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The Pearl City

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It started with one man more than one hundred years ago. John Boepple is responsible for launching Muscatine's pearl button industry in 1891.

Boepple was a German immigrant button maker. When he found out that tough, thick mussel shell was abundant in the Mississippi River, he decided to settle in Muscatine. His goal was to make buttons from fresh water clam shells in the river.

Early on, Boepple was a one man show. He clammed the river, and soaked the shell so that a button could be cut out of it. He also cut and decorated the pearl material. The buttons were sorted into categories. Those that were not perfect would be used on underwear. The perfect buttons used for shirts.

Terry Eagle is with the Muscatine History and Industry Center. He says a few years after Boepple launched his business, several other shops opened. Muscatine was bursting in buttons!

At one time, over fifty percent of the city's population was involved in making buttons. By 1905, Muscatine was producing about one point five billion pearl buttons a year. Fashion industries from the midwest to New York bought them. Muscatine became known as the Pearl Button Capital of the World!

The industry peaked in 1916. The History and Industry Center has colorful displays which chronicle a time when Muscatine made 37 percent of the world's buttons. Eventually, limited availablility of shell, the development of plastic buttons, and foreign competition forced the pearl button industry to buckle.

Pearl buttons played a significant role in shaping this Mississippi River community.  

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