Benton County Historical Society
and Horridge House
Pearl Button Factory
The factory was started in December 1897 by S. C. Clark and Frank Wilson. It was located on the corner of 1st Ave. and 3rd Streets. (Washington and Market Streets at the time). This was the previous site of the washing machine factory. The building was 2 stories tall and 150 feet square. There were 100 year round employees, 60% were women and girls. Capacity was 2,400 gross per week in 1899. Shells from the Cedar and Mississippi Rivers were used. The cutting machine cut the blanks from the shells, the blanks then went through the classifier separating them by thickness, then the blanks were ground on both sides under rotary grinders to the correct thickness, then to the formers, then to the drills where 2 or 4 holes were drilled into the blank, then the blanks were smoothed in the polishing churns, the finished buttons were sorted and carded, then shipped to the distribution house of the Waterbury Button Company in New York City. Vinton was the only Iowa factory that completed the button, other factories cut the rough buttons and sent them elsewhere to be finished.
The pearl button industry was a direct result of the McKinley Tariff. Before the enactment of the Tariff, pearl buttons could not be manufactured in this country.
In 1904, the company was taken over by a group of local men after it was closed due to differences between the factory and Mr. Smith of the Waterbury Button Co. It was incorporated it into the Vinton Pearl Button factory by J. W. Hayward, W. C. Ellis, G. W. Burnham, W. S. Palmer and J. E. Marietta. The new company contracted with The American Distance Steam Company of Lockport, NY for installation of a steam heating system for Vinton. By August 1904, the west wall of the button factory had been torn out to enlarge it to 2 stories. A large brick chimney was built in the center of the boiler room so that it would not interfere with work in the button factory. In November 1904, 2 new 12 horsepower boilers were installed and S. C. Clark was named superintendent. The mains were run from the power plant south to Fifth (Concord) Street and south on First Avenue (Washington) to Fifth Street. This source of heating was key in determining the location of the Public Library. The steam heat would be furnished free, saving taxpayers from paying for coal for heating and the salary for a man to keep the library furnace going.