Buttons! Cloth-Covered, Vegetable Ivory, and Pearl!

Submitted by Barbara Pelissier, Westhampton


Buttons image courtesy of Wikimedia

“The founder of the cloth-covered button industry was Samuel Williston, of Easthampton, Mass., who, with his wife in 1825, made the first set of cloth buttons ever produced in America.  Mr. Williston formed a partnership with Joel Hayden, and together they built a button factory at Haydenville, Mass., Mr. Hayden being the mechanic and Mr. Williston the proprietor. In a few years the business was moved to Easthampton, and has since become the Williston & Knight Company. In 1859, A. Critchlow, an Englishman, began to make buttons from vegetable ivory at Leeds, Mass., and subsequently became connected with the Williston & Knight Company, which has continued making a great variety of cloth and ivory buttons ever since. All of the pioneers of the American button industry arc now dead.

In the manufacture of pearl buttons, which are a most expensive kind, America has not done much until late years. The Newell Brothers Manufacturing Company, of Springfield, Mass., was one of the first firms to begin it. This company was established at Longmeadow, Mass., in 1848, by Nelson C. Newell, his brother, S. R. Newell, and D. Chandler. The firm has always made a great variety of buttons, including cloth-covered, vegetable-ivory, composition, India-rubber, and pearl buttons. Of the hard buttons, vegetable ivory is one of the principal materials, as it can be dyed any color and makes a hard, durable button. Composition buttons have come into use largely of late years, while cloth-covered and pearl buttons are always in demand for dress-wear.

Button making is an industry in which the cost of production is in large part labor, so that, with the high wages paid in America in the face of foreign competition, it has not reached the proportions of some other industries. Despite this, it is estimated that ninety per-cent of the cloth buttons consumed in the United States are of domestic manufacture, and a like percentage of the brass buttons.”   — from 1795-1895: One Hundred Years of American Commerce, Vol. 2, by Chauncey Mitchell Depew, 1895

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