As many of you know, I am fascinated with American mother of pearl and its use in the international cultured pearl industry. While researching old images, I found these great pictures and info from The Gazette. This photo shows an old pearl button factory in Guttenberg, Iowa! Fun fact: this building is now a historic hotel called The Landing: A Riverfront Inn. So here’s what I found out about this old pearl button factory…
The Guttenberg factory produced millions of pearl buttons during its fifty years of operation. Iowa was extremely large and popular in the production of mother of pearl buttons, although it was not the only state to hop into the pearl button industry.
Ambitious businessmen erected button factories up and down the Mississippi River during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Most went out of business by the middle of the 1900s when plastics had really taken their hold. According to the Gazette’s article, the Guttenberg factory closed November 29th, 1960. This marked the beginning of the end for the booming pearl button business.
Back then, factory workers would literally stamp mother of pearl from the mussel shells (like a hole-puncher!) then fashion them into buttons. You can see the holes punched into the shell in the photo below. And just look at the waste piles! It’s hard to imagine this business as sustainable. Think of how many mussels perished to provide those pearl buttons!
Of course it is because of America’s amazingly high quality mother of pearl that we have been able to sell our mother of pearl to Japan where pearl farmers use it to make cultured pearls! So it turns out that the mother of pearl harvested in the United States went on to someday become pearls around the world! I love learning and sharing pearl history with y’all! Thanks for reading!
I am a modern day treasure hunter who travels the world for gorgeous pearls and amazing adventures. I own a pearl jewelry and jewelry repair business, ThePearlGirls.com, with a cute retail store in Athens, GA. I also have a Pearl Travel business and travel blog at TheWorldofPearl.com.