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Button Up and Give Earth a Chance: A History of Ecology Pinback Buttons

In 1969, the Environmental Action for Survival Committee at the University of Michigan started selling pinback buttons with the slogan “Give Earth a Chance,” a play on the popular anti-war slogan “Give Peace a Chance.” Newsweeks’ 1970 article, “The Ravaged Environment” noted the popularity of these buttons, suggesting they were the symbol of the Age of Conservation.  These buttons, alongside buttons featuring the ecology symbol, the peace symbol, and more, reflected the solidarity of the 20 million demonstrators during the first Earth Day march on April 22, 1970.

"Give Earth a Chance" Pinback Button
Replica of the "Give Earth a Chance" button 

Ecology is the study of the interrelations among and between organisms and all aspects of life and the environment. Environmentalism is an ideology and social movement concerned with protecting the health of the environment, it builds on the interconnections studied in ecology. While the 1970s counterculture is most commonly associated with environment and ecology movements, you can trace their beginnings back to the cultural movement in England called Romanticism (1780-1830). This movement focused on the poor conditions of workers, new class conflicts, and the pollution of the environment, leading to a reaction against urbanization and industrialization as well as a new emphasis on beauty and the value of nature. During the Romantic Era, human effects on nature were becoming readily apparent through deforestation and pollution and the literature created by writers such as Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley opposed Industrialism by highlighting the interconnectedness of man and nature and predicting the destruction of Earth.

This environmentalist sentiment continued into the 19th century as Industrialism expanded. Groups like the Sierra Club, founded in 1872 by John Muir, aimed to ensure the conservation of nature. Pollution caused by industry was a major issue going into the 20th century, which led to the formation of various conservation groups in America. One of the earliest ecology pinback buttons was created by the Washington (State) Conservation Association in 1909 to commemorate the First National Conservation Congress. These congresses began as a response to the 1908 Governors' Conference on the Conservation of Natural Resources, an event that placed conservation at the forefront of public consciousness. Until 1915, these congresses were the singular meeting place for government and private conservation organizations and featured discussions and debates about conservation efforts being made in the United States. As the first conservation congress established in the United States, private conservation groups were able to connect with each other and discuss the development of conservation work in the country.

Conservation Congress
First National Conservation Congress Button

Environmentalism remained steady through-out the decades, and by the 1950s, water pollution was a big topic. Significant efforts were led by the League of Women Voters in 1956 to make water pollution a focus of education and activism, with many local chapters leading clean-water campaigns in their communities. An early ecology button created by the State of New York Conservation Department (1926-1970) features a mermaid and a fish, as well as the slogan “Get in the swim, help stop pollution.” This button was made in the 1950s and, at that time, the term “pollution” was not commonly used in reference to man’s impact on the environment. As awareness of pollution increased, the word was used more and more. 

Text "Get in the Swim, Help Stop Pollution" with mermaid and fish images
State of New York Conservation Dep't Button

As discussed above, the 1960s and 1970s saw a rise in environmentalist activity, as well as an increase in ecology buttons. In 1966, while on an LSD trip in San Francisco, Stewart Brand believed he could see the curvature of the earth and had the idea that if the world could see that Earth was spherical and finite, and treat it as finite, civilization would progress in the right direction. The next day he started printing up his “Why haven’t we seen a photograph of the whole Earth yet?” pinback buttons, which would go on inspire his Whole Earth Catalog, a publication that aimed, in a nod to ecology, to interconnect counterculture and scientific communities.

"Why haven't we seen a photograph of the whole Earth yet?" pinback button
Stewart Brand's "Whole Earth" Button

Greenpeace pin back button with ecology and peac3 symbols
          Greenpeace Button

In 1970, Greenpeace, an international, non-government environmental organization, began using pinback buttons as a form of advocacy and, in order to raise funds, they began selling them for 15 cents each. These buttons were designed by art student Paul Nonnast and feature a bright yellow background with “Greenpeace” in the middle, a green peace sign below, and a green ecology symbol above. The ecology symbol included on the button is a 1969 design by Ron Cobb which combines the “e” from ecology and the “o” from organism and has been used as a symbol for Earth Day and other environmental causes. Because of the size of the buttons, they struggled to add a space between the words “green” and “peace” ultimately deciding to combine the words and renaming themselves into one word “Greenpeace.”

