Preliminary Guide to the Iowa Button Industry Collection

Summary
Collection ID:
NMAH.AC.0504
Creators:
Automatic Button Company.
American Pearl Button Company.
Claus Schmarje Button Company.
Barry Manufacturing Company.
Schmarje, Claus
Sessler, Mary Alice
U.S. Button Company.
Weber and Sons Button Company.
Perkins Freshwater Pearl Products, Inc.
McKee Button Company.
Schmarje, Clarence
Ronda Button Company.
Hawkeye Pearl Button Company.
Hahn, Bernard
J & K Button Company
Iowa Button Company.
Dates:
1898 - 1993
Languages:
English
Collection is in English.
Physical Description:
13 Cubic feet
55 boxes, 4 map folders
Repository:
Collection documents the manufacture of both freshwater pearl and plastic buttons in Muscatine, Iowa, including at least 12 different companies from primarily 1925 to the 1960s.

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
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.

Arrangement
Arrangement
The collection is arranged into 14 series.
Series 1: Historical and Background Materials, 1898-1990
Series 2: American Pearl Button Company, undated
Series 3: Automatic Button Company, 1937, 1965
Series 4: Barry Manufacturing Company/The Barry Company, 1890-1980
Series 5: Hawkeye Pearl Button Company, 1914-1968
Series 6: Iowa Pearl Button Company, 1955
Series 7: J & K Button Company, 1993
Series 8: McKee Button Company, 1988
Series 9: Muscatine Pearl Works, 1944-1947
Series 10: Perkins Freshwater Pearl Products, 1944-1966
Series 11: =Rhonda Button Company, 1946-1968
Series 12: Claus Schmarje Button Works, 1914-1941
Series 13: US Button Company, 1915
Series 14: Weber and Sons Button Company, 1900-1976

Biographical / Historical
Biographical / Historical
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.

Administration
Processing Information
Collection processed by Craig Orr and Alison Oswald. Finding aid encoded by Alison Oswald, 2017.
Author
Craig Orr and Alison Oswald
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The collection was donated by Mary Alice Sessler, Weber and Sons Button Company, Bernard Hahn.,J & K Button Company (November 19, 1993); and Clarence Schmarje (November 19, 1993).

Using the Collection
Preferred Citation
Iowa Button Industry Collection, ca. 1920s-1993, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.
Conditions Governing Use
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research.

Keywords
Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Trade literature -- 1920-2000 Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Videotapes Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Wages -- Button industry Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Muscatine (Iowa) Place Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Commercial catalogs -- 1920-2000 Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Correspondence -- 20th century Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Buttons Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Clippings -- 20th century Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Mollusks Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Mother-of-pearl Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Crustacea Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Iowa -- Button industry Place Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Photographs -- 20th century Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Pearl button industry -- Iowa Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Price lists Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Plastics Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Button industry workers Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Button industry -- Iowa Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Account books -- 20th century Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Audiotapes Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Repository Contact
Archives Center, National Museum of American History
P.O. Box 37012
Suite 1100, MRC 601
Washington, D.C. 20013-7012
archivescenter@si.edu
http://americanhistory.si.edu/archives