We Chicagoans have long prided ourselves on our many world-class museums. Famous institutions like the Field Museum , the Museum of Science and Industry, and the Adler Planetarium entice millions of visitors each year, allowing both city residents and tourists alike the chance to learn more about our past and the world around us. But besides these well-known museums, the city hosts an abundance of distinct smaller-scale museums, many of which are the only ones of their kind in the world. Perhaps no museum in Chicago exemplifies this uniqueness better than Logan Square’s Busy Beaver Button Museum.
Started in 2010 by siblings, Christen and Joel Carter, The Busy Beaver Button Museum is, as its name implies, a museum wholly dedicated to message buttons. Made up of a collection of well over 30,000 buttons, the museum itself displays about 4,000 of these buttons while the online museum has an estimated 6,000 catalogued for viewing. Online, visitors can search for buttons based on category and learn information behind each piece, including its background and historical significance. Buttons are dispersed among different categories, including politics, sports, entertainment, and even an entire collection of beer-related buttons. The museum came about from what co-owner Christen Carter describes as a desire to “tell American history through buttons. They really cover so much!”
Christen goes on to note, “Buttons are worn in the space where the person and the public meet. They are meant to be temporary and reflect what’s going on in that person’s life at the time… they give this street-level view that helps paint a picture of the zeitgeist of their time.” This is all the more reason why an entire museum of buttons is the perfect spot for learning about America’s long and interesting history, from when pinback buttons were first patented in 1896 all the way to the present. Plus, since Carter and her brother were already running a button factory, which itself produces four million buttons each year, it made sense to display the collection for the world to see.
The collection is vast and continually expanding. Highlights of the collection so far include a rare button for “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit,” the character who got Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks their start prior to co-creating Mickey Mouse, as well a pair of mechanical buttons from the 1932 presidential election between Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover. Coming in two variations, one for Democrats and the other for Republicans, these buttons, unlike others, are interactive. Depending on which variation of the button is being used, pulling a string causes the mascot of one political party to actually kick its counterpart!
But if these buttons don’t grab your attention, it’s a safe bet that the museum has at least a button or two within its collection that’ll intrigue you. Visitors are always invited in, where Busy Beaver employees are on hand, ready to show you the museum’s collection and answer your questions. The museum also hosts tours and button-making workshops, where visitors young and old can come in and design a button of their very own.
Upcoming events at the museum include the 2nd annual Brews & Buttons of the Past event. Partnered with Chicago Brewseum, the Button Museum will host the informational event on Thursday, July 26, from 6 to 9pm and will feature talks pertaining to the history of pre-prohibition Chicago breweries, which can all be enjoyed while sipping your favorite brew. Later in the year, the museum will have a punk button show starting in August and lasting until October. The event will showcase buttons from Better Badges, who made a variety of punk-related buttons in London during the 1970s. If you’d like to visit the Button Museum yourself or attend one of the events we mentioned above, find out more by following this link.
Guest Author: Adam Prestigiacomo