Horween Leather Company
|Founded||Chicago, Illinois (1905)|
|Headquarters||2015 North Elston Avenue (at Ashland Avenue, near the Chicago River), Chicago, Illinois, United States|
|Revenue||$25 million (2012)|
Number of employees
Isadore Horween founded the company in 1905, and worked in it until 1949. His two sons, Arnold Horween (Chairman and President; 1949–84) and Ralph Horween, became executives of the company and worked in it after their careers as All American football players for the Harvard Crimson, and playing in the National Football League.
Arnold's son Arnold Horween, Jr., worked in it from 1953–2003, and his son Arnold "Skip" Horween III has worked in it from 1972–present. The fifth generation of Horweens, Nicholas (Nick) Arnold Horween, has worked at the company from 2009–present.
Horween Leather Company offers an array of tannages using primarily cowhide and horsehide, and also using smaller quantities of calf and bison hides. Its leather is used in a number of products including sporting goods (footballs, basketballs, and baseball gloves), footwear (casual and dress shoes, golf shoes, work boots, and cowboy boots), bags, wallets, briefcases, belts, clothing (fine leather jackets and coats), and other apparel and accessories. It is known for its production of Shell Cordovan (the Chicago Tribune called it the "Cordovan capital of the world"), professional football leather, and Chromexcel (a type of long-lasting cowhide), among other leathers. It is the exclusive supplier of leather for National Football League footballs, and also supplies the leather that is used for National Basketball Association basketballs.
Isadore Horween (whose surname was originally Horwitz or Horowitz), who had learned the leather business in his native Ukraine, lived just outside of Kiev, immigrated to the United States in 1893. He obtained his first job at a tannery in the U.S. through a contact he made at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. For 12 years he worked in one of the then-two-dozen tanneries in Chicago.
He founded I. Horween and Co. in 1905, and established it on Division Street in Chicago. The city was a natural choice for many tanneries at the time due to its sizable commercial stockyard business, which saw large volumes of meatpacking and processing, and because it was a centralized railway hub for the entire U.S. and the railroads were carrying through it large amounts of cattle and livestock. The tanneries were built close to where their raw materials were. In 1911, Isadore Horween developed and produced Aniline Chromexcel, one of the company's most traditional tannages.
The company's original focus was the production of razor strops, to sharpen razors used in shaving. With the advent of the safety razor in 1912, however, the need for razor strops waned, and the company shifted its focus to other products.
In 1920, the company moved to its current location in a five-story block-long factory at 2015 North Elston Avenue (at Ashland Avenue), on the Chicago River, in Chicago's Bucktown, on the north side of the city. Isadore Horween had obtained the site, which remains the company's current location, by purchasing it from Herman Loescher and Sons tannery. The company's name was eventually changed to Horween Leather Company.
In 1921, the company's secretary and treasurer was Isadore's son Ralph Horween, during Ralph's career as a football player for the Harvard Crimson and before his career as a player and coach in the National Football League. In 1945, he was still secretary of the company.
In 1927, Horween Leather Company sold the tannery on Division Street, and consolidated its operations at North Elston Avenue. In 1930, it developed mechanical leather, a very durable heavyweight leather for use in oil seals, gaskets, and engine seals. In 1936, the company had 336 workers.
In 1938, Horween Leather Company became the official leather supplier for U.S. Marine Corps water-resistant footwear during World War II. It supplied Chromoexcel, which was used exclusively in the North African Campaign. In 1941, it added a large addition to the tannery.
Isadore's son Arnold Horween eventually took over the company business, after his career as a football player alongside his brother Ralph for the Harvard Crimson, and then again with his brother as player-coaches in the National Football League, and finally as Harvard's head football coach. He ran the company as Chairman and President, from 1949–84.
Arnold, Jr.'s son Arnold "Skip" Horween III, Isadore's great-grandson, joined as treasurer that year, and became vice president in 1995. In 2001, Skip Horween took over running the company, and in 2002 he became President. The company is now run by the fourth generation, with the fifth generation also in house.
By 2003, most U.S. tanners and leather workers had relocated to countries with lower labor costs, and Horween Leather Company was shipping most of its products to them. In 2003, the company began supplying leather for the Arena Football League. In 2005, the company had sales of over $35 million. In 2006, it became the only tannery in Chicago; at one time, the city had as many as 40.
As of 2012, Horween Leather Company had 160 employees, and annual revenues of approximately $25 million. In a typical week, it processes 4,000 cowhides and 1,000 horsehides into 120,000 square feet (11,000 m2) of leather. As of 2013, Horween Leather Company was one of fewer than a dozen tanneries in the U.S., down from over 250 in 1978.
The Horween family
The following reflects each generation of the Horween family that has worked in the company:
- – Isadore Horween, 1905–49
- – Arnold Horween, 1922–84 (Chairman & President 1949–84)
- – Arnold Horween, Jr., 1953–2003
- – Arnold (Skip) Horween III, 1972–present
- – Nicholas (Nick) Arnold Horween, 2009–present
The tanning process
The company's workers take raw hides, which arrive salted to prevent deterioration, trim them, and remove their hair with chemicals in an extremely large washing drum. The leather is then treated with salt and pickled for 24 hours, so that it reaches a desired pH level. It is then bated, soaked in a solution to strip it of certain proteins, fat, and grease. The leather is then tanned in a solution of tannins, in large vats. Then it is shaved, dried, pressed, colored, and sometimes waxed and polished. About 85% of the leather at Horween Leather Company is made from cowhide.
Horween Leather Company produces many different full grain and corrected grain leathers. Its leather is used in a number of products including footwear (casual and dress shoes, golf shoes, work boots, cowboy boots), sporting goods (footballs, baseball gloves, and basketballs), bags, belts, wallets, briefcases, suitcases, duffel bags, clothing (such as fine leather jackets and coats), and other apparel and accessories. As of 2003, 60% of the company's leather was used for shoe, clothing and accessories manufacturers, and 40% for sporting goods such as footballs, basketballs, and baseball gloves.
Horween Leather Company supplies leather shells for footwear to the Timberland Company, Alden Shoe Company (their largest cordovan customer; it became a customer in 1930, buying shell cordovan and other leathers), Cole Haan, Carmina Shoemaker, Allen Edmonds, Brooks Brothers, Hanover Shoe, and Johnston & Murphy.
Horween Leather Company has provided Rawlings with leather since 1929. In 2003, Horween was providing leather for 3,000 Rawlings baseball gloves annually, and half of professional baseball players were using baseball gloves made from Horween leather.
Wilson Sporting Goods is Horween Leather Company's largest customer, using the company's leather in manufacturing footballs and basketballs. Horween Leather Company has supplied Wilson with pebbled cowhide since 1941.
Since 1941, Horween Leather Company has been the exclusive supplier of leather for National Football League footballs. The arrangement was established initially by Arnold Horween, who had played and coached in the NFL. During that time, he met and played against George Halas, an NFL player and later coach and owner of the Chicago Bears, with whom he became friends. Halas' connection with the Wilson sporting goods company and the NFL led to Horween Leather Company supplying the leather with NFL footballs. The company uses its own "Tanned in Tack" process. Although footballs are often called "pigskins," they are made from Horween Leather Company-supplied steer hides that are embossed with a pebble pattern. Horween Leather Company also supplies leather to Spalding (a division of Russell Corporation) for indoor Arena Football League footballs.
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