The World's Only Pinback Button Museum Lives in Chicago

Courtesy of the Busy Beaver Button Company
Courtesy of the Busy Beaver Button Company / Courtesy of the Busy Beaver Button Company

Do you like buttons? Really, really like buttons? The vintage pinback type that can be affixed to clothing and broadcast your endorsement of political candidates, slogans, or ALF? Then you should consider a trip to Chicago. That’s where the world’s only known pinback button museum, operated by the Busy Beaver Button Company, resides.

According to Atlas Obscura, the museum was founded by button maker Christen Carter in 2010. Carter, who once lived in England where buttons, or “badges,” remain popular, began designing buttons in 1995. Sensing a need to archive the history of this stylistic accessory, she opened a physical gallery of buttons old and new. Roughly 4500 buttons are on exhibit, with another 25,000 in storage. In addition to vintage buttons, the Busy Beaver will custom-press buttons using designs from contributors like cartoonist Chris Ware and artist Francine Spiegel.

Courtesy of the Busy Beaver Button Company

The pinback button was originally patented in 1896 by Whitehead & Hoag of Newark, New Jersey, and was an upgrade from metal buttons that had a glass surface. Using a plastic cover known as celluloid to seal in a paper photo or illustration and a straight pin to affix them to clothing, the buttons took off in popularity due to their inexpensive manufacturing costs. Both William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan used them during that year’s presidential election. Owing to a recent solar eclipse, McKinley’s button depicted the candidate “eclipsing” Bryan, who mimicked the promotion with buttons promising to do the same to McKinley.

Initially intended for political campaigning, the buttons took on a variety of purposes through the 20th century, including depictions of characters, mottos, and other images.

The museum is located at 3407 W. Armitage Avenue in Chicago and is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]