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National Pearl Button Museum

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The National Pearl Button Museum tells the story of the unique home-grown industry which dominated the economy of Muscatine from the 1890s to the 1950s. In the first decade of the 20th century, this small river town produced 1/3 of the world's pearl buttons, over 1.5 billion per year. Each and every one was cut from the shell of a freshwater mussel. These creatures, little understood at the time, were harvested by the hundreds of millions from the waterways of America and their lovely mother-of-pearl shells were turned into ubiquitous items which touched the lives of every American. We tell the story of innovators, like German immigrant John Frederick Boepple, who cut the first buttons in Muscatine in 1891. We highlight the entrepreneurs, like Nicholas Barry and his sons, who invented the machines that made the button industry possible. We examine the lives of the workers who harvested the mussels, labored in the button factories, and organized unions to fight for better pay and working conditions. And we reveal the "below the surface" story of the mussels, a cautionary tale about the heedless use of natural resources.
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Located in Storied & Scenic


In Iowa, sunny days mean endless possibilities. Whether it's a family getaway, an outdoor adventure, or anything in between, we know a place.