Expressing Opposing Opinions Through Buttons


The Busy Beaver Button Museum, 2015. © Busy Beaver Button Co.


Button selection by Busy Beaver Buttons Co.


Whether they are metallic or wood, round or square, or even with a 24-karat gold finish, buttons are a great medium to communicate ideas. Since pinback buttons were patented in 1896, they have carried political messages, supported or opposed laws, and made serious or humorous statements. Ultimately, these objects, despite their small size, are capable of tracing meaningful events of our life and our history. For twenty years, Chicago-based Busy Beaver Button Co. has been producing millions upon millions of them, and since 2010 they have also collected them. The Busy Beaver Button Museum is the only button museum in the world and displays over nine thousand historical buttons.

Busy Beaver Button Co. owners and museum founders Christen and Joel Carter share with us ten sets of buttons from their collection and discuss their role in memorable debates.




In the 1976 Presidential election, Jimmy Carter’s characteristic mouth and and the unusual fact that he was a peanut farmer was used by his supporters and detractors.




Life in the public eye also meant that wives of the candidates were under fire.




In the 1970s, President Nixon put cannabis in the most restrictive classification of illegal drugs. People have been fighting this since, in between puffs.




Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected for a third term to help carry the country out of WWII in 1940. He actually won a fourth term and to this day, he is the only US President to have served more than two terms.

A button featuring running opponents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Wendell Willkie, called the “Salesman’s safety pin,” was a playful take on backing the winning presidential candidate.




George Haumann designed these mechanical buttons in the 1930s for both sides of the aisle to play with and symbolically kick each other.




This ubiquitous slogan—”Have a nice day”—became popular in the 1970s. Not everyone had the same opinion about its friendliness.




Nixon official campaign buttons tended to be very straightforward in message and design, and in this case, the retort was equally so. These are from the 1968 election, when McGovern ran against him in 1972. A lot of buttons for and against mentioned Dick licking.




Avis started using this slogan in the early 1960’s and was perfect fodder for the counter-cultural movement at the time.




Prohibition lasted from 1920-1933. Alcohol became illegal mostly for moral reasons pushed by temperance fighters. The umbrella is the symbol worn by the “dry” teetotalers while a “wet” supporter would don a beer on their lapel.


Since its beginnings in 1995, Busy Beaver Buttons Co. has gone from a one-woman operation in Christen Carter’s college apartment to a company with fifteen employees. Over the last 20 years, the Busy Beaver crew has overseen over 60,000 designs and produced millions upon millions of custom buttons for clients like Brooklyn Brewery, NBC Entertainment, The Art Institute of Chicago, Threadless, WordPress as well as thousands of bands, non-profits, small businesses, and other great folks. | | @busybeaver



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