Scanning Around With Gene: Clicking at the Green Duck

Of all the companies that have produced metal buttons and other novelty devices, few have equaled the contributions of the Green Duck Metal Stamping Company. Founded in Chicago in 1906, Green Duck created many of the most iconic buttons, clickers, and other giveaways that have defined American culture.

I was lucky to come across a 1952 catalog and several button samples from the company, which went out of business in 2004. During their almost 100-year history, Green Duck did work for political campaigns, made casino tokens and Mardi-Gras dubloons, and played an important role in the D-Day invasion at Normandy in June 1944.

All of the images in this week’s column are from the 1952 catalog and support material, except The Beatles buttons (which is thanks to www.mybeatles.net) and the D-Day cricket image.

Buttons first appeared in American politics with the election of George Washington; supporters wore brass buttons that said “G.W. – Long Live the President.” Buttons became mass-market items in the 1896 presidential campaign that pitted William McKinley against William Jennings Bryan.

Green Duck produced many political buttons during its history, though none were more popular than the “I Like Ike” buttons from the 1952 presidential election, shown below.

But before that, Green Duck played an interesting role in World War II, supplying the 101st and 82nd Airborne divisions of the United States Army with brass metal clickers. Soldiers clicked them to distinguish the Americans from the Germans. Two clicks meant “American,” and four clicks warned of a nearby German soldier.

Unfortunately, according to many paratrooper reports at the time, the double-click sounded very similar to the cocking of German soldiers’ Mauser rifles. This caused some confusion, but on the whole the idea of using these clickers as a signaling device was effective.

The clickers were also called “crickets” because they were based on children’s toys that were often shaped like the insect. Green Duck also manufactured clickers that were used for training dolphins at Sea World in San Diego. To this day, many dog and other animal trainers use clickers as a cue in working on tricks and obedience.

As a general metal stamping and printing business, Green Duck made a number of other items, too. These included needle-threaders, cellophane window buttons that could display products, key chains, spinning tops, and fraternity pins.

Another iconic series of buttons from Green Duck came out during the British Invasion, only this time not for soldiers but for music fans. The company produced official Beatles Fan Club materials, like those shown here.

The company was sold to a British firm in 1996. The button business isn’t what it once was, however, and the company finally closed its doors in 2004.

While I see a lot of “I Like Ike” buttons around, most of them are reproductions. So it gave me a chill to open the sample envelope that was supplied with the catalog and find a number of uncirculated buttons from 1952, all in excellent shape. Now if only I had a catalog from the 1960s with a full set of Beatles buttons. Those, I would highly prize. Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.

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Posted on: May 8, 2009

Gene Gable

Gene Gable has spent a lifetime in publishing, editing and the graphic arts and is currently a technology consultant and writer. He has spoken at events around the world and has written extensively on graphic design, intellectual-property rights, and publishing production in books and for magazines such as Print, U&lc, ID, Macworld, Graphic Exchange, AGI, and The Seybold Report. Gene's interest in graphic design history and letterpress printing resulted in his popular columns "Heavy Metal Madness" and "Scanning Around with Gene" here on CreativePro.com.

20 Comments on Scanning Around With Gene: Clicking at the Green Duck

  1. Question? Are the button images copyrighted? Thanks.

  2. D-Day was in 1944 (6 June), not 1946.

  3. Don’t expect a liberal like Gene to have any military or historical knowledge.

  4. So sorry for our date blunder, folks. Now fixed!

    Terri Stone
    Editor in Chief, CreativePro.com

  5. The D-Day mistake really was just a typo — I looked it up on Wikipedia to be sure. Both of my parents proudly served in WWII and I studied history pretty extensively at the University level, so there’s nothing about a liberal viewpoint that precludes historic or military knowledge. In fact, I would argue that the better someone’s understanding of history, the more likely they are to have a liberal political outlook!

