HOW THE BUTTON WAS BORN
PINBACK BUTTON BADGE HISTORY
Known by different names around the globe, buttons, badges, pins or pinbacks are everywhere. Every day we see them pinned to jackets and bags as well as shirts and aprons of store clerks and waiters, these little message boards express volumes without the need to utter a word.
How was the button born? Read on to discover its fascinating history.
Political buttons have always been a part of American politics, with George Washington and many others in attendance wearing the first political button in 1789, at his first Inauguration in New York. These brass ‚Äòbuttons‚Äô more closely resembled clothing buttons and bore the phrase ‚ÄòG.W. - Long Live the President,‚Äô an Americanized take on ‚ÄòLong Live the King.‚Äô
In 1824 the first campaign buttons were used in the election of John Quincy Adams as president over Andrew Jackson.
c. 1789 - America‚Äôs earliest political
button ‚ÄòGW‚Äô LONG LIVE THE
With the arrival of the first patent for buttons using photo reproductions, buttons for the 1860 presidential campaign now pictured the likeness of the candidates. This allowed voters to see (and wear) their favorite candidate‚Äôs photo, including Abraham Lincoln. A small hole in the frame allowed supporters to sew the metal disc to their clothing or hang them around their neck on a cord.
c. 1824 - America‚Äôs earliest
campaign button Andrew Jackson
c. 1860 - Lincoln Ferrotype
Whitehead and Hoag, Co., a New Jersey business organized in 1892, is widely recognized as one of the earliest creators of the button. It wasn‚Äôt until 1896 when Whitehead and Hoag secured a patent for celluloid, a high quality compound used to create more durable and vibrant color printing, that Whitehead and Hoag began manufacturing a more modern button version that‚Äôs akin to the styles produced today. Buttons became cheaper to produce because they could now take a colorful image, wrap it around a metal disc and cover it with celluloid.
Reverse side of an early Whitehead
and Hoag button showing patent date.
c. 1898 - Buck Ewing baseball pin
Advertising Cameo Pepsin Gum with
original paper backing made by
Whitehead and Hoag.
The 1896 McKinley-Bryan presidential race popularized not only the campaign button, but the button itself, as we now know it. Over 800 different pin designs were made for McKinley alone. A delegate at the Republican convention in St. Louis ordered 25,000 McKinley buttons to hand out, which many believe helped McKinley get the nomination of his party.
c. 1896 - McKinley Hobart
Whitehead and Hoag established themselves as the oldest and largest manufacturer of pinback buttons during the first half of the 20th century. With this new advertising medium, cigarette, candy and gum companies, in particular, immediately recognized the promotional value of buttons by giving them away with the purchase of their products. It was during this early classic pinback button era that standards for the medium were set, in turn shaping our current appreciation and usage.
c. 1912 - "I'M THE GUY" CIGARETTE GIVEAWAY BUTTONS Designed by Rube Goldberg
Throughout the first half of the 20th century candidates used campaign buttons to help get elected, but the heyday for campaign buttons was in the 1950‚Äôs and their popularity continued through the 1960‚Äôs. Candidates could tell how much support they had by seeing how many people were wearing their buttons. By the late 1970‚Äôs, the political buttons popularity as a marketing tool waned for politicians, as campaigns began spending more of their budget on TV advertising. As a means to fundraise while cutting costs, candidates began charging for campaign buttons, rather than giving them away by the handfuls as they had in the past. Today, vintage campaign buttons are highly collectible and are often found at flea markets.
Beyond political buttons, protest buttons have served an important purpose, having endured and evolved through history as new causes arise. Designed in 1958, the peace sign is one of the most iconic and enduring symbols. This international symbol for peace was first worn that same year by activists in England during a protest march for nuclear disarmament.
c. 1915 - Woman‚Äôs suffrage
c. 1939 - pinback button encouraging
American neutrality in World War II
and opposition to entry into the war.
c. 1958 - Classic Peace Symbol
c. 1968 - Vietnam war era
pinback buttons Opposing the
war and advocating peace
Early rock bands saw the potential of pinback buttons as an inexpensive way to connect to their fans. Additionally, buttons could generate extra income, serve as advertising and boost the promotion of the band and its current project or tour. Punk rockers/bands adopted and popularized the one-inch button, thanks to the efforts of a London, UK based button-badge company Better Badges, who produced millions of pins from 1976-1982. A trend evolved, selling fans sets of buttons attached to a card. Today, the 1‚Äù pin is still the preferred size for band button-badges.
And then there is the ‚Äúsmiley face‚Äù. It was a logo designed by Harvey Ball in 1963 for the State Mutual Life Assurance Company, first ordered as a batch of 100 buttons to distribute to employees to improve morale. But, it wasn‚Äôt until 1970 when the smiley face was combined with the saying ‚ÄúHave a Happy Day‚Äù that it achieved iconic stature. In the year 1972, an estimated 50 million ‚Äúsmiley face‚Äù buttons were sold, before the craze died off.
April 17, 1970 Life Magazine
Promoting Zero Population Growth
In the late 1960‚Äôs, early 1970‚Äôs buttons weren‚Äôt just limited to politicians, protesters, advertisers and bands as in the past. There was an emergence of a new kind of button. People began wearing them emblazoned on denim jackets for fun and self expression, with many having witty, irreverent sayings.
Buttons even had an important role in a movie. Who can forget the role pinback buttons played in the 1999 movie Office Space. The word ‚Äúflair‚Äù became a mainstream term and is instantly recognizable as not only a reference to the movie Office Space but also to buttons in general.
Office Space ‚Äì 1999 movie
Joanna (Jennifer Aniston) and her
manager (Mike Judge) at Chotskey‚Äôs
restaurant discussing ‚Äúflair‚Äù
Today, as in the past, many businesses have found the benefit of using buttons for marketing and promotion. Designed to intrigue and inform, pinback buttons easily engage the customer and encourage a dialogue with employees.
Through history, as there have been developments in technology and manufacturing, the button has evolved from its political beginnings. Reviewing the history of buttons offers a fascinating opportunity for reflection - in terms of causes, attitudes and interests. Buttons are not just a fashion statement, but a personal billboard allowing you to display your beliefs and passions. An enduring trend, the button continues to be reinvented and made relevant for new audiences, as new fads are popularized each generation.