MUSCATINE, Iowa—In its heyday, the pearl button industry in Muscatine received first shells and then blanks (unfinished buttons) from 19 states, including Arkansas. On Feb. 27, Muscatine renewed its connection with Arkansas when representatives from the Delta Cultural Center in Helena, Arkansas visited the National Pearl Button Museum @ History and Industry Center.
Recently, The Delta Cultural Center’s Exhibit Coordinator Drew Ulrich, and Education Coordinator Richard Spilman decided to travel up the Mississippi to learn more about the river’s history. As part of the trip, Ulrich hoped to learn more about the pearl button industry, as the Arkansas Delta had several blanking factories that shipped their products to Muscatine for finishing. “I learned that Muscatine was the epicenter of the pearl button industry, and I wanted to see if there was a museum or at least a historical society that could tell more of the pearl button history,” he explained.
After discovering the National Pearl Button Museum, Ulrich and Spilman made arrangements to tour it with its director, Terry Eagle. While there, they discovered that before Arkansas shipped blanks to Muscatine, it had sent raw shells up the river for processing. They also learned that a Dr. Myers, who organized many of the blanking shops in Arkansas, most likely had ties to a finishing shop in Muscatine.
Along with giving Ulrich and Spilman more knowledge of the pearl button industry, Eagle also offered to help the Delta Cultural Center expand its pearl button exhibit. In the future, Eagle would like to work more extensively with them to loan them larger artifacts in addition to the information and blanks he sent home with them to help spread this national growth story with roots in Muscatine to other parts of the country.
On their part, Ulrich and Spilman enjoyed their visit and look forward to bringing pearl button history to life in Arkansas. “Terry was so kind to accommodate us,” Ulrich emphasized.