Button up

For about a month now I've been working on a post for Etsy about the Pearl Button Museum in Muscatine, Iowa. The post finally went up today, and I am amazed (and thrilled) at all the comments...guess I didn't realize that lots of folks had a mother-of-pearl button obsession, just like I do! (Check out the Etsy post here.)

I've always loved pearl buttons, but was amazed to learn that so many of them came from the small town just 40 miles from my home. I keep spouting this statistic to everyone, (whether they're interested or not): in 1905, 37 percent of the world's buttons (and that'd be 1.5 billion) came from Muscatine.

The museum is small, but the exhibits are nicely done and I learned a tremendous amount from them. Plus, they have some nice interactive displays: you can plunge your hands in buckets of side-by-side pearl and plastic buttons to feel and hear the difference; you can read memories of people whose relatives worked in button factories, you can try your hand at sorting a gross of buttons with a specially made paddle.

There's also a wonderful collection of buttons and mother-of-pearl artifacts and an entire display case of buttons sewn on those wonderful vintage cards. I'm sure anyone who knows me is tired of hearing about it, but I love learning about things like this and thinking about an unusual industry that supported an entire community. Today there are still three button factories in Muscatine, but the buttons they make are plastic.

While the story is wonderful and quirky, there is definitely a dark side: children worked in many button factories, the working conditions were unpleasant at best and often downright dangerous, and dust from shells created breathing problems for many workers. A strike by button workers turned violent and one man was killed. But despite this grim side, the city of Muscatine is proud of its heritage and enjoys its moniker "Pearl City." If you're button-obsessed (or just interested in history) it's definitely worth a visit if you're in the neighborhood...and even worth a detour if you're not.
LinzeeButtons, Etsy, museums, travel