Moser Leather Company - Abandoned

Moser Leather Company

The Moser Leather Company manufactured high-grade leather for harnesses and collar manufacturers before expanding into wholesale leather.

At the height of operations, Moser was one of five tanneries in New Albany, Indiana, attracted to the area in part due to the abundance of native chestnut trees.3 Chestnut trees produce a natural tannin in the tree bark and nuts that are used in all-natural vegetative tanning processes.

The company continues to operate out of Hamilton, Ohio.


The Moser Leather Company was founded in 1878 by George Moser, a German immigrant born in 18504 who came to New Albany1 2 in 1867.4 Staying with a brother who ran a tailoring business, Moser went to work for August Barth who owned Barth’s Tannery on East 10th Street, which was established in 1864. After working for Barth for ten years, Moser had saved enough money to expand out on his own business, purchasing the Lockwood Brothers tannery at 272-278 East 8th Street in 1878.

Moser invested in new equipment and expanded the Lockwood tannery, and began to specialize in high-grade leather for harnesses and collar manufacturers, marketing as Hemlock Collar Leather.1 2 4 In 1891, John M. Moser, nephew of George Moser, became a partner in the company, and the company name was changed to George Moser & Company. By 1902, the tannery employed 35 employees and sold jobblers across the nation, handling nearly 15,000 medium weight hides per year.

Charles E. Moser had assumed his brother John’s interest in the company in 1900.1 2 John M. Moser opened the Indiana Leather Company on Silver Street adjacent to the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1905.1 2

In 1914, a fire destroyed the tannery on East 8th Street; George Moser also passed away within the yewar.1 2 His heirs renamed the Indiana Leather Company the George Moser Leather Company, and George’s sons, George Jr., Julius, and Karl joined the family business. Charles assumed the presidency of the company.


By 1936, the George Moser Leather Company had expanded to cover eight acres, employing approximately 100.1 2 The company had transitioned to selling wholesale leather, tanning hides purchased in bulk and converting them into leather for saddles and consumer products, such as shoes and belts.

In 1985, the renamed Moser Leather Company purchased Caldwell Leather Company of Auburn, Kentucky, which was founded in 1863 by George Washington Caldwell.1 8 Caldwell Leather, then owned by the Brown Group of St. Louis, had just closed prior to the purchase by Moser Leather. After the acquisition, the company became known as the Caldwell/Moser Leather Company.2

Caldwell/Moser Leather continued to tan leather in an old-fashioned manner, and from start to finish, the operation took four weeks.2 The hide would be treated to a solution of water and tree bark from South America, resulting in higher quality, leather that lasted longer and a process that was not environmentally damaging due to the vegetative tanning process. Water from the tanning operation was discharged into an adjoining wetland that led to the development of the 47-acre Loop Island Wetlands.3

By 1998,Caldwell/Moser Leather employed 70 and had sales of $12 million, with wares being utilized in Bass shoes, Harley-Davidson motorcycle apparel, and other products. In 2002, the Caldwell/Moser Leather ceased operations.3 At the time of its closure, it was the third-to-last vegetative tannery in the United States. Soon after the closure, Al Goodman, an environmental consultant with Moser since 1986, purchased the property the tannery resided on and the land for the Loop Island wetlands.6 In a separate action, James Cox purchased the Moser trademark and relocated some manufacturing equipment to Hamilton, Ohio, continuing to operate the Moser Leather Company.


In January 2005, snow and ice contributed to a partial roof collapse at the Moser Tannery.7

The Tannery Commons Senior Apartments, a development of 30 one- and two-bedroom apartments, was proposed in late 2009 for the former Moser Leather Company site by Goodman.5 The cost of construction was estimated at $4.5 million and would include renovating the historic Moser Tannery building at Silver and East Main Streets. The senior housing project received tax credits from the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority (IHCDA), along with $279,000 of HOME funds in March 2010.5 Equity investment for the project was raised through the sale of the credits.

Sources

18 Comments

  1. I did, and referenced it, but I can't tell if it is even active anymore. The entire site looks abandoned, so I wonder if it moved elsewhere?

    • I purchased the Moser trade name, recipes, and some of the equipment in 2002. We moved it to Hamilton, Ohio. Our web site is dedicated to the old tannery, and you can see it, and pictures at http://www.moserleatherco.com We manufacture harness, and latigo in our Hamilton location.

      We are still involved in tanning and finishing leather, and trying to continue in the old traditions. Thanks, James Cox

      • Thanks James. I will update the article to reflect that. It's good to see that the old tanning traditions still live on.

    • Its currently complety abandoned I know this personally.

