The Muscatine History & Industry Center is now known as the National Pearl Button Museum

The button museum has been the main draw to The History & Industry Center, pulling in visitors eager to learn Muscatine’s pearl button history. Using that history as a pipeline, it leads people to the modern industry that utilized that industrious workforce left when the clamming industry declined. Muscatine was the center of the “Gold Rush of the Midwest”, mining clams & mussel for mother of pearl instead of gold & silver, taking shell from 19 states around the Midwest to make 1.5 billion pearl buttons annually at the turn of the century.

Muscatine had a population of 18,000 people in the city in the early 1900’s, two-thirds of those were involved in the button industry, either by working in the factories, collecting shells, or by developing machinery or tools used in the making of buttons. Almost all the items in the button museum were donated by descendants of these workers.

The modern history displays show the companies that took advantage of that workforce, which helped make Muscatine what it is today. Some are household names. Two Fortune 500 companies began here, are still in business today & are supporters of the museum.

Terry Eagle, museum Director, believes changing the name will help our efforts to be recognized as an important national, regional, and state history, as important as the gold rushes of South Dakota & California. “We hope to make it easier for people to find us when searching online, and to make it a travel destination for those searching for history. Too often our history is pushed by the wayside as unimportant, in the past, people don’t realize, history is what makes us who we are.

We hope to expand in the future, to tell our story to the nation, not just locally. It is a story that teaches us not only how to live off the land, be industrious, but to be aware of what happens when we aren’t environmentally conscious. We decimated our rivers of shell, almost to the point of extinction. This was a national growth story, the need of materials for product. We need to teach our children about our mistakes through history.”

Currently, we are one of the #1 tourist attractions in Muscatine, according to Yelp, TripAdvisor & Roadtrippers, & several other travel websites. We have had visitors from almost every state & 15 countries in 2018!

You can help our efforts. The museum is a non-profit supported by donations from visitors & you can become a donor member. Visit the National Pearl Button Museum @ the History & Industry Center in Muscatine, IA, or our website. See for yourself the enormous impact one little pearl button from a small town in Iowa could have on the world!


Terry Eagle