Chicago, Ill—While walking through Horween Leather’s tanning facility, one can’t help but reach out and touch the leather that fills the decades-old, four-story building on Chicago’s northwest side. In all the various stages of tanning, the leather shells draw not only the hand but also the eye to the varying levels of softness, suppleness and shine.
In 2005, Horween Leather Company will mark its 100-year anniversary, continuing the mission set forth by the company’s founder, Isadore Horween, to produce the best leather in the world. Four generations of Horweens have overseen the evolution of the tannery into its current status as a premier tanner, known in this country and abroad, by building on the skill, processes and tanning methods originally developed by the company’s founder.
A RICH CHICAGO HISTORY
Founder Isadore Horween arrived in Chicago for the 1893 World’s Fair and stayed on in the city, working for tanneries in an industry that had built up around the meat packing plants along the Chicago River. Isadore had learned to tan hides in the Ukraine and after gaining several years of experience in Chicago, he opened his own tannery, Horween Leather, in 1905.
Horween Leather’s business and reputation was originally built around the high quality tanning of genuine shell cordovan for razor straps, but over the years, Horween Leather began to expand and explore new specialty leather markets. In the 1930’s, Horween Leather developed mechanical or hydraulic leather tannages for oil seals, and continued making their mark in the 1940’s by adapting a World War I vintage formula for work shoes into the official Marine Field Shoe leather in World War II. The 1950’s saw an increasing move into footwear and an introduction of Horween Leather to the National Football League.
HORWEEN SCORES WITH TANNED IN TACK® FOOTBALLS
In the 1940s, George Halas approached his friend Arnold Horween and asked for his help in developing better leather for the official NFL football. As a former All-American football player and coach at Harvard and an NFL player for the Chicago Cardinals, the second generation Horween was able to combine his football experience with his family’s knowledge of leather tanning to produce the finest quality leather for the professional football league.
Arnold Horween developed the Tanned in Tack® tanning process that is still used today, a process that improves the print retention on a football so the pebbling of the leather stays in as well as improving the surface feel, thus improving the performance characteristics of the ball. Horween Leather continues to use the same labor-intensive tanning processes created by their ancestors to produce the finest football leather for today’s NFL, college and high school football teams. Many sporting goods companies have turned away from the expense and quality of leather, confusing the unsuspecting customer with a “Composite Leather” stamp on footballs and basketballs that actually contain no leather and are strictly synthetic products.
HORWEEN CONTINUES ISADORE’S MISSION
As Horween Leather looks toward its 100-year anniversary, the company continues its commitment to making the best leather of its type in the world and to deliver quality leathers consistently and in a timely fashion.
“Horween Leather is an American process, an American tradition,” states fourth generation president Skip Horween. “In today’s market, where speed and flexibility are at a premium, we feel we offer our customers an unparalleled blend of quality, consistency, responsiveness and innovation.”
Horween Leather is the last supplier in North America of cordovan leather and the tannery continues to use the same six-month process and formulas that date back to the early 1900’s.
According to Skip Horween, “Tanneries are faced with tremendous pressure in the marketplace to produce leather faster and cheaper, but Horween refuses to sacrifice quality in any of our products. We never mistake fastest or cheapest with best.”
Horween Leather continues to expand its product base and in May of 2003 announced a partnership with Dominion Tanners of Winnipeg, the oldest tannery in Canada. This collaboration allows Horween Leather to expand into production of Dominion’s full line of shoe, boot and specialty leathers.
Always a Chicago company, Horween Leather moved locations once, in 1925, to 2015 Elston Avenue, and remains on the Northwest Side of Chicago along the Chicago River.