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Brass Classics

June 2024
1min read

NOW YOU CAN BUY THE BUTTONS THAT WENT DOWN ON THE TITANIC

One day in 1994, a producer from 20th Century-Fox phoned a manufacturer in Waterbury, Connecticut, 30 miles southwest of Hartford. The Waterbury Button Company had produced the brass buttons for the uniforms worn by the Titanic ’s crew, and, more than 80 years later, the director James Cameron wanted them duplicated for his epic movie. The firm was able to accommodate him.

As displays at its Mattatuck Museum adeptly show, Waterbury, once a vigorous manufacturing center, calls itself the Brass City for good reason. Local entrepreneurs began working with the copperand-zinc alloy in 1802. They turned out buttons, buckles, pins, eyelets, thimbles, clockworks, lamps, and plumbing pipe. The product list was so extensive that by 1900 Waterbury was supplying well over two-thirds of America’s brass. The need for shell casings and related munitions products kept its plants booming through both World Wars, but then the brass age succumbed to an era of plastic, and Waterbury tarnished.

A shopping center now occupies the prominent 90-acre tract that once contained a complex of 150 industrial buildings owned by the Scovill Manufacturing Company, one of Waterbury’s three major brass makers. But less than three miles away, the Waterbury Button Company continues to stamp out the same product it has specialized in since 1812. That was the year Aaron Benedict, its founder, began melting down pots and kettles for the brass to make U.S. Army uniform buttons.

Benedict’s firm is today the nation’s oldest and largest brass-button manufacturer. It has supplied our armed forces with that necessity from the War of 1812 to the present, and it’s now the sole provider During the Civil War, the firm’s owners managed to serve both sides; they sold to the Confederates through British intermediaries.

Waterbury Button stamps out some 50 million brass buttons a year. A select few, made with tooling based on original dies or buttons, feature older designs, including one made for the White Star Line, the Titanic ’s owner. That replica, its motif a fluttering banner adorned with a five-pointed star, is available mounted on a commemorative backing and framed. So are two Civil War sets, one Union and one Confederate, with six different buttons in each. The White Star button and some of the Civil War replicas can also be had in matched sets for blazers. Soon to come is a set of buttons with the logos of historic railroads. The firm, which has supplied lines ranging from the Alaska Railroad to the Zanesville & Western, has scores to choose from.

For more information on the company’s historic button replicas, call 800- WAT -1812, or log on to www.waterburybutton.com .

—David Lander

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