Skip to main content

Button Businesswoman

Jean jacket adorned with buttons
Photo illustration by Brittany Olson

The first button Christen Carter, BA’94, ever bought was a yellow one-inch pin with an illustration of Snoopy and Woodstock on a unicycle. She was 12 years old.

Jump to 1995 and Carter—on a mission to repopularize buttons in the post-punk-rock scene—is launching Busy Beaver Button Co. out of her college apartment in Bloomington, Ind.

“My mom had an arithmetic book called Busy Beavers. I used to look at it all the time as a kid. That’s kind of how I came up with that name,” Carter says. “Plus, beavers are industrious creatures.”

Christen Carter in a black denim jacket adorned with buttons
As a teenager in the 1980s, Christen Carter pinned buttons to her jacket lapels—a habitual act for a punk rock fanatic. “I liked the energy and the community [of punk],” says Carter, who, for a time, played bass in a punk duo called The Budget Girls. All photos courtesy of Christen Carter.

Short on cash, Carter maxed out her credit card to buy her first button-making machine—a $400 investment that has resulted in a thriving business venture.

“My first machine was all manual. I cranked each button,” she explains. “Now the machines we have are electric—three buttons are made at a time.”

Individual customer orders tend to average around 1,500 buttons, but the Chicago-based entrepreneur says she doesn’t shy away from small jobs.

“We keep our minimums low so everyone can afford buttons,” Carter says, recalling a time when a kid from Cleveland placed a small order of buttons for his punk band. “That kid ended up being one of the designers that worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign logo. And we ended up making about a million buttons for her.”

Red, white, and blue buttons that say "I believe that she will win!"
A sample of buttons that Carter and her team made for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

The IU alum and her team produce more than four million buttons annually. How?

By sticking to the Busy Beaver values: “Be industrious. Work collaboratively. Think creatively. And give a dam,” Carter says.

*Why no “n”? Because they’re beavers, and beavers build dams. And they like puns.

In 2010, with the help of her brother, Joel, Carter opened the Busy Beaver Button Museum. Today, the museum is home to more than 40,000 buttons—and we asked Carter to share a few of her favorites.

If you had to pick just one, which button is your favorite?

Brown Lanpher Hats button

Christen Carter: From the museum, it’s this one. I love how the celluloid was cut so that you can feel the felt of the hat. It was made sometime around 1920.


What is your favorite collection of buttons?

Four multi-colored buttons with geometric designs

CC: I really like this series from the 1960s. Park Place Gallery in New York made them for a Rolling Stones concert in Central Park.


What button do you cherish the most?

Yellow Snoopy and Woodstock button

CC: This is the first button I ever bought. I was 12 and so excited to have a piece of my beloved Snoopy and Woodstock.


Do you have any IU buttons in your collection?

Two red and white Indiana buttons

CC: I always pick them up when I see them, I’m a proud IU grad! These were probably bought by me at an antique mall or flea market.


What is the most expensive button in your collection?

A George Washington button, an Abraham Lincoln button, and an "Oswald" button

CC: This early Walt Disney character [Oswald the Lucky Rabbit] is worth $2,800. We actually had two of them, so we sold one to buy both the George Washington and Abraham Lincoln buttons. The Lincoln button [from 1864] is worth about $1,000 and the Washington button [from 1789] is worth roughly $1,800.


As far as the buttons you’ve been contracted to make, do you have a favorite?

Guided by Voices button with blue and yellow design

CC: It’s got to be the first one. In August 1995, I made 500 buttons for Guided By Voices—one of my favorite bands. The first time I ever saw Guided By Voices, they played a three-hour show [in Bloomington, Ind.] at Second Story [a now-shuttered music venue].

Button Businesswoman appeared in the Original section of the Winter 2019 issue of the IU Alumni Magazine, a magazine for members of the IU Alumni Association. View current and past issues of the IUAM.

Original shines a spotlight on the works, talents, and interests of IU alumni across the globe. Have something unique worth sharing? Let us know at

Written By

Samantha Stutsman

Samantha Stutsman, BAJ'14, is a Bloomington, Ind., native and a senior content specialist at the IU Alumni Association.

Related stories

Sketches of Antonia Wilson Bluher, Karen Schuster Webb, and Brian T. Shockney

IU Presents Its Highest Honor for Alumni

Antonia Wilson Bluher, Karen Schuster Webb, and Brian T. Shockney were named the 2023 Distinguished Alumni Service Award recipients.

Collection of tombstones in Dunn Cemetery

Stories Set in Stone: An Old Cemetery Tells Tales of IU’s Deep Past

Dunn Cemetery has been a family gravesite since the 1820s. Approximately 68 people are buried in the cemetery, possibly a few more in unmarked graves.

Revisit IU Bloomington in the 1970s with Films by Al Edyvean

From freshman orientation and sorority recruitment to the 1975–76 men’s basketball team, Al Edyvean, BA’72, MS’75, captured it all on camera.

IU Pranksters

In the Summer/Fall 2022 issue of the "IU Alumni Magazine," we asked readers to recall their campus shenanigans.