History

Buttoning Up The Past: The Story of a Texas Button Factory

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You probably don’t think a lot about buttons. Usually, people only pay attention when something goes wrong with one, like when a button pops off or snags on something. However, buttons were big business down in Stonewall. In the past, The Capitol Plastic Art Company ran a large button factory there. They definitely took pride in their work.

These buttons were hand-made locally from Lucite, and they were virtually guaranteed not to break. According to B.B. Bohls, an owner of the company, these buttons were subjected to all sorts of breakability tests using cleaning fluids. They always passed.

Mr. Bohls didn’t like the tools available to craft buttons at the time, and most available tools couldn’t cut Lucite anyway. So he made his own tools and created his own process.

Buttoning Up The Past: The Story of a Texas Button Factory

Photo: @geraldinemoreno via Twenty20

As always, some folks were more concerned with cost than quality. Because of this, the company didn’t really take off at first. They only sold about $1200 worth of buttons in their first two years of operation.

However, after a few years, The Capitol Plastic Art Company had salespeople covering five states. The company also had sales accounts in nine other states, including 200 in the state of Texas. At its heart, the company was a family affair. B.B. Bohls ran the company along with his wife, Lynda Lindig Bohls. Her father, Christian Lindig, also worked at the Capitol Plastic Art Company. For a small business, hiring family is a great way to keep costs down. That was true then, and it’s true today.

Unusually for the time, the company preferred hiring women as factory workers. The work required dexterity and patience, and most men couldn’t handle it. So, the company employed four women to craft the buttons.

Buttoning Up The Past: The Story of a Texas Button Factory

Photo:  @vgardner32 via Twenty20

Back then, buttons were a seasonal business. So, when buttons weren’t in demand, the Capitol Plastic Art Company would make dominoes. They offered both black and colored dominoes. The dominoes were crafted with Lucite, and like everything coming out of the Capitol Plastic Art Company, they were high quality. If a domino broke during play, the company would replace the entire set for no extra charge.

The Capitol Plastic Art Factory was also a tourist attraction. People from all over the country would come in to take a tour. They also got a good look at the product line, seeing all sorts of buttons and dominoes.

Today, it’s hard to imagine people driving across the country to see a button factory. But in 1957, most of our modern diversions hadn’t been invented yet. Honestly, going to visit a button factory still sounds like a fun day trip.

Buttoning Up The Past: The Story of a Texas Button Factory

Photo: @photog84 via Twenty20

The business closed in 1977. B.B. Bohls passed away in 1966, and Lydia ran the company until it shuttered. Lydia lived until 1988, so it’s hard to tell exactly why the business closed up. Maybe she just wanted to retire, or possibly the world had changed too much for the company to keep up.

Now, we mostly get our buttons and dominoes from places like China. Production has gone global, but for a while, products were created in places like Stonewall, Texas, and they all had stories. Even buttons!