August 2, 2017

Just like buttons, streaking holds a special place in the heart of Americans. Which makes sense why streaking is the subject to so many wonderful (and slightly ironic) buttons in the Button Museum. Our Director of Operations, Joel Carter, is a bit of a streaking aficionado and is always on the look out for buttons to add to the collection. Not that he’s ever partaken in the “sport” (to our knowledge), but he is our foremost expert on the subject around the Beaver Dam.

The act of streaking has been popular since the mid-1960s in the aftermath of the free love youth movements in the 1960s. The term streaking was first used in 1973 during a mass nude run at the University of Maryland. A common misconception is that streaking is a form of nudism, however the two are differentiated because the streaker intends to be noticed by an audience. This intent can be spawned for a variety of political, social, or enthusiastic reasons with the main goal of streaking to be to disrupt.

The years between 1972-1974 were difficult for US President Richard M. Nixon (1913-1994) Adversely, 1972-1974 we’re some of the best years for streaking culture. After 1973, when the truth about the tape recorders in the Oval Office came to light during Nixon’s testimonies in front of Congress  Nixon resigned his presidency in 1974, amidst impeachment proceeding in the House of Representatives. Streaking became a part of American protest with this button shows Nixon partaking in the fad, his hands in the V-sign.

Though streakers are still in the news here and there, the heyday of the phenomena was relatively short-lived from 1973-1974. Looking at the Button Museum’s collection does beg one major question, though: Where exactly does a streaker wear a button?

See more cheeky buttons from the 1970s from the Button Museum collection.


January 18, 2017


Along with campaign buttons, the badge pinned to a lapel in promotion of a cause is among the most iconic of all button types. Social justice buttons have been popular since the pin-back button was first invented at the turn of the century, and are increasingly popular today. (Maybe you’re even wearing one on your lapel right now!) In the Busy Beaver Button Museum’s collection, activist buttons championing various positions have been combined into the cause button category. Here’s our brief history of American cause buttons:


Thanks to the increased mobility of the automobile age, citizens across the United States began to enjoy an increased ability to connect and to assemble. Americans used this new freedom to assemble behind the causes in which they believed. Around the turn of the century, tiny button pins were used to rally support for causes like raising funds for World War I, safe roads to travel on,  and voting rights for women.


It’s hard to believe that less than 100 years ago the U.S. congress ratified the 18th amendment, which prohibited the manufacturing and sale of alcohol. Prohibition was meant to increase American health and help align the country’s efforts to reduce crime, solve social problems, reduce the tax burden created by prisons and poorhouses. (Cato Institute). The political activist buttons that were made during this time advocated both sides of this issue.


Pro-business campaign pins were pressed after the Stock Market crash in 1929. The public was saving instead of spending, which greatly effected the purchasing and production of goods.


“Halt Hitler” custom-made buttons—in reference to the anti-Nazi movement against Adolf Hitler during the second World War—were popular during the 1940s. Due to wartime metal rationing, however, WWII-era metal buttons are hard to come by.


In the middle of the century, scientists began to confirm that Earth’s climate was changing. In fact, experts even changed their language to identify this increasing problem. Instead of “bad weather”, we were beginning to call severe weather occurrences “climate disruption,” or “climate change.” This button is thought to be one of the first times that the term pollution was used to reference the environment.


While U.S. soldiers were in the midst of a war on Vietnamese soil, U.S. citizens were engaging in their own domestic war of protests. In the 60s and 70s, the pinback button found use as Vietnam war protest buttons and peace pins. These buttons were vital to the visual identity of movements to end the Vietnam War, gain equal rights for all citizens, champion labor unions, and support presidential candidates.


While the fight for equal rights continues, the 1970’s focused on the issue of women’s rights in the workplace. This particular button,”Hire Him, He’s Got Great Legs”, was a 1973 ad slogan highlighting women’s unequal rights in the workplace. It became part of a 1970s advertising campaign by Legal Momentum: the oldest non-profit legal organization dedicated to advancing the rights of women and girls through law and public policy.


In the 80s and 90s, buttons became a popular tool in public health advocacy. The public health program D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) which formed in 1983, used buttons to warn of the dangers of smoking and drug use.

In 1981, HIV and AIDS was finally accepted as the worldwide epidemic it had become. Many buttons of the era championed the fight against the infection and its disease, and defended those who had fallen victim.