Pinback buttons have also been a popular way to advertise conservation mascots and slogans. The U.S. Forest Service has two well beloved mascots that have been featured on numerous buttons throughout the decades. The first, Smokey Bear, was created in 1944 by artist Albert Staehle with the original catchphrase "Smokey Says – Care Will Prevent 9 out of 10 Forest Fires." In 1947, in partnership with the Wartime Advertising Council (later the Ad Council), Smokey’s slogan was updated to its most iconic form, “Remember … Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires,” remaining the slogan for over five decades. As of 2001, the slogan was updated to its current iteration “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires” in responses to a massive outbreak of wildfires in areas other than forests. The choice to use “wildfires” over “forest fires” signifies Smokey’s prevention of unwanted and unplanned fires rather than planned, controlled burns. Another mascot, Woodsy the Owl, was created in 1971 with the original motto “Give a Hoot; Don’t Pollute.” Woodsy has been an advocate to encourage children to become invested in caring for the environment. Both these characters have been featured on pinback buttons in various iterations.

Smokey Bear pinback button
         Smokey Bear Button

Woody the Owl pinback button
           Woodsy Owl Button

April 22, 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day demonstrations. These original demonstrations placed the environmental movement into the forefront of American minds, highlighting the ever-increasing human activity affecting the earth. Pinback buttons for various environmental causes have functioned as a focal point for ideas and themes, allowing like-minded individuals to quickly recognize each other and further discuss these causes as well as facilitate discussions with those who are curious. Fifty years later, and with the current discussions around climate change, it seems likely that pinback buttons will continue to serve the environmentalist cause as points of discussion.



Brand, S. (2008, May 30). Photography changes our relationship to our planet. Retrieved from

Dr. Seuss designed rare "I speak for the trees" ecology-themed button featuring the Lorax. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Give earth a chance: Environmental activism in Michigan. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Lallier, A. (n.d.). Environmentalism and British Romanticism. Retrieved from

Library of Congress. (n.d.). Documentary chronology of selected events in the development of the American Conservation Movement, 1847-1920. Retrieved from

Morton, T. (2005). Environmentalism. In N. Roe (Ed.), Romanticism: An Oxford Guide. Retrieved from

Rome, A. (2003). "Give Earth a Chance": The environmental movement and the sixties. Journal of American History, 90(2), 525–554. doi: 10.2307/3659443

Seed, M. (n.d.). History of the Greenpeace button: Material objects as vehicles of advocacy: VMM. Retrieved from

Sierra Club. (n.d.). About the Sierra Club. Retrieved from

The Ad Council. (n.d.). About the Campaign. Retrieved from

Turner, F. (2008). From counterculture to cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the rise of digital utopianism. Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press.

U.S. Forest Service. (n.d.). A short history. Retrieved from

US Forest Service. (n.d.). The story of Smokey Bear: US Forest Service. Retrieved from

U.S. Forest Service. (n.d.). Woodsy Owl. Retrieved from


Research and text by Chelsea Clark

Inventor. Amanda M. Lougee.

While George B. Adams is credited as the inventor of celluloid pinback buttons, there is another important inventor to discuss, one who has historically been relegated to a single line in celluloid pinback button history, Amanda M. Lougee.

Photography of Amanda M. Lougee
Image Courtesy of A.M. Sammarco

Amanda Melvina Lougee was born in 1842 in Walmouth, Massachusetts to Robert W. Lougee and Sarah Lougee. Defying gender expectations of her time, she became the head of a rubber-gossamer manufacturing plant in in Hyde Park, MA. After years of being her brother’s “silent partner,” she officially took over upon his death, rather than leave the business to strangers. Beginning with rubber-gossamer in 1879, she expanded the business into the manufacturing of double textured clothing, mould work, and electrical tape. By 1897, she employed over 275 people, and had opened up a factory in Clarendon Hills and offices in New York and Chicago. Her female contemporaries, on discussing her business leadership, stated that, “most men who deal with ‘A.M. Lougee, Treasurer,’ do so in total ignorance that they are dealing with a quiet little elderly woman” (Willard, Winslow, & White, 1897). Her feminist work went beyond her career; she was also active in the women’s suffrage movement. She had been an auditor for the Massachusetts Women’s Suffrage Association, treasurer for the Association of the Advancement of Women, treasurer for the National Council of Women, and Fruit Cake recipe contributor to the 1890 Woman Suffrage Cookbook.

Drawing of Clifton Manufacturing
Image Courtesy of G.W. Engelhardt

Not only was she an accomplished business person and active suffragette, she was also an inventor who held multiple patents. In the early 1900’s she was granted seven patents for electrical conduits, protected conductors, as well as fireproof fabric, fireproof wire, and fireproof conductors. But the patent that may be her most lasting and influential, is that of the covered button.

