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Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives Button and Pin Collection

Call Number



circa 1930-2009, inclusive


Tamiment Library
Steinberg, William
Steinberg, Jon
Communications Workers of America. Local 1153 (Valhalla, N.Y.)
Communications Workers of America. Local 1150 (New York, N.Y.)
Fleischman, Harry (Role: Donor)
Steinberg, Jon (Role: Donor)
Kosar, Andy (Role: Donor)
Algiere, Mary Lou (Role: Donor)


25 Linear Feet in 25 record cartons

Language of Materials

English .


This collection comprises several thousand buttons and pins on political and labor-related topics.

Historical/Biographical Note

Buttons first appeared in the United States in the mid to late 19th century, ad those promoting political campaigns appear to have been among the earliest produced. Their emergence was part of the development of methods of mass political propaganda and organizational publicity that have been considered effective to the present day. In simple and concise graphic terms, often utilizing a visual language directly related to that of advertising, buttons publicly state the allegiances, affiliations, and aspirations of their wearers. The Tamiment Library, a special collection documenting the history of United States radicalism, labor, and progressive social action, accumulated this artificial collection of buttons and pins from the late 1980s through the early 2010s.

The core of this collection are buttons collected by William Steinberg and his son Jon Steinberg, and donated to Tamiment in 1987 by Jon. The core of the button collection is made up of around 50 buttons collected by William Steinberg in the 1930s from labor and radical groups. Beginning with a button for the 1958 Youth March for Integrated Schools, Jon became the collector. William Steinberg worked as a social worker for the NYC Department of Welfare in the 1930s. He left NYU with his wife who was also a social worker. In 1942, he worked for the USO in South Carolina; then moving to St. Charles, Missouri in 1945 to work for the Jewish Welfare Board. Steinberg directed the Jewish Community Center in Indianapolis in 1947, returning to NYC with his family in 1951.


This collection is arranged into two series: Series I: Buttons and Series II: Pins. Each series is sub-divided by topic.

Scope and Contents note

The buttons and pins in this collection provide a broad cross-section of the focuses and concerns of the Tamiment Library and Wagner Labor Archives. They form a unique chronicle of the public face of labor unions, left and progressive political parties, civil rights organizations and other political and social groups active in the twentieth century, and document the diverse opinions and activities that emerged in response to significant events and issues in U.S. and world history.

One major component of the collection is buttons and pins produced to publicize the existence, activities, and commitments of particular working class and radical organizations. Those that identified themselves in this manner include political and labor defense committees such as the International Labor Defense, left political parties such as the Communist Party and Socialist Party, and labor unions such as the Transport Workers Union. Buttons of mainstream political parties are included only when the campaign, candidate or policy they promote received significant support within the labor movement or among radicals and progressives.

A second component is buttons and pins that voice opinions on particular social and political issues, but do not bear the mark of a defense committee, party, or union. These include buttons concerned with domestic issues such as civil rights, unemployment, and nuclear power, those produced or worn as acts of solidarity with people in struggle in other counties like 1930's Spain or contemporary South Africa, buttons issued to commemorate and publicize May Day, and those voicing support for, or condemnation of, United States participation in conflicts such as World War II and Vietnam.

Buttons and pins that express commitment to no specific organization or issue, but perhaps to a general social or political ideal, such as those bearing an anarchist black flag or an image of Karl Marx, form a third component of miscellaneous materials. As buttons are added to the collection, some of these miscellaneous items may be removed from this series and organized into distinct new series or subseries.

Of special note is a Triangle Shirtwaist Fire button believed to date from 1911, in Box 30.

Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Because of the assembled nature of this collection, copyright status varies across the collection. Copyright is assumed to be held by the original creator of individual items in the collection; these items are expected to pass into the public domain 120 years after their creation. Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Archives is not authorized to grant permission to publish or reproduce materials from this collection.

Preferred Citation

Identification of item, date; Collection name; Collection number; box number; folder number; Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Materials in this collection have been compiled by the Tamiment Library.

Some materials were donated by Jon Steinberg in honor of his father, William Steinberg, in 1987. The accession number associated with this gift is 2012.085.

