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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.

November 30, 2016
We Have A New Home and We’re Still Your Neighbor!

It’s easy to call work your home when it resides in such a thriving and friendly community. That’s why it was a no-brainer for Christen Carter to move Busy Beaver to a bigger home just down the street to keep it a neighborhood business. Over a year and a half later, through the hoops of inspections and remodeling, the Busy Beaver family is happy to call 3407 W. Armitage our new home!


More Room For the Museum

It got to a point that Busy Beaver was just growing too fast to stay in such a compact space and a business improvement was needed. Boxes to be shipped often lined the desks in the office during busier times. Tours for the museum were often prefaced by “Please don’t mind us, check out the museum! We’re used to it!”

As Christen recalls in her Crain’s interview, there was a time we had a busload of seniors in town to view the Button Museum and because of space restrictions we ushered the group outside. As the buttons were being passed around and discussed Christen felt the need to disclaim, “Sorry we’ve outgrown this place.”


The Perfect Spot for Everyone

After a successful loan application through Wintrust Bank, our new building was purchased in early 2015 after looking at about 10 buildings in the surrounding area. The new spot was perfect—or it would be prefect with the addition of a complete restoration of the twice fire-scarred building. Construction began in October of 2015 for Busy Beaver and the apartments upstairs.

It was important for our team to stay a locally owned business— as a lot of our staff lives in the neighborhood works at Busy Beaver. With the relocation down the street and twice the amount of space, we’re finally able to have separate spaces for the office, museum, and production with even enough space to grow and expand our business services.


Busy Beaver staying local also meant that a once abandoned and rejected building in a commercial district could finally be brought back to life. With the support of our Alderman, we were able to rezone and remodel this building to make it applicable for commercial and residential use. This also meant that our old building could be rented by another local, small business to only create more economic improvement into this business district of Logan Square.


Optimizing Our Work Flow

The separating of production and office has not only given us all a little room to breathe and less button-clanking noises during phone calls, it has also improved communication inside and outside the beaver dam. Inside our abode our Design and Print Specialist is now in the heart of the production half of the building and can be more hands on in the process of making your buttons.

The divide of administration and manufacturing also simplifies your order pick up process. In the old building because of only having one door for any entry, all pick ups and shipments were handled through one entrance. Now with more space we’re able to hold all the orders for pick up on our office side for Customer Service to quickly and efficiently find your order so you can get your buttons out into the world!


The Welcome Party

The christening of the new space happened at our 2016 Button-O-Matic Artist Series Release Party. The event happened before the core of the business had moved in, but was the perfect venue to celebrate in at the time. We invited neighbors, local businesses, friends, family, and the random passer-by to be the first to see our brand new spot before the official open a week later. With the additional room at 3407 W. Armitage, we plan on hosting more community focused and local events.


The Best, Simplest Solution for Everyone

Keeping the neighborhood business in the neighborhood was the simplest solution to solve all of our problems. We need more space to make more buttons, solved. The old building was beginning to feel a little cramped, perfect we now have a individual spaces for the office, museum, and production. And above all, we needed to keep our company local, for our employees, customers, and community.

Feel free to see our new space any time (we’re happy to show it off!) 3407 W. Armitage Chicago, IL 60647!