Did You Ever Play With A Button On A String?

buttons on a string zizzer button

Did you ever play with a button on a string? My mamaw made one for me when I was just a child. I swear I can remember exactly where I was standing when she showed me how to make the button dance along the string.

The other day I pulled everything out of a closet to see if I still had one in my old jewelry box. I found two in the closet so it was worth the effort.

After looking at them, I decided neither was the one Mamaw made for me so many years ago. Most likely I made them myself after she passed away.

I googled around and discovered a button on a string was a common toy for kids in days gone by and that they were often called zizzer or buzz buttons. You can go here to see a page full of old time toys including a buzz button.

Ever play with a button on a string?


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  • Reply
    David Templeton
    August 19, 2017 at 9:35 pm

    Ed Ammons is right: Don’t ever get near long hair with one of these whizzers going full-tilt. I’ve seen my sisters’ hair balled up in one and it’s not a pretty moment.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    August 18, 2017 at 9:14 pm

    I had these often when I was a kid, but I don’t remember any of the names I saw here. Tipper, that looks like the king of all buttons you have there!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 18, 2017 at 7:57 pm

    We made a toy similar to Don Tomlinson’s called a bullroarer! It sound like a mad bull when you slung it around.

  • Reply
    August 18, 2017 at 4:30 pm

    I had many a “zing string”, made whirly-gigs with pencils and popsicle sticks, and “racers” (David’s tractors) with toothpicks or twigs from the yard as well as matchsticks – but, David, what was the soap for?
    Also made lots of “fairy furniture” using lots of “found stuff” around the house and shed.
    Did you ever make toothpick stars? Break 5 “square-round” toothpicks almost through in the middle; place them on the table or a plate so the broken parts are touching in the center and the “arms” touch but don’t overlap; then either put 2 or 3 drops of water on the center or put a small piece of crushed ice on the center and watch what happens. You could heat some water and watch the difference between using cold water and hot water. Lots of other ways to vary the liquid just to see what happens.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    August 18, 2017 at 2:37 pm

    We called them “Whizzers” and I learned that getting one spinning and then sticking it in one of my sisters hair would elicit a scream followed by “DADDY” which would remind my Dad of the old adage spare the rod, spoil the child, he was sure determined to see that I wasn’t spoiled. we also make “Gee-Haw Whimmy Diddles similar to the propeller on the pencil but we carved them out of a stick, notched the edge of said stick and attached a prop to the end with a nail making sure the prop spun freely, when you rubbed a smaller stick up and down the notches with your finger on the side of the notched stick the prop would turn, moving your rubbing finger to the other side of the notched stick would reverse the prop.

  • Reply
    Don Tomlinson
    August 18, 2017 at 2:35 pm

    I reckon we tried about every size button made. My aunt worked for Save the Children over Knoxville and somehow they’d accumulate boocoos of buttons from the clothes that were donated. Every time we’d visit she’d give us a gallon jar full of buttons.
    One of my favorite toys using string when I was a youngun was to get a thin flat board about 2″ wide and 14-16″ long. Drill a hole near center at one end. Run a loop of cord or string or better yet leather about 3 ft. long through the hole then swing it round and round over your head. Makes a wierd sound as board spins twisting the cord then repeats as it unwinds going the other way. I believe the aborigines use something similar to send signals because I heard the same sound several times watching Crocodile Dundee.

  • Reply
    August 18, 2017 at 1:33 pm

    My uncles taught me to make many different toys when I was a kid. I have taught many kids to make a lot of them through the years. Just recently I taught some great nieces and nephews to make a toy that takes four of them at a time to play with it.