  6. I was born in 1952 and I enjoyed your article. A shame the company didn’t make it to 100 years. And if your views really are liberal then good for you! Bob

  7. It is unlikely anyone would be around in this country to enforce a copyright on some of these images, but the parent British corporation is still in business and legally would own any copyrights since they bought Green Duck in the Sixties. Best advice is, when in doubt, don’t copy!

    Of course if the use is limited and not-for-profit, you’d probably fall under “fair use,” so it all depends on the final product/publication. In the early 1950’s, I believe most copyright protection was maxed out at 30 years, but since this company survived into the current decade, they could have easily copyrighted some of the archive images more recently. It is not unusual for copyrights to live on long after a company goes out of business, sometimes with family members, legal firms, etc., so just because Green Duck shut down it does not mean any copyrights it held are voided — if they existed, they may still be enforceable by someone.

    I won’t comment on any ethical issues, but clearly it isn’t ever cool to pass something off as your own when it’s not, even if you can legally do it. In most cases I find that giving credit goes a long way in resolving any issues that might, however unlikely, come up.

    And if you are referencing the Beatles buttons, that’s a whole “nuther story, since those logos and images are owned by them, not Green Duck (who probably had a licensing arrangement).

    GG

  8. I just ran across a Green Duck pin, dark blue in color with a gold colored Boy Scout Emblem (no words) on it. It is 5/8ths of an inch in diameter with a picture of a duck and something else I cant determine to be on the inside. The writing inside says: Blue Duck Co Chicago and the words “Pat Pend 1917.” Anybody know the history or importance of this?

  9. Found this lapel pin and wondering if it is of any value. Probably related to meat packing union specific to Chicago.

  10. i have a bronze metal showing flag raising at iwa jima made by green duck co chicago,does it have any collector value? thanks larry

  11. The D-Day mistake really was just a typo — I looked it up on Wikipedia to be sure. Both of my parents proudly served in WWII and I studied history pretty extensively at the University level, so there’s nothing about a omegle sohbet liberal viewpoint that precludes historic or military knowledge. In fact, I would argue that the better someone’s understanding of history, the more likely they are to have a liberal political outlook! chat roulette

  12. Awesome article! It was re-posted by a fellow Chicago button-maker in the Busy Beaver Button Blog here: http://busybeaverbuttons.wordpress.com/2010/11/09/green-duck-button-co/

  13. I have found an a old brass diamond shaped pin in my late fathers belongings. The back of the pin is stamped Green Duck Company Chicago. It is diamond shape about the size of a penny. The other edge is red in color while the center diamond is yellow. The name Diamond appears in black across the front of the pin. What is this crazy pin?

  14. hello i found this pin in a wall of a house i was renovatingmy house its in mint condition has nems ent 64 on side made bu green duck co did i find a gold mine

  15. their company stamp is also found on the flatwares produced by Dirigold for the Chicago Century of Progress fair of 1933.

  16. I was wondering if you had any history on the Greenduck Co. I’m especially interested in George Greenburg

  17. FOund a pendent with a eagle on the front and 2 presidents stating Shreveport 1936..your company on the back…i would like to know if its valuable..

  18. Junky John Jr

    May 15, 2016 at 1:38 pm

    Just found a John N Garner. Franklin D Roosevelt pin, about the size of a quarter,can you tell me anything about it?

    Thank You,
    John

  19. The 1913 Illinois license plates were made by The Green Duck Company, so says the text on the back of each plate. It says:
    NOTICE: This Number Plate
    Must be fixedly attached to
    The rear of the Automo-
    Bile, and fastened so that
    The bottom of the number
    Is at least 20 inches from
    The ground.

    THE GREEN DUCK COMPANY
    MASTERCRAFTERS IN METAL
    CHICAGO ILLINOIS

  20. Yes, I am Google searching. I have what appears to be a box cutter with Greenduck printed on the edge, and it has an original German Cosmo double edge razor blade. It has been kicking around for years, and I just now got curious. Wow, what an antique! I read that the company went to two words (Green Duck) early on, so I wonder how old this really is. It was made as a souvenir for a Merion Construction Co. Ain’t trivia chasing fun.

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