Historic Downtown Muscatine

Our Story

The West Had Its’ Gold Rush..the Midwest its’ Pearl  Button Boom
Just as unique as its’  name, Historic Downtown Muscatine, Iowa is a unique destination.  The only  “Muscatine” in the world it’s something you have to experience for yourself…it  truly is the Pearl of the Mississippi.  The heart of this community is  complete with beautifully new renovated riverfront  including the only LED  lit bridge spanning the great Mississippi, historical buildings steep with  heritage, shopping, dining, and so many other wonderful attractions to see.

On this site, you’ll  catch a glimpse of Downtown Muscatine and find some of  the best places to  shop, eat, visit and spend a leisurely day … or perhaps locate and choose a  service or professional business to meet your needs.

Come Meet Us In  Muscatine-Downtown!



It  all began in 1890 when a man named  Boepple, from Germany, cut his foot on a shell
while swimming in the Mississippi. Boepple  had made buttons from horn in Germany and noticed that the shell had a pearly  color and was quite hard. He determined it would make ideal material for  buttons.
He gathered up a few shells, rigged up an old  lathe at home and proceeded to cut a dozen
buttons. He sold these to a Muscatine store  for ten cents. Prior to this time most of the buttons used in America were  imported.
Boepple sold a man named Molis on the  potential money to be made using clam shells for buttons.  He asked Molis  to lend him $10 to get started. The two men went to New York to obtain orders  and as they traveled, told the story of the plentiful supply of clams in the  Muscatine area.  People came from all over to make their fortune in the  Button Business.

First the young men of the town became  interested, and then women, children, old people
and anyone who could get free to join the potential  for fortune came. The rush brought houseboats, button shops and more excitement  than Muscatine had ever known!  A thousand houseboats were built that  summer on the Mississippi shores.  Thousands of families came from the  east.  Nearly every wood shed in town became a private button  factory.  In the files of button history of Muscatine are recorded over  300 names of button companies and individuals working form their own wood  sheds, along with their addresses and the years in which they operated.

There was a setback, due to poor quality  machinery and inefficiency, the quality of the buttons being produced was very  poor. The market became flooded with buttons no one would buy, but then came  the “Barry Miracle Machine” which was created  in a plumbing shop run by  Nick, Pat, and Tom Barry.  They perfected a machine which would accept  blanks cut from shells and turn them into buttons drilled and ready for  polishing.

In 1914, Muscatine was declared the Pearl  Button Center of the United States and as the industry grew it earned it’s  distinction as the Button Capital of the World.  Now only a few of  these companies remain.

Adapted  from the writing of Sally Exbom

(Information obtained from files at Musser  Library and history supplied by Ted McKee of McKee Button Company)