  • Reply
    August 18, 2017 at 12:20 pm

    My sister, a retired 4-H Club agent, demonstrates string figure toys at events in TN. She also collects and exhibits homemade toys like the spool tractors, whimmy diddles, etc. that would be made from what was at hand. She is also a button collector. The past two years she had a booth at Wilderness Wildlife Week and for several years at Museum of Appalachia Homecoming in Norris. Her house is full of these kinds of toys, many similar to what she grew up with, some from 33 other countries. The feedback from people she meets is amazing! Many remember the toys and others learn for the first time. At Norris last year she had 3 children who were so interested they came back each day and helped demonstrate the string figures. Two were visitors from SC. As a retirement project she put a cabinet of volunteer-made wooden board games in each 4-H camp in TN to teach responsibility as well as having fun. It is interesting to me how many children (and adults) love playing these kinds of activities and seeing the expressions of those who finally figure out how to do the figures. There are many books and on-line resources if people are interested. She says, “keep that loop of string in your pocket and you will never be bored.”

  • Reply
    August 18, 2017 at 12:11 pm

    Absolutely, Mamaw, made one for me, and also made a toy out of a wooden spool a pencil and a rubber band, it would crawl on the floor after you wound it up.

  • Reply
    August 18, 2017 at 12:01 pm

    Mama fixed a lot of things, usually buttons, to keep us boys busy until bedtime. She saved lots of buttons with two holes and some with four. That was a lot of passtime. …Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 18, 2017 at 11:18 am

    Yeah, looks like a benign little child’s toy don’t it. Well, in the hands of a vindictive little boy it becomes a weapon of mass destruction. You see, the button spinning through the air like that generates static electricity. You know that static electricity attracts hair. You know how your hair “flies” sometimes when you comb or brush it? Well this “toy” can be comb or brush on steroids and if deliberately mishandled can cause severe pain and carnage.
    You get the button up to warp speed then sneak up on your little sister. You only have to get near her. The static electricity causes her hair to reach for the button. In a split second your toy is jerked out of your hands and has attached itself solidly to Sister’s head.
    If you are lucky the toy has not welded itself in place or that only a few strands of hair are involved. If you are lucky Mommy can get it out without resorting to the scissors. In any case the destruction isn’t over. The real annihilation begins you get back with the hickory switch.

  • Reply
    August 18, 2017 at 10:35 am

    Being a member of a generation when children had to create their own amusement , I barely do remember being taught to make items on a string and the one that comes to mind is ,” Jacobs Ladder”. But I do not recall any amusements involving buttons.

  • Reply
    Lyette Morris
    August 18, 2017 at 10:23 am

    Thanks for the memories of the button on a string that I had forgotten about! Also, thanks to Ron Stephens. My Mom (86-years-old) has a round tin full of buttons that the great grandkids love to sift through and play with today!

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    August 18, 2017 at 9:53 am

    My Dad made us the first button on a string….Back in the forties…clothes had very large buttons and Mom always saved every button little or big…I’ve lost many a button that she had saved…ha
    We would get it going so fast spinning it back and forth as you pulled the string first in and pulling it out…One of the biggest fights me and my brother got into was when he would put that spinning string on the back of my long hair. It would grab my hair pull and he would run off leaving the button, string and all tangled before I could catch him. He got in trouble one time when I couldn’t get it untangled and had to have Mom help and she had to cut part of my hair out of the mess…it hurt like the “dickens”!
    We also made “rattlesnake rattles” and gave them to unknowing friends. It was a contraption of an envelope, rubber band and large button or bottle cap. You would tell a friend or (enemy) friend that your Uncle brought you some rattlesnake rattles or eggs that he got from under a big rock on his farm and would they want to see them! The device was wound up tight and the envelope was closed. When the person opened the envelope out of curiosity, the rubber band unspun with such force that it made a rattling racket in the envelope. Most of the time they screamed and dropped the envelope…Ha
    I learned this from my Dad that brought one in from work one day, after having the joke pulled on him…He was eager to share the mischief and play the joke on us kids…We had never seen any rattlesnakes around our place much less snake rattles or eggs…ha
    We also made those spinning propellers on the end of a pencil eraser. Stick a pin through a stick and stick the pin In the end of an eraser. Take another stick and move it back and forth on the pencil. The propeller will start moving around. If you move it the other way it will reverse…
    We made lots of toys when we were kids. Our Dad, Uncles, and grandparents showed or told us about them and what they played with.
    None of this is “HIGH TECH” of course…But there is some simple science behind each project….
    After moving here to East Tennessee….a friend of mine taught me how to grow crystals on a piece of coal…using basic food colors to color them…Did you ever grow crystals?
    Thanks Tipper for the memories.
    PS…I know we used Mom’s extra jelly jars for lightning and June bugs…Kept praying mantises and those large grasshoppers in them thinking we could feed them and they would be our pets…Don’t even get me on tadpoles and frog eggs…ewwww and ha!
    Sneaked out of the house more big buttons and string that one could imagine…those were the good ole days…
    Oh and by the way….Did you ever make snuff out of Cocoa powder and sugar? Then cut you a little birch stick (that looked like granny’s toothbrush or dip stick) and pretend you dipped snuff…we kept ours in a empty aspirin tin!

