The early prototypes for pin buttons didn’t have pins and, actually, they weren’t really buttons. Some of the earliest documented instances of an accessory in use that was similar to a pin button occurred during the very first presidential inauguration in the United States of America. Campaigners for George Washington showed their support while spreading visual recognition and support for their candidate by wearing buttons printed with “Long Live the President”, the initials GW, even designs such as 13 stars to represent the original 13 states. These were not as easily attached to clothing as our modern day pin badges. They were more like little patches at that time and were hand-sewn to an outer garment such as a jacket coat. It was also popular to wear these badges attached to a loop of string or ribbon around their necks.
In 1896, the Whitehead & Hoag Company, a company in Newark, New Jersey, U.S.A., filed a patent for a “Badge Pin or Button”. Pin buttons soon became a very popular method of advertising and promoting.
By the 1920’s pin-backed buttons, as they were also known, were selling everything from cow’s milk to movies to politics. The little pin buttons were inexpensive to produce, inexpensive to purchase in bulk and the public, both adults and children, really enjoyed them.
Given as tokens in cereal boxes in the 1940’s, children loved to collect them and pressured their mums to buy the brands that were ‘giving away’ a ‘free’ pin badge and button inside each box.
During World War II, auxiliary groups such as Bundles for Britain and the British War Relief Society distributed promotional pin buttons which were sold to the public. Proceeds were used to send apparel and blankets knitted or sewn by volunteers, and to buy medical supplies to ship to Great Britain.
Today, a pin button’s design and use is limited only by the imagination of the designer. It is no longer just for advertising anymore, either. Local schools, clubs, and village football teams all enjoy selling plastic badges or pin buttons to their loyal and enthusiastic supporters.