In the early 1900s Louis Nikola described an effect in which “A sheet of paper is rolled into a cylinder, and water is poured in. The liquid does not come out at the other end, but changes into gas, as evidenced by a flash of flame and smoke which emerges from the cylinder afterwards unrolled and shown empty.” Thus we have an embellished version of the effect commonly done with the Milk Pitcher, although Nikola doesn't mention a pitcher and does not give his method.
In Abracadabra, Vol. 52 No. 1337, Sep. 7 1972, p. 174, Peter Warlock wrote that he believed that Nikola called this effect “Converting the Elements”. Warlock further wrote: “I am sure that Arthur is correct when he says that a pull was used to carry away the gimmick, likened to an Aquarius tube. Nikola poured quite a quantity of water into the tube, and whilst according to Stanley Collins, Nikola had foreseen the faked jug used in ' Evaporated Milk' [the British name for the Milk Pitcher], there is no doubt that the water left the glass jug and went inside the tube. No doubt the apparatus for this trick is now in the possession of the Davenports, and only they could say yea or nay to the exact method employed.” After Warlock's comment, Tom Waterman gives a description of apparatus built for Nikola that was probably used for this effect. The water was concealed by a gimmicked tube in the paper. No gimmicked milk pitcher was employed.
In his Who's Who in Magic, p. 418, Barton Whaley credits the milk pitcher to Nikola, in collaboration with Roy Enoc, in 1917, although he contradicts this in Encyclopedic Dictionary of Magic, 1989, p. 447, where he puts it at Richard Himber's door. The source of the Nikola-Enoc attribution is apparently a trick called “Transit of Wine”, described in Nikola's 1934 book, Magical Masterpieces, p. 112. This trick uses a double-walled drinking glass, a principle about which Nikola writes: “As far back as one can remember, there was an old toy consisting of a double-walled drinking glass containing a fluid between the inner and outer walls, the idea presumably being to show a vessel that could be inverted without the liquid escaping – a not very profound mystery.” Enoc designed his glass for a better illusion, and later converted it to a jug. It would vanish half its contents by allowing the liquid within the double walls to flow on demand into the central chamber of a celluloid insert. The liquid wasn't poured into another container, but rather it vanished from the transparent glass or jug. An opaque liquid was needed to conceal its two levels as is moved from within the double wall to the central compartment. Enoc settled on ink, and employed the jug and a glass to effect a transposition of ink from one container to the other. “Enoc's Ink Trick”, as it came to be called, was marketed sometime in or before 1914 (see The Magic Wand, Vol. 4 No. 45, May 1914, p. 726) and enjoyed popularity for a time. Nikola made modifications and further elaborations to the construction of the gimmicked jug. The principles of the double-walled container and secretly shifted volume of liquid are shared with the Milk Pitcher, but the effect and operation are significantly different.
Okito has also been mentioned in connection with the development of the Milk Pitcher, because of his Okito Jug. The double-walled principle was also given new life by Fred DeMuth with his DeMuth Milk Bottle c. 1930. The Milk Pitcher variant of DeMuth's Milk Bottle seems to have appeared sometime in the late 1930s.
The early Milk Pitcher used a transparent wall that bisected the chamber of the pitcher. John Braun, in his April 1941 column, “From the Dealer's Shelves” in Linking Ring, Vol. 21 No. 2, p. 146, gave credit for the modern Milk Pitcher to Ed Wolff (1881-1962). Some details on the development of Milk Pitcher in its present form were provided in an obituary mention for Wolff written by Norman Sehm in The Linking Ring, Vol. 42 No. 8, Aug. 1962, p. 110: “Members will remember Ed for his hypnotic book, The Ed Wolff Pass, and milk pitcher. In those days the plastic was only a half fake and the trick worked with audience in front. Later it was improved by Richard Himber with the aid of the Bausch and Lomb Optical Company, Rochester Firm, with an all-glass fake. This was the forerunner of the present type plastic fake, etc.” Wolff's gimmicked pitcher was marketed by Abbott's as the “Exciting Milk Pitcher”.