Moser Leather Company

The Moser Leather Company was founded in 1878 in New Albany, Indiana, and produced high grade leather for harnesses and collar manufacturers, before expanding into a wholesale leather business. At the height of operations, Moser was one of five tanneries in New Albany, attracted to the area in part due to the abundance of native chestnut trees.3 The trees have a natural tannin in the tree bark and nuts that were used in the tanning process. The natural materials used resulted in a vegetative tanning process. The company continues to operate out of Hamilton, Ohio.

History

The Moser Leather Company was founded in 1878 by George Moser, a German immigrant born in 1850 4 who came to New Albany 1 2 in 1867.4 Staying with a brother who ran a tailoring business, he went to work for August Barth who owned Barth’s Tannery on E. 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 proposal, and purchased the Lockwood Brothers tannery at 272-278 E. 8th Street in 1878.

Moser expanded upon the Lockwood tannery and invested in new equipment, and began to specialize in high grade leather for harnesses and collar manufacturers.1 2 4 His product was marketed as Hemlock Collar Leather. In 1891, John M. Moser, nephew of George Moser, became a partner in the company, and the company name was changed to the George Moser & Company. By 1902, the tannery employed 35 employees and sold jobblers across the United States, 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 opened the Indiana Leather Company on Silver Street adjacent to the Pennsylvania Railroad five years later.1 2

In 1914, two unfortunate incidents occurred. Fire destroyed the tannery on E. 8th Street and George passed away.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 presidency of the company.

Growth and Decline

The Moser business had expanded to cover eight acres and employed approximately 100 employees by 1936.1 2 The company had become a wholesale leather manufacturer, tanning hides purchased in bulk and converting them into leather for saddles and consumer products, such as shoes and belts.

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

By the 1990s, Moser 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. For instance, 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, the company employed 70 and had sales of $12 million, with the end products being used in Bass shoes, Harley-Davidson motorcycle apparel and other products.

The Caldwell/Moser Leather Company ceased operations in 2002.3 It was the third-to-last vegetative tannery in the United States. Soon after the closure of the tannery, 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 equipment to Hamilton, Ohio and continues to operate the Moser Leather Company.

Redevelopment

The Tannery Commons Senior Apartments, a proposed development of 30 one- and two-bedroom apartments, was proposed for the former Moser Leather Company industrial site by site owner Goodman.5 The cost of construction was $4.5 million, and would include renovating the historic Moser Tannery building at Silver and East Main Streets.

In January 2005, snow and ice contributed to a partial roof collapse at the Moser Tannery.7 Affecting a 7,500 square-foot section of the complex, it rendered nearly 30,000 square-foot of the complex unusable. 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.

Digest

  • Name: Moser Leather Company
  • Location: New Albany, Indiana
  • Years of Significance: 1878
  • Status:

Sources

  1. Cox, James C. “Brief History of Moser Leather.” Moser Leather Company. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 July 2011. Article.
  2. “Caldwell/Moser Leather Company.” Indiana Historical Society. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 July 2011. Article.
  3. “Manufacturing.” New Albany Public Art Project Bicentennial Series. N.p., 2011. Web. 19 July 2011. Article.
  4. “George Moser.” Memoirs of the lower Ohio valley. Vol. 1. Madison: Federal Publishing, 1905. 264-265. Print.
  5. Suddeath, Daniel. “Tax credits to aid development of former Moser Tannery in New Albany.” News and Tribune [New Albany, In.]. 27 Mar. 2010. Web. 26 July 2011. Article.
  6. Suddeath, Daniel. “New Albany’s diamond in the rough – Loop Island.” News and Tribune [New Albany, In.]. 10 Apr. 2010. Web. 26 July 2011. Article.
  7. “Roof on Moser Tannery building collapses.” News and Tribune [New Albany, In.]. 5 Jan. 2005: A1. (need more)
  8. “Tradition… A Key to Success at Caldwell/Moser.” News and Tribune [New Albany, In.]. 30 Mar. 1997: 3. (need more)

15 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.

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