Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Welcome Aboard the Pearl Button, Miss Turner


Take some fresh water mussels (clams) from the Mississippi River, discard the meat, wash the shells and you have the raw materials that helped put 42N city Muscatine, Iowa on the map in the mid-1800s. Clams were harvested, brought to shore, cleaned, shells drilled, blanks polished and packaged for the emerging American clothier market. The ride lasted until the 1960s when synthetic material (plastic) replaced organically produced pearl buttons.

At one time there were several factories in Muscatine that produced upwards of 1.3 million buttons a year. Surprisingly labor associated to make a single button involved up to 31 human touches per single fastener - that was extremely intensive. Above is a close up shot of thousands of mostly natural pearly colored buttons, some perfect and some with imperfections. The button process story is told well by the Muscatine History and Industry Museum. Know that.