  • Reply
    Janis Sullivan (Jan)
    August 18, 2017 at 9:51 am

    Oh, yes played many times with a button on a string, but it had to be a strong string or the thread would quickly wear out we used it so much. Thank you so very much for the great memories.

  • Reply
    Grady Stanley
    August 18, 2017 at 9:35 am

    I started playing with a button on a string when I was abut 5 or 6 years old, around 1950. I think it was my grandmother who made it and showed me how it worked. I remember many times going into Mama’s sewing box to find a big button and good string to make my own. I liked to get it spinning as fast as possible so it would make that loud buzzing noise. That was great fun… least until the string broke. Then I would just tie it back together and do it all over again.

  • Reply
    eva nell
    August 18, 2017 at 9:24 am

    Tipper: That PLAY PRETTY ‘button on a string’ is not new to me. Being a younger member of a family of ELEVEN CHILDREN, I was aware of lots of ‘stuff’ before I could talk plainly. In fact learning to talk plainly was a great accomplishment for me! Now I talk toooooooo much! At least that is what a CERTAIN person tells me!
    Cheers, Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    August 18, 2017 at 9:23 am

    Oh, my, I hadn’t thought of these in ages! They are so much fun! I had played with all the toys on that link except the nut babies. We made babies out of clothespins (the wooden ones with the round top).

  • Reply
    August 18, 2017 at 9:09 am

    I’m the ninth of fifteen children, and we surely did play with button buzzers. Fascinated me.

  • Reply
    August 18, 2017 at 9:07 am

    This post has brought back so many memories of how Mom made lots of toys with strings. The button and string provided many hours of entertainment for children who didn’t have store bought toys. Mom also made a dancing doll out of cardboard with strings attached to the hands and feet. When the doll was hung on a flat surface and the dangling thread was pulled, it would dance up a storm. The thread spool was used for many different toys as well, My favorite was when Mom would make up some soapy water and we used the spool for blowing bubbles. If we could save enough spools to make four wheels, we built the fanciest car around.

  • Reply
    Myra Henry
    August 18, 2017 at 8:59 am

    Can’t say that I have ever heard of one, let alone play with one. Simple works. Anything to occupy children.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    August 18, 2017 at 8:53 am

    Thanks for the memory. I had forgotten about buttons on a string. I had many of them as a child. Also, just the string. We made a lot of shapes with just a string.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    August 18, 2017 at 8:45 am

    That is a new one on me. Closest I ever got was doing the string figures; cup and saucer and rocket are two I remember.
    I think I posted this before but I remember Mom having a button jar. It was, I think, a Pond’s Beauty Cream glass jar that was a pinky-beige outside and white inside.
    I keep wanting to get one of those clear glass table lamps that are made to be filled with whatever strikes ones fancy. Buttons would be an interesting choice, as would be seashells, mixed pine cones, mixed lichens and mosses, rocks, marbles etc.

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