On July 17, 1894, Lougee was granted a patent for her covered button. While this is a cloth and metal button, the patent became integral to the creation of the first celluloid pinback buttons. While George B. Adams is credited with the first patent for celluloid pinback buttons, Lougee’s patent paved the way for the celluloid button to be created and in 1896, Whitehead & Hoag Co. purchased Lougee’s patent and began to manufacture the first celluloid buttons in the same year.

Whitehead and Hoag Co. was established in 1892 by Benjamin S. Whitehead and Chester R. Hoag. They began in Newark, NJ, and would go on to become one of the world’s largest manufacturers of advertising novelties. In 1896, they began production on the first celluloid pinback buttons, which were used for McKinley’s and Bryan’s 1896 presidential campaigns, the first election to make extensive use of pinback buttons for advertising. These buttons were a hit, sweeping across the nation, and Whitehead & Hoag Co. “became the largest manufacturer of buttons in the world” (Scarmuzzi, 2017). Celluloid was invented much earlier, in 1868, going on to become the country’s first commercially successful plastic. It wasn’t until 1896 that Whitehead & Hoag Co. released the first ever celluloid pinback button. The company utilized papers with their name inserted in the button’s open backs, and their third version began featuring the three patents used in the creation of the button, one of which, dated July 17th, 1894 is Amanda Lougee’s covered button patent.

The Patent

Lougee was granted Patent No. 532,149 for her covered button in 1894. Lougee’s aim was to create a new type of cloth covered button that retains the button face’s uniformity by not adding any protrusions. The design features a flat metal face plate and back plate, each with a central eyelet, as well as cloth covering both the face of the button as well as between the two plates, so that the button could be sewn to garments using this internal cloth, keeping the integrity of the top covering. The intriguing part of this patent, and what seems to be the most critical component, is an additional material in between the metal plates, to which Lougee notes in her patent, “I also prefer to place between the face piece a and the textile back e a non-metallic filling f to thus add solidity and strength to the button” (Lougee, 1894).

Drawing of button patent
Image Courtesy of U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

While Lougee does not specify she used celluloid as this filling, there are two possibilities for why Whitehead & Hoag purchased her patent.

The first is that she was in fact using celluloid as a cover over the cloth.

While she does not explicitly name celluloid as the material being used for her button, there have been multiple claims crediting her with the first use of celluloid on a button. Fisher’s (2001) book The Guide to United States Popular Culture states that “a patent was granted to Amanda Lougee of Boston for a clothing button with a textile surface covered with a thin layer of celluloid.” This same statement can be found on a blog post about campaign buttons on the United States House of Representatives “History, Art & Archives” webpage. 

The second option is that Whitehead & Hoag Co. wanted ownership of her patent because of the use of a non-metallic material to strengthen buttons.

Because Lougee’s patent doesn’t specify the material being used, this option seems far more likely. As Ted Hake (1986) notes in his history of Whitehead & Hoag Co., the company purchased Lougee’s patent “to protect their other claims,” implying that her patent touched on button technology that they were already working on. While there is the possibility that she was using celluloid, it’s the use of something other than metal and cloth to fabricate the button that makes the invention unique.

While we might not have the answer to which option is correct, what we do know is that Lougee’s patent, along with two later patents by Adams, were featured on Whitehead & Hoag Co.’s buttons from 1896-1901. The company’s back papers list Lougee’s patent alongside Adams’s jewelry patent granted April 14, 1894, and his pinback button patent granted on July 21, 1896.

Photo of button back papers
Image Courtesy of Ted Hake

Image Courtesy of Ted Hake

Whether or not her patent included the use of celluloid, it's clear that Amanda Lougee is an important person in pinback button history. We might consider National Pinback Button day to be on July 21, the day Adams was granted his patent, but Lougee’s contribution to its creation also needs to be celebrated. Without her invention, we might not have the same pinback buttons we see today, and that deserves more than a one line blurb in the history books.

Words "Inventor. Amanda M. Lougee" from Lougee's patent
Image Courtesy of U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Like Fruit Cake? Try Amanda Lougee’s recipe!

Text of Lougee's fruitcake recipe
Image Courtesy of The Woman Suffrage Cookbook


Art. (2013, May 16). The Life and Times of a Campaign Button. Retrieved from

Fischer, R. (2001). Political Advertising. In R. B. Browne & P. Browne (Eds.), The Guide to United States Popular Culture (pp. 618–621). Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press.

Goldberg, H. (2008). So You Think You Know About Button History? Keynoter, 2008(2-4), 91. Retrieved from

Hake, T & King, R. (1986). Dating Celluloid Buttons. In Collectible Pin-Back Buttons 1896-1986 (pp. 300–309). York, PA: Hake's Americana & Collectibles Press.

