Button badges have been around for at least 150 years and were originally made to be sewn on jackets and other garments. They are called button badges because they were made by the same factories that made cloth covered buttons just like soldiers wore on their greatcoats. As the modern fashion industry evolved, many designers specified that buttons should be covered in matching materials to the garments they were attached to. It was only a matter of time before it was realised that buttons need not be made of fabric, but could have other coatings such as leather or other printed and painted materials in special colours or designs.
At this point, buttons had a metal loop on the back so they could be sewn onto the dresses or garments. A special backing was developed so that a safety pin could be attached instead of the loop. This allowed the button to be placed “freehand” – and more importantly – to be removed and replaced at whim!
The first buttons with messages printed on them began to appear about the time of Queen Victoria when it became a cheap alternative to cast metal, stamped or enamel badges. The printed buttons were covered in the newly invented clear plastic-like material called celluloid. One of the first commercial buttons celebrated the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria and was a cheaply produced souvenir for Britain’s masses. In the US, presidential campaigns in the late Nineteenth Century began featuring these celluloid prints mounted on metal discs to be worn during the loud and enthusiastic rallies. Newer and faster printing techniques meant that the finished products could be made much faster and often featured photographs as well as printed wording. During the First World War, buttons were used to raise money for the war effort and were sold from trays during meetings and at the local pubs and hotels.
Button badges were now an established means of getting a message across as well as fund-raising. It was not only fashionable but patriotic to show on your lapel that you supported various military units, hospitals, nurses or other noble causes.
The next significant period for the humble button badge was the 1960s when the world seethed with youthful unrest, Nuclear Disarmament, peace, love and psychedelia. Yes, it was the “Swinging Sixties”, the decade of peace, love and happiness. Riots in the streets of France and US University campuses, the Vietnam war, hippies, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, protest and passion. “Make Love Not War” is possibly the best remembered button badge slogan from the era. Along with the ubiquitous and simplistic Smiley face. If you didn’t have a badge or tee-shirt with a Smiley face in the 60s, you were a square, man. As psychedelia gripped the world’s youth, the button badge went feral with every kind of political and social message in rainbows of colour!
And so it was until the next great revolution: the late 1970s punk music explosion where rebellion was again in the air. This time it was noted not so much by the message on the button, but how many badges you could fit on your lapel!
Buttons were suddenly in vogue as a fashion statement and all at once a political statement. It was only a matter of nanoseconds before the advertising industry realised they had a ready-made source of personal billboards that could confront would-be customers on every tee-shirt in town!
All this time, of course, fund raising organisations had also realised the point: A button badge costs only cents – if you could get the message catchy enough, and appeal to people’s senses of charity – they would pay not cents, but dollars!
In Australia, many well-known charity groups have used button badges to raise millions of dollars. The most widely known is probably the Red Nose Day campaign which raises money for research into Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. The campaign originally featured a plastic clown’s nose before it was realised that many people were too embarrassed to wear the nose, but were quite happy to sport the badge. Very soon, the colourful badges with various catchy slogans were outselling the noses themselves!
Over the years, many hundreds of other organisations have found button badges a quick and easy way to get their message across. You’ll find buttons in all kinds of commercial, community and public environments. Many companies wouldn’t think of launching a new product without the backup of the button badge – either as a giveaway to customers or as a Point Of Sale (POS) device worn by their staff in order to reinforce the message from more expensive advertising such as TV, cinema, newspaper or magazine.
Many Government agencies will also plan the launch of a new initiative to include button badges as an awareness campaign or to act as a reminder of a particular service or important community annoucement.
So how can your charity, community, school or special interest group raise much needed funds by utilising button badges? Read our article 8 Tips on Fund Raising Using Button Badges.
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See our page of Button Badge Slogans and Philosophy.