Chicago button museum expands



The world’s only button museum, the Busy Beaver, 3279 W. Armitage Ave., founded by siblings Joel and Christen Carter, has outgrown its location in Logan Square.

By Ariel Parrella-Aureli

Thousands of pinback buttons have found a home at Chicago’s Busy Beaver Button Museum, 3279 W. Armitage Ave., the only museum in the world that showcases buttons.

The museum will relocate to a larger location in Logan Square in 2016, where owner and founder Christen Carter hopes to add enough buttons to account for every person in the world—a total of more than 7 billion buttons.

Joel Carter, the museum’s operations manager, co-curator and Christen Carter’s brother, said he has a background in advertising and has worked with Busy Beaver for 13 years. He said the new building, which will allow the museum to double in size, is just down the street from the original museum also in Logan Square. 

With button boards lining the walls and many cubicle office spaces tightly packed together, it is evident the current state of the museum is due for an upgrade.

The museum currently uses an eco-friendly heating system in which geothermal climate control methods and solar panels are used, Joel Carter said, adding that 70 percent of the company’s energy use is done through renewable methods. He said he plans to implement the same renewable energy methods at the museum’s new location. 

Joel Carter said he hopes to have more space at the new location to increase the building’s capacity and establish a more organized layout. 

He said the museum was founded 20 years ago when Christen Carter began making buttons in her dorm room as part of the DIY scene that was popular during that time.

“I thought I would make them for a few years and then move on with my life,” Christen Carter said. 

However, Carter said her button-making became popular and is now a hobby adopted by other fans of the art form. 

Carter said operating the business and learning to manage the museum are some of the skills she has learned since the museum’s inception. Finding spaces to showcase every button can be a challenge, she added.

“As we grow, there are always new challenges,” Christen Carter said. 

Through running the museum, the Carters have learned the rich history of buttons, Christen Carter said. They have buttons that date back as far as 1896 and a plethora of categories for the buttons such as art, music, history, political or for a cause, Christen Carter said. Some of the most precious items in the museum include Abraham Lincoln’s campaign buttons and rainbow equality badges that read, “Value All Families.” 

Paul Levin, executive director of the Logan Square Chamber of Commerce, said he thinks the museum is interesting because it shows there is more to collecting buttons than just gathering them. It is also a business, and according to Levin, that is the most fascinating part. 

“Christen is quite an accomplished businesswoman,” Levin said. “She built the business up from the basement to churning out metals by the millions.”  

The Busy Beaver is known throughout the neighborhood and has gained popularity in the city through word of mouth, local events and businesses that order from the Busy Beaver Buttons Co. shop. Joel Carter said approximately 20 percent of the shop’s customers are local and that knowledge of the museum continues to grow. 

“Hopefully the expansion will turn [our collection] into more of a museum [and] much less of decor on the wall,” Levin said.