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1921: Down on the Dairy Farm

York County, Pennsylvania farm boys George and Bud Rutter, along with Will, who ran the family farm, caught the entrepreneurial spirit of the 1920s. With the need to make a little extra money for the family since their father had died, the brothers ventured into the retail dairy business. They milked some 20 cows to produce their first 15 quarts of raw milk. Then they sold the milk door-to-door from their horse-drawn wagon for 8 cents a quart.

They christened their operation “Crystal Spring Dairy” after the cold spring on the farm which served as their first refrigeration. The farmland had been deeded to the family in 1747 by the descendants of William Penn and is today recognized as one of the oldest continually operated family farms in America.1

1Editors (1995). This family dairy farm is 248 years old! Farming 38 #4: 6-7.

The 1930s: Tough Time – Tougher People

Despite the hard economic times of the 1930s, home delivery of milk was not a passing fad. The Rutter brothers’ business continued to thrive. When George and Bud could no longer do everything themselves, they invited brother-in-law, Lehman Crist, to join them. Lehman was the first to deliver milk from a vehicle not powered by horses.

In 1933 the company name changed to Rutter Brothers Dairy. The first two employees were hired, each earning $8.00 a week. The first (mechanical) refrigeration equipment was installed in 1937 instead of using the spring water for refrigeration.

Trouble erupted in 1938–Rutter Brothers Dairy was cited for breaking the law. Regulations set a limit on the amount of butterfat cream could contain. Because their cream contained more than 8% butterfat (this was coffee cream which was to be 20% butterfat. Rutter’s was selling a 32% butterfat cream)

the dairy made newspaper headlines. Here is a case where running afoul of the law proved itself a blessing. The case gave the company instant recognition for producing high quality dairy products. As a result, the Rutters’ business boomed! By 1939 the Dairy was producing 4,000 quarts of milk a day.

In 1938 Rutter’s opened its first Ice Cream Parlor.

The 1940s: Getting Through the War Years

At Rutter’s, as everywhere, the war effort was the first priority. Seventeen of the Dairy’s employees went off to the service. Gas was rationed, tires were a precious commodity, and new trucks were non-existent. Maintaining a business dependent on home delivery required all sorts of ingenuity just to keep trucks on their routes. Lehman Crist recalled buying two used cars just for the tires. Nevertheless, the drivers managed to keep up their deliveries, sometimes covering two routes in one day.

The Dairy continued to prosper. By 1946, 12,000 quarts of milk were produced each day. In 1947 a quart of homogenized milk sold for 18 cents.

The 1940s also saw the first member of the second generation join the company. Dale Crist, Lehman’s son, began working at the Dairy after school in 1943.

 In 1949 the company incorporated.

The 1950s: Changing Times

Offspring of the first generation became part of the team during the 1950s.  Dale and Jay Crist, sons of Lehman, joined the business in 1947 and 1953 respectively.  Leo and Mike Rutter, sons of Bud, signed on in 1951 and 1955 respectively and in 1959 Stew Hartman, husband of George’s daughter Joann, came on board.

With this second generation came a great number of new ideas that fueled the growth of the companies.

The 1960s: Facing Challenges

Jay and Dale Crist, Stew Hartman, Leo Rutter, a son of Bud’s who still lives on the farm, and Mike Rutter, formed the CHR Ice Company in 1961. In the 1960s, dairies owned and operated by supermarket chains began to affect business. To counter this competition, the same group created the CHR Corporation (d.b.a. Rutter’s Farm Stores) in 1967 for the primary purpose of establishing retail outlets for Rutter’s Dairy products. The concept of the convenience store was in its infancy—and offered a promising future. The first company convenience store (Rutter’s Farm Store) opened in York in February, 1968. Two more opened later that same year.

In 1968 the success of the convenience stores led to the Dairy’s expansion and also to the purchase of the Royale Dairy in Hanover … and yet another outlet for Rutter’s products. Farm Store #4 opened in Hanover in 1969. By the end of the 1960s, over 45,000 quarts of milk were produced each day.

The 1970s: Branching Out

Not content to sit still, Rutter’s management continued to expand both the Dairy and the Farm Store operations throughout the 1970s. Warners Dairy and Ice Cream Companies were purchased in 1972. The number of Farm Stores grew by four or five each year through the decade. In 1974, Rutter’s ventured into the food service industry with the opening of the original Rutter’s Restaurant, located on the family farm down the road from the Dairy.  

