the school year, another dorm resident assumed it was set to expire the next October 20.

Once they realized their mistake, Cave and his dormmates decided, in the spirit of scientific inquiry for which MIT is celebrated, to keep the milk around until October 20, 1995, to celebrate its birthday. “It was more interesting and more fun than working on your quantum physics homework,” Cave told the Boston Globe.

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Shortly after its birthday, the students decided to enter the carton of milk, which they had started to refer to as the Milk (in deference to its age), in the school’s Ugliest Manifestation on Campus contest. It won, and a legend was born.

In the ensuing years, the Milk has had many adventures, although it’s remained in the same cabinet on the fourth floor of Random Hall. After fermentation began to eat away at its original carton, it was transferred to a plastic cylinder. The substance that leaked out has changed color multiple times, and students had to “burp” it semiregularly to release excess gas. In a 2015 tribute on the occasion of its 21st birthday, a Cornell University milk expert claimed that it probably wasn’t even milk anymore, at least not technically. Most impressively, it applied to MIT in 2014; the Globe has included a reproduction of its application for your enjoyment.

Congratulations, Milk, on reaching the quarter-century mark. We here at The Takeout wish you many more years of fermentation and whatever else happens after that.

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About the author

Aimee Levitt

Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.