In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and President George W. Bush’s declaration of “War on Terror,” the United States entered an era of extreme polarization. The open-ended military campaign was not met with complete nationwide support. As a result, anti-war and anti-Bush buttons became a popular form of visual protest.


Though American society has enjoyed steady progress in the past hundred years, many historically championed causes are still being fought for today. The past decade has also seen a groundswell of new causes and newly amplified voices that have utilized the power of the button. The Black Lives Matter movement’s powerful message graces many a jacket and backpack. Organizations like Planned Parenthood have gained increasing recognition as important and valuable organizations for women’s health.

America has hosted one of the most volatile political campaign seasons in recent history. This year alone, hundreds of millions of campaign buttons and political buttons, either promoting or dismissing candidates, were produced.

Now more than ever before, people all across the country (and the world!) are using buttons as a way to show their disdain and their support. Though contemporary Americans have more platforms on which to be vocal, it’s clear that buttons have remained a vital and relevant form of self-expression.

Our infographic on the history of cause buttons over the past century—

(click to view larger)

Visit Busy Beaver and Button Museum in person, or check out the Button Museum collection online.

December 21, 2016

He goes by many names: Kris Kringle, Saint Nicholas, Papa Noel, Father Christmas, and the one we know him by the best in North America, Santa Claus. While the iconic imagery of Santa as a jovial man in a red cap and matching red suit with white trimming seems as historic as George Washington having wooden teeth, Santa has not always been depicted this way. The truth is, this version of Santa has only been around since the early 19th century. Thanks to companies like Coca-Cola and Marshall Fields the face of Santa Claus has been memorialized in soda cans, clothing, movies, and of course buttons.

First Depictions

Ironically, the image of the jolly man was first depicted in the words a poem. The first lines of which tend to be more memorable than the title, Clement Clark Moore’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas” or “Twas The Night Before Christmas” depicted Santa Claus with his classical jovial bearded appearance and sparkle in his eye. Later this poem could be said to be one of the inspirations for Thomas Nast’s Christmas and Santa illustrations that he was commissioned to create for Harper’s Weekly. In this drawing we can begin to see the first resemblance of St. Nick was taking shape. (


Department Store Santa Claus

Santa Claus’ image began to spread and cement itself into American culture by making cameos in more newspapers, stories, and poems by the late 19th century. Business owners soon saw an opportunity— with so much buzz around the idea of Santa Claus, owners of department stores like James Edgar of Brockton, Massachusetts decided to bring the Santa Claus legend right to the children. In 1890 the dry-foods store owner created the new roll of “Department Store Santa” which by the next year spread across the nation as a holiday staple.  (New England Living.)


Marshall Field’s began customizing buttons to hand out to shoppers as a piece of memorabilia as a way to remind kids to visit Santa again next year. It’s now common practice to get your child’s photo taken with Santa Claus and although sending that photo to all your relatives is a nice way to say “Merry Christmas”, you can also turn that photo into buttons for an extra special seasons greetings.


Santa Buttons from Busy Beaver’s Button Museum

Big Brands Use His Image

Some may say the version of the American Santa Claus we know today was truly solidified in the 1930’s with the arrival of Coca-Cola’s portrayal of the man. Archie Lee of the D’Arcy Advertising Agency worked alongside the soft drink company in hopes of syncing the spirit of the Christmas holiday with Coke. Archie advised to make his coat red with white trimming to match the brand colors of Coca-Cola (even though Santa appeared in red prior to this project) and noted he “wanted the campaign to show a wholesome Santa who was both realistic and symbolic”. This responsibility fell onto Michigan-born illustrator Haddon Sunblom to design and create advertising images “showing Santa himself, not a man dressed as Santa.” These Coke advertisements went on to be featured in popular publications such as The Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal, National Geographic, and The New Yorker (Coca-Cola Company.)




Button Images courtesy of Early depictions of Santa Claus from the early 1900’s (left) to 1930’s.

The history of modern Santa is what makes him a special tradition of the holidays. Today Santa is depicted much the same as he has been for 80 years. He’s gained a following throughout his lifespan, a wife, 13 loyal reindeer, and many handy elves to help make all the toys in the North Pole. These stories if not passed down from generation to generation are still being told in the books, movies, television, amusement parks, and even apps for your phone (i.e. Santa Tracker). Every year kids’ fantasies of Santa are materialized when they see him outside the grocery store, at the mall, and in hospitals too because of his dazzling and recognizable look.