Button, Button: A Homecoming Tradition

buttons2Homecoming has been an Iowa State tradition since 1912, and through the years many events – Yell Like Hell, lawn displays, and the central campus pep rally – have become part of the annual celebration. One custom that is more than a half-century old is the Homecoming button. These decorative pins allow Cyclone fans to wear their pride on their sleeves – literally.

Homecoming buttons are seen in university photographs as early as the 1950s, pinned to cheerleaders’ uniforms and students’ sweaters. According to the 1958 Bomb, “Red and gold Homecoming buttons and brilliant mums added color to the grey, cold weekend.” Another picture shows former Iowa State President James H. Hilton wearing a Homecoming button during the groundbreaking of C.Y. Stephens Auditorium in 1965.

The design of the button has changed considerably during the past six decades. In the past, the Homecoming Central Committee held contests where students could send in hand-drawn design ideas for the committee to choose buttons3from. Buttons have been circular, square, rectangular, and even football-shaped. The first buttons displayed simple graphics, but over time they began to present detailed illustrations and themes.

Not only has the design of the button evolved, but the price has as well. A Homecoming button in 1969 could be purchased for only 25 cents. The price had increased to $1 by the 1980s, and was finally set at $5 in 2008.

In 1966, the Homecoming Central Committee saw a decline in button sales, buttons4with students describing the pins in the Bomb as “high schoolish” and “dumb.” Soon after that, the committee initiated an annual button contest to help promote sales. Divided into two classes of freshman girls – sorority pledge classes and dormitory houses – the participants attempted to sell as many buttons as they could in a few weeks. Winners were announced at the Homecoming semi-formal dance, and the top seller received a traveling trophy.

buttons5While the button contest was successful in encouraging sales, it was ultimately replaced by a new idea: including perks with the purchase of a button. A new event called “A Day in Campustown” began in 1989, which allowed students to use a Homecoming button to take advantage of specials offered by Campustown merchants. Over the years, the button has provided students with a variety of uses, including restaurant coupons, clothing discounts, and bar covers.

In recent years, the button has been used as a meal ticket for food-on-campus events organized by the Student Alumni Leadership Council’s Homecoming Central Committee, an organization sponsored by the ISU Alumni Association. buttons6Today, these events attract around 1,000 students each day during Homecoming week. With a button, students can get free food on central campus and celebrate the festive week together.

While the Homecoming button has changed in design, cost, and even advertising methods, the enthusiasm and pride felt during Homecoming remains the same, and Iowa State fans continue to wear the buttons proudly year after year to showcase their Cyclone spirit.

Do you have Homecoming buttons you’d be willing to donate to the ISU Alumni Center? Email cgieseke@iastate.edu.

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