Although the familiar fleet of Rutter’s trucks seems like it’s always been part of York’s scenery, mechanical refrigerated delivery trucks starting appear on the streets in 1954 and tractor trailer delivery units were actually not put into service until 1975 with the first tractor & trailer on the road in 1976.

With its growth, Rutter’s also developed a unique corporate style: all decisions are made by consensus of the management team—there is no CEO. During the 1970s, five companies evolved under the Rutter’s name, each with a family member as president. Mike Rutter leads the operation of Rutter’s Dairy, Inc. Stew Hartman is president of Rutter’s Farm Stores and Jay Crist is president of Rutter’s Family Restaurants. At the helm of Rutter’s Ice Cream was Dale Crist, and Leo Rutter is president of M&G Realty.

The 1980s: TechnoTimes

Not in their wildest dreams could George and Bud Rutter have imagined the complicated technology it would take to run the diverse enterprises of today’s Rutter’s Companies. They milked 20+ cows by hand to produce 15 quarts of milk—in the 1980s the computerized milking system could fill 65 gallons in a minute. And that’s just one of the many changes.

In the 1980s, modernization became the work of the day. For the Dairy and Ice Cream operations, this meant a total replacement of existing systems and expansion of the delivery area into Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia. By 1986 Rutter’s Farm Stores occupied more than 50 locations in York, Adams, and Lancaster counties. As the decade ended, Rutter’s began servicing an additional chain of 136 stores in Maryland.

The late 1980s also witnessed the introduction of a third generation to the management team. Dale Crist’s son Jeff, Mike Rutter’s son Todd, and Leo Rutter’s son Tim all joined the company during this decade, adding their considerable skills, energy, and technological know-how.

The 1990s: On to the Future

When a reliable supply of containers became essential to keeping up with production, Rutter’s invested in building an on-site plastic bottle manufacturing plant adjacent to the Dairy. They contracted First Capital Plastics, Inc. to run the operation and built a 500-foot long elevated conveyor system to transport the containers from the plant to the bottling operation. Since the plant produces 750,000 bottles a day, Rutter’s had capacity to spare. So it expanded the truck fleet and now delivers bottles produced by the plastic plant to East Coast businesses.

In 1990, a fourth member of the third generation signed on. Scott, son of Joann (Rutter) Hartman and Stew Hartman, continues the process of updating and expanding the retail store concept as Vice President of Operations for the Farm Stores. New concept stores came on-line. The stores include everything from huge gasoline canopies, pay-at-the-pump, ATM machines and fast food. Rutter’s Farm Stores through the years has been recognized by its industry as a leader with an innovative management team. Rutter’s is blazing the way with new industry concepts, including drive-thru windows, Pizza Hut operations inside its stores and quality training programs for its many team members. Rutter’s Farm Stores serve more than 60,000 people daily—more than 20 million customers a year.

As the millennium comes to a close, Rutter’s remains a family owned and operated group of companies. Combined, the annual payrolls exceed $12 million. An additional $15 million per year is paid to milk producers on family farms in York and Adams counties. Current estimates indicate that the group of companies returns approximately $70 million yearly to Pennsylvania’s economy. Rutter’s annual fund-raising efforts contribute over $75,000 to local organizations and charities. The shirt-sleeved Rutter’s Management Team attributes much of its success to the high caliber and dedication of its employees—from the milkman of years ago who plowed through hip-deep snow to deliver the milk to the youngest counter clerk who greets Farm Store customers with helpful cheer. In the swirl of change of the 1990′s and explosive growth, one thing remains constant: the Rutter’s companies retain their family atmosphere. George, Bud and Lehman would be proud.

2000: The Third Generation at the Helm

At the dawn of the 21st century, Rutter’s welcomed a third generation of family leadership to assume day-to-day management responsibilities. Three cousins each serve as president of a different Rutter’s company: Scott Hartman at Rutter’s Farm Stores, Todd Rutter at Rutter’s Dairy, and Tim Rutter at M&G Realty, a real estate holding company.

They have adhered to the same set of corporate principles and values that have served Rutter’s so well through nine decades of family ownership. At the same time, they have embraced change to meet the needs of today’s customers and built on Rutter’s legacy of community involvement with a focus on the needs of children.

Rutter’s Dairy serves customers in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and Washington, D.C. Rutter’s bright red trucks with yellow lettering are a common sight, reflecting the dairy’s prominence throughout the region.

Rutter’s Farm Stores has grown into a force within the convenience industry. Rutter’s sells more than 100 million gallons of motor fuels in its markets. A typical new store averages 5,300 square feet.

Proud of its heritage and the opportunities handed down to it, the third generation boldly steers Rutter’s through the new millennium.