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Button Manufacturers

Whitehead & Hoag Company

The Whitehead & Hoag company was formed in 1892 in Newark, New Jersey, as a partnership between printer Benjamin S. Whitehead and paper merchant Chester R. Hoag. It soon became the largest manufacturer of novelty advertising in the United States, eventually making over 5,000 different items. In the late 1890s, the company had branch offices across the U.S. and in England, Australia, and Argentina.

In its first decade, Whitehead & Hoag acquired three major patents on the design and manufacture of buttons. The company's non-partisan roster of clients included commercial businesses, both major political parties as well as Socialists, Communists, and Prohibitionists, and various club and fraternal organizations. The U.S. presidential election of 1896 marked the first time political campaign buttons blanketed the country.

Its first huge order from the American Tobacco Company at the rate of roughly 1 million buttons per day. With no machinery yet to place the paper on the button backs, residents living near the factory were hired to perform the task. A new factory built in 1903 housed a complete printing plant with lithography, art and photo engraving, and machinery departments. W & H's manufacture of buttons included their design all the way to the finished product.

In 1919, Benjamin Whitehead left the company's presidency and became its chairman of the board. W & H had been a union company, even noting specific unions that operated in the factory on its button labels. though the company was no longer a union shop, some of its button labels, such as for political campaigns, still represented it as one. During World War II, the company converted to making ID buttons for wartime factories.

After Chester Hoag's son Phillip died in 1953, no Whitehead or Hoag family member remained on the board. Further, the company went through cycles of a few years of profitability followed by long stretches of operating at a loss, and it only advertised on its own products. In this environment, W & H was sold to a longtime competitor and union shop, Bastian Bros. of Rochester, New York, in 1959. The new owners sold or scrapped machinery, and W & H's records were destroyed. Bastian Bros. phased out the Whitehead & Hoag name in 1965.

Source: Hake, Ted. (2015). Whitehead and Hoag company history. Retrieved from

Buttons in the museum manufactured by Whitehead & Hoag Company

Parisian Novelty Co.

Parisian Novelty Facade
Photo courtesy of

Parisian Novelty Company was the oldest button manufacturer in Chicago. Founded in 1898 by Louis L. Joseph, the company was a leading manufacturer of button parts, button-making machinery and equipment in North America.

The company manufactured novelties such as pinback buttons and compacts that made use of celluloid images to advertise various products. Cheap to make and flexible, celluloid was one of the first plastics used for commercial purposes. In the early 1900s, company superintendent Joseph L. Komorous, acquired several patents related to such items as brushes, watch fobs, thermometers as well as pins and buttons. .

In 1915, he received a patent for a "toilet box," or compact, as it's now known. Using advertising on compacts marked a bit of a risk, since use of cosmetics was not universal at that time; women tended to use it discreetly. As more manufacturers entered the market and use of makeup gained more widespread acceptance, the Parisian Novelty Co.'s share of the market decreased.

This 1928 advertising mirror is one example of the company's products: 

Parisian Novelty Co. also made ID pin badges for factories during World War II and continued to produce pinback buttons and other items after the war. In November 2008, the Matchless Group, another Chicago institution since 1885, acquired the Parisian Novelty Co. and renamed the combined company Matchless Parisian Novelty, Inc. The Busy Beaver Button Museum acquired buttons and other ephemera from the closed factory in Bridgeport. The company continues to make metal button parts used in advertising, campaign, and promotional buttons.

Source: Collecting Vintage Compacts. (2015). The Parisian Novelty Company and its Celluloid Advertising Cases. Retrieved from

Source: Matchless Parisian Novelty, Inc. (2015). About Matchless Parisian Novelty. Retrieved from

Buttons in the museum manufactured by Parisian Novelty Company

Green Duck Button Company

The Green Duck Co. was founded in Chicago in 1906 by George G. Greenburg and Harvey Ducgheisel. The "Greenduck" name was taken from the first syllables of their last names and was meant to be one word, but people tended to use it as two words, so the company became the Green Duck Metal Stamping Co. It produced various metal items such as license plates, tokens, clickers, watch fobs, and lithographed buttons.

During World War II, Green Duck supplied the U.S. Army's 101st and 82nd airborne divisions with metal "crickets" with which they signaled each other on the D-Day landing and afterward (they were so named because they looked and sounded like children's toys resembling a cricket). Two clicks signified a fellow American; four clicks meant a German soldier was nearby.

Among the buttons the company made were official Beatles fan club memorabilia and campaign buttons for Estes Kefauver and Dwight D. Eisenhower, including the iconic "I Like Ike" buttons. Green Duck also made needle threaders, key chains, and fraternity pins.

Green Duck moved to Hernando, Mississippi in 1975.* It was sold to a British firm in 1996 and closed in 2004. In January 2010, items from the Green Duck archives, including button sales sheets, Rin-Tin-Tin puzzles, and Cracker Jack army insignia buttons, were auctioned off by Hake's Americana and Collectibles.

