We started our visit to Muscatine with lunch at the Mississippi Brew Company. Who needs Applebees when you have a hole in the wall, small town bar and grill that makes great BBQ pork?

We visited the
History and Industry Museum and learned a lot about buttons. Muscatine was once known as the pearl button capital of the world. Back in the day the town produced 37 percent of the world's buttons.

They were made from mussels pulled from the mighty (and muddy) Mississippi. Workers would "troll" the bottom of the river with little hooks from john boats. The open mussels would snap shut on the hooks as they brushed by.

Ryan's not in a boat, and he had the help of a little velcro - but you get the idea.

Once the mussels were picked off the river bottom, they were soaked and steamed to remove the meat. Pearls were often found inside and they were separated. I don't remember what they did with them, but one would hope they did something useful with them.

Then circular disks were cut from the shells to make the buttons. Looks kinda odd doesn't it?

The button holes were punched and the buttons were counted. You can't really see what Ryan's doing in the picture, but they used a flat piece of metal with small holes to count the buttons. One button fit perfectly in the hole so they shook buttons around the holey plate until it was filled. At that point, they knew they had 144 buttons.

House wives were hired to sew the buttons onto cards for sale in local general and department stores.

The button industry fizzled out in the 1950s or 1960s with the invention of hard plastics that could be made cheaper. But one of the biggest button factory building still stands. I recommend the chicken pot pie. The Button Factory restuarant has a reall cool atmosphere (buttons etched in the glass and buttons set into the tables) and great food. We met our friends Andy and Chanda there for dinner.