31st March 2020

Dangerous buttons

Manufacturing buttons can be dangerous. Factories could be dangerous both due to the machinery used, and the flammable nature of some of the products used, especially celluloid. Many factories were multi-story, so that people could be trapped on upper floors, especially when fire doors were locked!  In 1860 a girl was killed when her dress was caught in machinery at a Sheffield button factory. In 1861 a steam boiler exploded, with one death and several injuries. In 1874 a girl got her hair caught in a machine. In 1910 three girls were burnt to death at a Birmingham celluloid button factory.  In 1912 several girls were “hurled many yards” when a boiler exploded, luckily without major injury. In 1918 twenty girls perished in a blaze at a Newark, New Jersey, button factory. In 1923 eleven lives were lost, with another eight injuries in a celluloid button factory fire in Buda-Pest. The same year a gas explosion and fire  at Wyeth, Besemeres & Co’s button and bottle-seal factory in Melbourne occurred, but without injury.

In 1951 a three storey Plastic Button factory was destroyed by fire in Melbourne, causing £15,000 damage and in 1952 the John Bowden Plastic Button Pty Ltd was burnt with £50,000 in estimated damages.

Luckily no lives were lost in this fire in Sydney:

Unfortunately, there was a further fire  there the following year with two minor injuries. A new factory was built in Willoughby, Sydney, in 1954.

An explosion and fire that started in accumulated plastic dust at the General Plastics (NZ) ltd factory in April 1965 was lucky to only cause 4 deaths and 6 injuries, as had it not occurred during a break up to 400 may have been in the area affected.

From https://www.flickr.com/photos/archivesnz/26271497746

From https://www.geocaching.com/geocache/GC2X4MR_buttons-to-dust-wairarapa?guid=5499b0b2-1381-4ac8-989a-be546f8e9c26

Factories were not safe from robbery, either. In 1935 safe-crackers stole £26 from O. C. Reuben & Co. in South Yarra. In 1945 an account of G. Herring’s was found to have helped himself to over £1000 worth of stock in order to start his own business.

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