Mussel Harvester, Pearl, Illinois Mussels on crowfoot hooks along the bar
Photograph courtesy Marshall County Historical Society.
Many species of mussels or freshwater clams were abundant in the Illinois River at the end of the nineteenth century, when it was discovered they could be used for button making in the new ready-to-wear clothing industry.
The demand for pearl buttons and freshwater pearls was so great between 1900 and 1930 that the Illinois River, the Wabash, and other rivers were fished out. The mussel population is still in recovery from the depletion caused by overfishing and from the pollution added to the Illinois River during the twentieth century.