During the the first half of the 1940’s our factory was busy doing what many factories in the U.S. were doing – supplying goods and materials for use by our troops. For us, that quite obviously meant leather. We supplied two main leather types during this time; Mechanical leather and Chromexcel.
Mechanical leather is a specialized, dense, and extremely durable tannage utilized to make hydraulic and pneumatic seals and packings. C.W. Marsh is one of our oldest customers, and we supplied them (and other manufacturers) with leather that was used for many applications, including vehicles. While “leather is better,” this industry has largely moved into the realm of synthetics.
Photo by Ralph Morse – Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
A huge thanks to Vans for taking the time to visit us and for putting together a great collection.
Filed under History, Media
A special thank you to Allen Edmonds and Paul Grangaard for the kind words and taking the time to make the video.
I came across a small stack of my great grandfather’s business cards recently. Quite concise.
I reached critical mass in my office and needed to purge some of the paperwork and piles of leather cuttings that have accumulated over the past year. I finally acquiesced to the use of a file cabinet, which meant I had to go through that too. I found some pretty interesting files ranging in date from the early 1920’s to the 1960’s. Most interesting to me were the customer lists from the 1940’s.
Chromexcel. One of my favorites, and probably my single favorite if I had to choose one. The picture above gives some idea of how long the formula has been around (and this journal is full of different trials and doesn’t even contain the original, standardized recipe). Whether because it’s right, or because we’re just terribly stubborn, we’ve left the processes and formulas for many of our leathers largely unchanged. We have had to substitute some of the components that were traditionally used in small quantities – whale oil was replaced with another marine-creature derived oil, one that’s more available and not controversial.
From Ryan Plett
Well Worn: Arnold Horween Sr.’s Briefcase
Every time I enter the Horween Leather Company here in Chicago, I’m always excited to stumble upon some sort of nostalgic leather item and an accompanying story. The place reeks of classic woodwork, Americana, and obvious superior quality leathers.
These two briefcases are no exception. The darker/larger briefcase was made for Arnold Horween Sr. by Hartman back in Racine Wisconsin while the second lighter/smaller brief was later made for Arnold Horween Jr. The picture that tells the story best is the very first one; with the ORD flight tag still on the briefcase, it easily shows the length of time this amazing case has been around.
Two weeks (the next two weeks) out of every year we essentially stop all of our production. During “shutdown” we do everything we can to catch up in regards to maintenance. Machines that are usually running are serviced and checked without interfering with the processing of leather. The building is old, really old, so this is an important time for us. Horween Leather Company, which was I. Horween & Co. before that, has been in this building at 2015 N. Elston Avenue since 1920 (from 1905 – 1919 we were located on Division), and before that there was a different tannery here. We’ve seen some significant changes over the years, including the extension of Elston Avenue. Before Elston occupied it’s current path the building was rectangular, as one would expect. I’m not sure exactly how much of the building was cut away for the street, but you can get an idea from the map linked just above.
Inside boiler number 2 - claustrophobics stay away.
I recently received an email asking why there are no straight razor leather sharpening strops being made in the US anymore. I think the answer is because no one uses straight razors anymore? What the email enlightened me to is the fact that straight razors are enjoying a bit of a resurgence. And there still is at least one honing strap still made here. I’ll admit to only ever getting a straight razor shave from the barber, but I did go digging through the leather goods archives here and turned up some old strops. After all, Horween Leather used to do their primary cordovan business for the making razor strops. Clearly, the invention by good ol’ Mr. Gillette didn’t do a lot to help that business.
Two razor strops that belonged to my great grandfather - they feature two different sides for sharpening and honing.