January 6, 2007
When freshwater mussel pearls were discovered by Dr. J. A. Myers in the Black River in 1899, thousands of the seemingly worthless mussel shells were discarded. Large piles began to grow along the river banks until Myers learned that an Iowa company would purchase the shells to make clothing button blanks. A new industry was born, with factories, such as this one in Clarendon (Monroe County) shown in 1916, opening in the towns along the Black and White rivers. At one time, Arkansas was home to thirty-five percent of the United States button shell production. The boom was short lived; technology and the plastic button doomed the industry in the 1940s.