A natïve of Wurtemburg, Germany, Boeppel fashioned himself a spot in Mississippi River history by inventing a button-making machine and perfecting a new polishing technique in the early 1890s.
His advances created a button boom on the river that led to the harvesting of many millions of freshwater clams and mussels for their shells and eventually helped decimate some native species.
Boeppel was extremely secretive about his formula for his polishing solution, buying a wide variety of chemicals from the drug store in Muscatine, Iowa, to prevent others from figuring out what he was using, author Biloine Young wrote in her history of the upper Mississippi, “River of Conflict, River of Dreams.”
Boeppel made a fortune off his buttons, but he had a falling out with his business partners when he declined to move to more advanced machines that he felt made inferior buttons and was left with little to show for his invention.
He met the most ironic of demises in late 1911 when, while on a mussel collecting trip on a river in Indiana he stepped on a mussel – rumored to be the razor sharp pink heel-splitter – and developed a fatal case of blood poisoning.