(Fr. bouton, "bud" or "knob"), a term applied to appendages to dress, of various materials and forms, generally used for fastening. Sometimes buttons are ornamental as well as functional, or solely ornamental, or worn as badges.
Buttons have been worn as ornaments since the Bronze Age. As a functional article of dress, however, the button is a product of modern civilization. In southern Europe buttons were first employed as fasteners in the 13th and 14th centuries. The manufacture of buttons in England dates only from the latter part of the 16th century as a trade of any importance. In England, Birmingham has always been the principal site of the button-manufacturing industry.
(Em's note: Having a beautiful 200-year-old tall-case clock, and studying its provenance and other clock-related materials, I can tell you that Birmingham was also the center of the clock industry.)
Button making flourished during the latter portion of the 18th and early part of the 19th centuries, when it was the fashion for men to wear coats bearing innumerable gilt buttons. Precious stones and metals were frequently used in making buttons for persons of wealth.
Ordinary people used buttons made from coarser materials. Even the ordinary button in the early days of button making was costly, for each one had to be made by hand....
Brass buttons were manufactured in Philadelphia by Caspar Wistar as early as 1750, and soon after the manufacture of hard wood buttons was begun in the same city by Benjamin Randolph. Other button-making establishments sprang up in the American colonies; but during the Revolution there were not enough buttons produced domestically, and soldiers of the Continental Army had to be imported from France.
The first button factory in Waterbury, Conn., which became a center of the American metal-button industry, was established about 1800. During the War of 1812 the Connecticut button maker Aaron Benedict went from door to door buying up brass and pewter pots and pans, from which he rolled out buttons in the rolling mill.
Button making made great strides during the 19th century. Horn buttons, made from the horns and hoofs of cattle, were made as early as 1812. Covered buttons became popular; these button-shaped disks covered with cloth were first made by machinery in 1827 by Samual Williston, of Easthampton, Mass.
Ivory buttons also were made in Massachusetts, as was the first vegetable ivory button produced (1859) in the United States. This type of button, invented by an Austrian in 1854, is made from the seed, or nut, of certain species of palms found in Central and South America called corozo palm, or ivory or ivory-nut palms (also "tagua"). Vegetable ivory resembles true ivory in appearance, but is somewhat softer, and is easily dyed and turned on lathes.
The next button to appear on the American market outdistanced all others in popularity; the pearl button. The first pearl buttons were made in Europe from the shells of pearl oysters and were known as ocean pearl buttons. About 1855 the manufacture of pearl buttons was introduced in the United States. About 1890, J.F. Boepple of Iowa began making pearl buttons from the shells of freshwater mussels found in the Mississippi River....
Celluloid, the first of the synthetic organic plastics, next became an important material from which buttons were manufactured. After World War I many other plastic materials were discovered that were suitable for button making, and today (remember this is 1954!) most buttons are made of casein (galalith), bakelite, and plaskon....
Prior to World War II, colorful glass buttons in flower, fruit, and bird shapes were imported from Bohemia, where they were made by a secret process. Today, however, similar buttons are manufactured in the United States.
Button Quail(the next entry in the encyclopedia!)