From 1952 Green Duck product catalog

Photos courtesy of

*sources have conflicting dates for the move to Mississippi

Source: No author. (2009). Green Duck Company Archives Offered at Hake’s. Retrieved from

Source: Gable, Gene. (2009). Scanning Around With Gene: Clicking at the Green Duck. Retrieved from

Source: Johnson, Dick. (n.d.) Green Duck Was Originally Greenduck Corporation. The E-Sylum. Retrieved from

Buttons in the museum manufactured by Green Duck

St. Louis Button Co.

Photos from

The St. Louis Button Company was founded in 1893 to manufacture celluloid buttons and other novelty items. It printed employee ID badges, convention badges, advertising buttons and other items. The company eventually designed the buttons, assembled them, and printed and stamped them for shipment in its own factory.

In 1901, it marketed a "Little Giant Button Machine," which made buttons from one-half inch to 3 1/2 inches in diameter.

Photo courtesy of Quinsippi Mercantile,

The St. Louis Button Co. printed buttons for some notable politicians, including Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. This button is from her second successful campaign in 1940:

Photo courtesy of U.S. House of Representatives, History, Art & Archives

The St. Louis Button Co. was in business well into the 1950s.

Buttons in the museum manufactured by St. Louis Button Co.

Bastian Bros.

Photos courtesy of

Founded in 1895, Bastian Company was incorporated as Bastian Bros. in Rochester, New York by Theron and Fredrick Bastian. They originally ran a jewelry store, but after buying the button, advertising, and specialty portion of the Pulver Chemical Co. began to manufacture lapel pins, buckles, knives, official badges, medals, and other items. By late 1915, the union shop moved to a modern building on 11 acres. Published for foreign trade commissions, the 1919 Book of Industrial Rochester touted the Bastain manufacturing facility's air conditioning, hospital facilities, open space and athletic fields for its 700 employees.

Photo courtesy of

Bastian Bros. often fulfilled large orders for pinback buttons and other novelties. In 1929, Regal Doll Company ordered 300,000 eyes for its dolls. It refused to pay for the shipped order, saying the buttons were the wrong color and size. Yet Bastian, represented by Kenneth B. Keating (future U.S. Senator who lost his 1964 re-election campaign to Robert F. Kennedy), won more than $4,500 in a breach-of-contract lawsuit. 

The company also had longtime employees and clients, including Alphonse Kolb, a master die maker for 60 years, and the Rochester Numismatic Association, which had Bastian make its club's presidential medals from 1921 to 1977. Until 1957, the company made class rings for universities such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Illinois, Wisconsin, Syracuse, and others.

Bastian Bros. 1909 catalog. Photo courtesy of the Internet Archive

Watch fob. Photo courtesy of celluloid

When Theron Bastian died in 1955, his son Hugh continued the family's connection with the company. In 1959, Bastian purchased Whitehead & Hoag, its foremost competitor in the pinback and novelty business, which had been in operation since 1892. Whitehead & Hoag's machines, dies, and tools were scrapped; even its records were destroyed. Bastian continued to use the Whitehead & Hoag name, phasing it out in 1964-65.

Bastian went public in February 1981, and the Metal Arts Company purchased an 89% stake in June. Yet in a few years, Metal Arts went bankrupt and sold the medal-minting portion of Bastian's business to a London firm. Metal Arts emerged from bankruptcy in 1988 and moved what remained of Bastian to Geneva, New York in 1991. The company continues to manufacture pins, buckles, artwork for automobiles and other items.

Source: Shilling, Donovan A. (2012).They Put Rochester on the Map: Personalities of Rochester's Past. Pancoast Publishing, Rochester, NY.

Source: Rochester Chamber of Commerce. (November 18, 1919). The Book of Industrial Rochester. RCC, Rochester, NY.

Source: (n.d.). Bastian Company Profile.

Source: (n.d.). Whitehead & Hoag Company History.

Buttons in the museum manufactured by Bastian Bros.


Donnelly/Colt Progressive Resources was founded in 1975 by couple Kate Donnelly and Clay Colt and is a small, family-owned and operated business that provides progressive materials for consciousness raising and fundraising. They started out by buying a proof press in San Francisco and began hand setting wooden and metal type and printing bumper stickers. Their first bumper sticker was “Jail to the Ex-Chief”, in reference to Richard Nixon resigning as President and their low-tech equipment forced them to make items one at a time. Today, Donnelly/Colt is the nation’s oldest purveyor of peace paraphernalia.

Colt and Donnelly moved to Connecticut in 1985 and began branching out into buttons, T-shirts and other merchandise that made statements about social change. Donnelly/Colt is not technically a button manufacturer, but what is known as a “jobber”, meaning other shops actually make the buttons for Donnelly/Colt. Whenever possible, their products are made by union shops. They have been involved in many movements for social change over the past years and “still fundamentally believe in the basic tenant that grassroots, local action is what brings about social change.

Buttons in the museum by Donnelly/Colt