Buttons have been a big story in Waterbury for more than 200 years. The manufacture of buttons, first by hand and then by machine, has been a mainstay of the region’s economy since the late 18th century.
Button-making was a product of the city’s expertise in the elaborate working of metals. Encouraged by large military contracts and the steady demands of changing fashions, button manufacturing was an important activity for many area companies.
Buttons are considered by many to be miniature works of art. Reflecting changing artistic influences, they have been made in a variety of materials, including glass, porcelain, pearl, metal, bone, paste, wood and jade. They are decorated with motifs that mirror the history of our times, with images of politicians, storybook characters, and feats of modern engineering depicted on their tiny surfaces.
More than 3,000 buttons are on permanent display in the Button Gallery, in an exhibit that includes carved cinnabar from Asia, Japanese netsuke, colorful Bakelite buttons from the 1930s, floral bouquets made of human hair placed under glass, military buttons, black glass and marquisette buttons popularized by Queen Victoria, habitat buttons made in France to preserve plant or insects under glass, and four engraved buttons taken from General George Washington’s coat, among others.
The Button Museum was originally assembled more than 60 years ago by Warren F. Kaynor for The Waterbury Button Company. It was created with buttons rich not only in the history of Waterbury and Connecticut but of the world. The 20,000 piece button collection was given to the Mattatuck Museum in December 1999 by the Waterbury Companies, successor to the Waterbury Button Company, which has been making buttons in Waterbury since 1812. Today OGS Technologies in Cheshire, Connecticut is home to The Waterbury Button Company.