Iowa Button Industry Collection, 1920s-1993 (primarily 1925-1960s)
Weber and Sons Button Company
Sessler, Mary Alice
American Pearl Button Company
Automatic Button Company
J & K Button Company
Ronda Button Company
Hawkeye Pearl Button Company
McKee Button Company
Claus Schmarje Button Company
Barry Manufacturing Company
Iowa Button Company
U.S. Button Company
Perkins Freshwater Pearl Products, Inc
13 cu. ft. : 22 boxes
Muscatine, Iowa was the primary American manufacturing source for mother-of-pearl buttons made from Mississippi River shellfish, 1890s-1960s. During the industry's peak, there were some 53 small firms making pearl buttons in the area. In the 1930s some of these firms began experimenting with plastics as a substitute for the dwindling supply of shellfish. Several firms successfully converted to plastics and the city remains a center for plastic button manufacture today.
This unique industry drew upon natural resources to provide employment for almost an entire city (Muscatine is still known as the "Pearl City"). The mass production of low-cost buttons was crucial to the success of ready-made clothing and the development of the modern clothing trade. The industry was also involved in early work by American manufacturers to develop synthetic materials to replace increasingly scarce natural resources.
Collection documents the manufacture of both freshwater pearl and plastic buttons in Muscatine, Iowa, including at least 12 different companies. The records, primarily 1925-1960s, with a few items from 1993 production, include corporate financial records, wage and employment statistics, sales and purchase data, photographs, correspondence, catalogs, and publications. Some records document the Barry Manufacturing Company, a machine tool company which specialized in designing and producing the unique machinery needed for this industry; also background material that places the corporate records into the historical context of the button industry in Muscatine.
Some companies included in the collection are listed below.
Iowa Button Industry Collection, ca. 1920s-1993, Archives Center, National Museum of American History