  2. They were a truely great producer of leather. I drove from indianapolis to purchase leather from them on many occasions between 1998 and 2002 before they closed. I feel content with the memories I have of the tour I recieved of the entire operation and the chance to pick and choose my own leather. The pictures and memories of the smells of the finished leather in my head I will cherish always. The quality was the best around, which is why I drove down there!!!

    I was absolutely dumfounded and sickened for days when I heard they had to close, and the property had been sold – a business that had survived for over 100 years, is now gone, and will be sorely missed.

  3. My Grandfather George J Emery worked at the tannery for over 47 years, I remebr him showing me his poscket watch they gave him at his retirement in the 1960's.

  4. Hello – My name is James Thornton … I am the grandson of Jim M. Thornton, the former president of Moser Leather, and spouse of Miriam Moser Thornton … who is the daughter of Julius Moser (sone of the founder, George). Back in the the old days, they spoke German around the house … I believe my great-great grandfather, George, was known as Georg (Gee-Org). My father, Jim J. Thornton, worked at the Moser tannery for many years, and when I was a child, he would bring me to the factory. I loved seeing the big machines and driving the fork lift (although who knows how many OSHA regulations I broke 🙂 ) It was my wish as a kid to work in this tannery when I grew up. Thank you so much for providing such a great and comprehensive summary on-line.

  5. My grandfather worked and retired from thear in 1983or1984 he died in 1986 his name was james spradlin anybody remember him would like to know 706 -260-1866?

  6. We are still in business… 2013 has been a great year for us. We are working out of two buildings in Hamilton, Ohio, several other tanneries here in the United States, and a couple of tanneries in Mexico. We are sending U.S. hides to Mexico to have them tanned, and when we get them back we finish them here. We are still making harness leather, the old way, and a vegetable tanned latigo. The formulas we purchased have come in handy over the years to help our affiliates do a better job, and continue in the traditions of making great leather. We have an added feature that we are making many finished goods from our leathers, such as horse equipment, cut parts for other manufacturers, and many other applications for leather. We are growing again, and are eventually going to build a new building to house everything under one roof. We mill leather in drums, and do many things that we can here in the United States. We believe in keeping as many people working as possible, and have actually helped many tanneries that have had to downsize over the years to stay in business. We have done this with our auction and brokerage business for related equipment, and textile machinery. We want to keep America Working! Call us if you have any questions about the old tannery, or if you are interested in leathers. Our leathers now range from deerskin, hair on hides, chap, rawhide, vegetable tanned shoulders and sides, belt leathers, harness leathers, latigos, lace, white alum, strap, upholstery, and much more! Thanks, James Cox

  7. So why did it close? The story goes from a booming business in 1998 to closing in 2002?

  8. It closed because they got in with the wrong bank; which subsequently decided to liquidate the business after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on 9 /11. There was an interruption in the business, and the bank decided it was a good time to sell out. There were a few suitors at the time, but many people were afraid to take on the business during such an unstable time. Our purchase was an asset purchase. We did not buy their debt, or take on any responsibility of the location. We purchased the trade name, 800 number, some equipment, recipes and customer lists, etc. We have done our best to carry on the traditions that started there. We hope the old tannery site will be restored for future generations to enjoy, in some form or fashion. Besides continuing in the Leather Business, we are also hosting trade shows and auctions that our industry related. Our current project is taking place in French Lick, Indiana, at the French Lick Resort. The event is a one day auction on March 21st, for leather and equipment, tools, antique tack, western memorabilia, and western décor. Days two and three (March 22nd, and 23rd) will be a wholesale trade show that will be featuring suppliers of leather, equipment, hardware, etc., as well as finished goods like belts, saddles, holsters, personal leather goods, and other items. Come join us for a great show that will help to continue in the traditions of our past. James Cox 513-889-0500

  9. I would like more info if anyone can or is willing to help out thank you.

  10. I worked at Moser Leather for a year in 1979 – 1980. The picture of the parking lot and of the upstairs look very familiar even though it was a long time ago. I don’t often think about that year but I went to work everyday. I can’t say that for much of my early days trying to get work in the factories.

  11. Just bought some real nice leather from Moser leather company (Cox ) in Ohio….super nice quality and very nice folks on the phone!! Since I am an immigrant from Germany also….( arrived in Virginia in 1993 ) I thought this story and the article, all the research is a wonder full thing….Tanneries are dying fast and leather is not what it used to be….I am a ( hobby ) custom leather maker for almost 30 years now and can’t hardly find any good affordable leather anymore….100 years of tannery business is a big number in my book!!
    And yes, George is called GE-ORG in Germany…..

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