Here’s how a Connecticut button company changed America

Jessica Evans Avatar

Just like people, companies change over time. Their evolution usually includes product changes, the original being left in the dust as nothing but a memory. However, that isn’t always the case. The oldest company in the US still making its original product happens to be a button company from Connecticut. Originating in 1812, The Waterbury Button Company has made buttons for over 200 years.

The button’s humble beginnings in the US

The War of 1812 caused an abrupt interruption in the supply chain between the US and England. One of the products that the US needed but was no longer getting from England was buttons. Perhaps you’re wondering why buttons were such a necessary item? Well, it’s because the US needed them for military uniforms.

That’s when Aaron Benedict started melting pots and pans to make pewter buttons in Cheshire, Connecticut. His efforts eventually turned into The Waterbury Button Company. In the beginning, the company only manufactured buttons and uniform accessories, first out of pewter, and then out of brass as well.

Buttons don’t have opinions

Aside from making buttons for the War of 1812, not too long after, they also made buttons for soldiers in the Civil War. In fact, they made buttons for both Union and Confederate soldiers. Ulysses S. Grant and General Robert E. Lee may have been fighting against each other, but they wore the same brand of buttons. Business is business, you know?

The Waterbury Button Company still makes metal buttons, but they’ve expanded beyond just the US Armed Forces. For instance, the crew on the Titanic sported Waterbury buttons on their double-breasted coats. And they make metal buttons for pretty much everyone these days. If you have a metal button on your clothes, it could have very well come from the Waterbury Button Company.

In with the new doesn’t necessarily mean out with the old

Back in the day, Waterbury employees cut buttons by hand using a steel mold and a pick. That must have been a pretty tedious job. Now, it’s a lot easier, as computers have taken over that part of the button-making process.

The Waterbury Button Company has evolved in other ways over the years too. They graduated to using plastic in 1849 with the birth of the plastic industry. With a hand press, they were the first company to make buttons out of shellac, a natural form of plastic. 

How amazing that a company that began out of necessity 200 years ago is still alive and well today. What’s even more amazing is that they are still making the same original metal buttons they started with. Knowing that, it seems unlikely that this Connecticut button company will ever go out of business, at least not while people still have a need for buttons.