Lougee, A. M. (1890). Fruit Cake. In H. A. Burr (Ed.), The Woman Suffrage Cookbook (pp. 89–90). Boston, MA: Mrs. Hattie A Burr.

Lougee, A, M. (1894). Covered Button. U.S. Patent No. 523,149. Washington, DC: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Scott, A. (n.d.). Biographical Sketch of Amanda Melvina Lougee. Retrieved from

​Scarmuzzi, P. (2017, April 10). McKinley First to Use Campaign Pins to Spread Message. Retrieved from

Willard, F. E., Winslow, H. M., & White, S. E. J. (1897). Occupations for Women: a Book of Practical Suggestions, For the Material Advancement, the Mental and Physical Development, and the Moral and Spiritual Uplift of Woman. Cooper Union, NY: The Success Company. Retrieved from

Photo Credits

Amanda Lougee Portrait

Sammarco, A. M. (1996). Hyde Park. Charelston, SC: Arcadia Publishing. Retrieved from

Clifton Manufacturing Company

Engelhardt, G. W. (1897). Boston, Massachusetts. Boston, MA: G.W. Engelhardt. Retrieved from

Amanda Lougee Patent Drawing and Signature

Lougee, A, M. (1894). Covered Button. U.S. Patent No. 523,149. Washington, DC: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Back Papers

Hake, T. & King, R. (1986). Dating Celluloid Buttons. In Collectible Pin-Back Buttons 1896-1986 (pp. 300–309). York, PA: Hake's Americana & Collectibles Press

Fruit Cake

Lougee, A. M. (1890). Fruit Cake. In H. A. Burr (Ed.), The Woman Suffrage Cookbook (pp. 89–90). Boston, MA: Mrs. Hattie A Burr.


Research and text by Chelsea Clark

The Truman Show and Reality TV

Truman Show pinback button

The Truman Show was released by Paramount Pictures in 1998. It centers around Truman Burbank, a man whose whole life from birth has been a show, unbeknownst to him, for the enjoyment of others. What if you were Truman? Or one of the characters or viewers of his show? Would you support freeing Truman? Is there a reality outside the ‘set’ for Truman? Paramount created a special website and released special materials such as this button surrounding the release of the film almost as if to blur the reality between real life and the story in the film. Seemingly with the aim of stirring up viewer sentiment to sympathize with Truman.

Last year during the anniversary of the film’s release there was some discussion with the actors and actresses. Twenty years ago they thought the theme of recording one’s life as entertainment was preposterous. However, now it seems like it may have predicted a trend. Since “The Truman Show’s” release Reality TV has become a part of everyday life. Whether it be in the form of shows like “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”, your neighbor’s Youtube channel, or your best friend's Instagram (or Snapchat)  broadcasting and sharing our lives with those around us is the new normal. It does beg the question though, what is real when everything is a video made for the enjoyment of others?    


Miller, Julie. (2018, June 5). Twenty years later, everything is the truman show. [Vanity Fair article]. Retrieved from

Milvy, E. (1998, June 25). Paramount shows creative use of the web with site to free truman [News article]. Retrieved from


Research and text by Bekah Leidenfrost

Fancy That: A Brief History on Social and Early Medical Conclusions Surrounding the Bicycle

cycle for your health finback button

The first bicycle was invented in 1817 in Germany by Baron von Drais, this had no pedals or gears. Inventors continued to improve on and change the design until the creation of the Safety Bicycle in 1885, the precursor to the bicycle as we know it today. This model was then popularized and became affordable, as the lower price point allowed many to be able to purchase one (Guroff, 2017). Previous models of the bicycle, such as the Penny Farthing, were costly and therefore limited cycling to a social activity for wealthy young men. With the wealthy and those less fortunate both being able to access the same activity, thanks to the Safety Bicycle, they were also able to engage with one another in a setting that they never would have previously. Prior to this those of different social standings would never have interacted as they passed each other on the street.

As it was also widely lauded for its health benefits and a design accessible to women of the day the bicycle raised concerns in some. One such instance noted by a medical professional stated that women shouldn’t be allowed to ride bicycles. He cites the instance of several well-bred women conversing with local prostitutes for several days as they rode their bikes along the street (Mapes, 1897).

Is this pin poking fun at these conventions and thoughts? What’d you think?


Guroff, Margaret. (2017, May 19). The great leveler. Retrieved from

Hiles, Dillon. (2017). 58 milestones from bicycle history you must know. Retrieved from

Mapes, C.C. (1897, November 10). A review of the dangers and evils of bicycling. Swift, E.G. The Medical Age, Vol. 15 (pp. 644-45).


Research and text by Bekah Leidenfrost