Some materials were donated by Andy Kosar, president of the Communications Workers of America, Local 1153 in 1992. Additional materials were donated by CWA, Local 1153 president Mary Lou Algiere, in 2005. The accession number associated with this gift is NPA.2006.069.

Another donation was made by Harry Fleischman at an unknown date. The accession number associated with this gift is NPA.2000.022.

The following accession numbers are also associated with this collection: 1950.173, 2009.039, 2009.074, 2011.109, 2011.119, NPA.1992.001, NPA.2000.021, NPA.2000.229, NPA.2000.292, NPA.2000.293, NPA.2001.086, NPA.2003.062, NPA.2003.064, NPA.2004.017, and NPA.2005.072.

Custodial History note

Many individuals and organizations have left buttons to the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, in many cases as part of donations of other materials. Over the years these buttons were gathered together in a single collection for reasons of preservation and security and added to the original Jon Steinberg donation. One regrettable result of this process is that provenance for the majority of individual buttons can no longer be determined. Fortunately, it has still been possible to identify a number of donors to the collection. These include Communications Workers of American Local 1150, Laurance Diamont, Kelvin Easel, Harry Fleischman, Nelson Frank, Saul Mills, Miriam Pollet, Shirley Quill, Transport Workers Union, and United Federation of Teachers. In addition, a significant portion of Series I: Buttons was donated on October 13, 1987, by Jon Steinberg in honor of his father, William Steinberg. In the late 1980s, a staff member took home approximately 1 cubic foot of buttons for research; these were returned to the Tamiment Library in 2012 and the associated accession number is 2012.085.

The following accessions are represented in Series II of this collection: NPA 11-28; NPA 00-27; NPA 99-65; NPA 99-64; NPA 99-66; NPA 90-4; NPA 11-234; NPA 02-25; NPA 02-31; NPA 00-1


Only two copies of each button or pin were retained in the collection. Additionally, buttons and pins whose subject was out of the scope of Tamiment's collecting area were removed.

Collection processed by

Jim Moske in 1991

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-20 16:43:13 -0400.
Using Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language: English

Processing Information note

In 2014, preservation staff rehoused the buttons and pins in Tamiment Library's collection. Upon completion of rehousing, pins were incorporated as Series II in this collection.

It was decided that a minimum of ten buttons related to a particular subject or organization would be necessary to constitute a subseries to be mounted on its own distinct board or boards. Exceptions were made in instances where it seemed very likely that ten buttons would be attained in the near future.

Subseries MI in Series I: Buttons contains items that could not be placed in any other series or subseries at this time, either because they are not yet identifiable or classifiable, or because they constitute too small a number to form a distinct series. In general, ten or more buttons relating to a particular organization or theme constitute a series; if there are fewer than that number, they will be filed in the MI series. As more information is obtained about the buttons and as more are added to the collection (thus pushing some groups of buttons past the critical number of ten) buttons may be removed from Series MI and arranged into new series or added to pre-existing series.

Series MI in Series I: Buttons should not be confused with the "Miscellaneous" subseries that exist within each subject series. These Miscellaneous subseries group small numbers of buttons that are related to that series but insufficiently represented to warrant a distinct subseries. As in the arrangement of Series MI, ten or more buttons relating to a particular organization or theme are considered to constitute a subseries; fewer than that, and they are filed in a Miscellaneous subseries. Similarly, as with the buttons in Series MI, as more buttons are added to the collection and the critical number of ten is reached, buttons from each of the Miscellaneous subseries may eventually be moved from these subseries and arranged into new, distinct subseries.

In Series LU in Series I: Buttons, this method of arrangement of Miscellaneous subseries has been further refined to best facilitate access to the large number of buttons produced by labor unions that could not be grouped into separate subseries of ten buttons or more. Alphabetical subseries such as "LU-11: Miscellaneous Unions A - B" contain buttons issued by unions the names of which begin with the letter A or B, such as Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (ACTWU). The same method has been applied in Series EP where a subseries "EP-3: Election Campaigns: Miscellaneous," which comment on the electoral process in general, or refer to ballot issues such as referendums.


Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012