The Moser Leather Company was a manufacturer of high-grade leather for harnesses and collar manufacturers in New Albany, Indiana.
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, Moser went to work for August Barth who owned Barth’s Tannery on East 10th Street. 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 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 A fire destroyed the tannery in 1914.
By 1936, the George Moser Leather Company had expanded to cover eight acres and employed 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, founded in 1863 by George Washington Caldwell. 1 8 Caldwell Leather 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 a 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 eventually 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 leather produced used in Bass shoes and Harley-Davidson motorcycle apparel. The company ceased operations in 2002 over declining sales. 3 At the time of its closure, it was the third-to-last vegetative tannery in the nation.
Soon after the closure, Al Goodman, an environmental consultant with Moser since 1986, purchased the property the tannery resided for the construction of the Loop Island wetlands. 6 In a separate action, James Cox purchased the Moser trademark and relocated some manufacturing equipment to Hamilton, Ohio, restarting the leather business as Moser Leather.
In January 2005, snow and ice contributed to a partial roof collapse at the original Moser Leather factory in New Albany. 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 site. 5 It was estimated to cost $4.5 million and involve renovating the historic tannery at Silver and East Main streets. The 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.
- Cox, James C. “Brief History of Moser Leather.” Moser Leather Company. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 July 2011. Article.
- “Caldwell/Moser Leather Company.” Indiana Historical Society. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 July 2011.
- “Manufacturing.” New Albany Public Art Project Bicentennial Series. N.p., 2011. Web. 19 July 2011.
- “George Moser.” Memoirs of the lower Ohio valley. Vol. 1. Madison: Federal Publishing, 1905. 264-265. Print.
- 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.
- 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.
- “Roof on Moser Tannery building collapses.” News and Tribune [New Albany, In.]. 5 Jan. 2005: A1.
- “Tradition… A Key to Success at Caldwell/Moser.” News and Tribune [New Albany, In.]. 30 Mar. 1997: 3.
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Has been torn down.
[…] Moser Leather Company manufactured high-grade leather for harnesses and collar manufacturers before expanding into […]
I worked there from 83-85 before enlisting in the Army, I also lived up on market street, the place reeked in the summer. I also remember Jim Thornton as well as Junior and Randy Elmore and a bunch of the old timers as well
John Keith, I remember the name Jim Thornton as being one of the supervisors. I don’t remember the other one? I worked their for about 1 year and 1 day. I remember one of the two supervisors stopping by my work area one day and asked me if I was quitting to move to Chicago with my parents. I was about 19 at the time and the big boss and my Dad knew each other through some civic organization. That’s how I got the job and how the supervisor knew even though I never told anyone. That was the toughest smelliest job I’ve ever worked in my life. I can’t imagine most young people today being willing to do such a physical job like that.
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…..
Worked there 1980 thru 1983
The photos bring back memories
They killed cows (obviously) but they weren’t disposed of properly. They threw the carcuses in the loop island wetlands (huge pond behind the moser) and the water eventually turned red for the longest. And that’s how loop island got the name blood pond.. very dark history that’s not told of in this text. That’s what made loop island wetlands and the old factory a fun place to go. I live next to the old moser and old new Albany residents will tell you the same story. You’re welcome
I am Al Goodman, who performed all the environmental work for the tannery from 1986 to 2002 when it closed, and when I purchased it. This included the 4 acres of tannery with the 47 acre lagoon system where tannery wastewater was discharged. We constructed a wastewater treatment plant on-site in 1990 and converted the lagoons (known as blood pond) to the Loop Island Wetlands of today. The “blood” in the ponds was from a natural bacteria/algae and not from animal blood. No animals were ever killed at Moser Leather, only hides purchased from off-site slaughterhouses were processed.
I made many attempts at converting the building/site to a tannery museum, which would have been the only tannery museum in the world. Couldn’t get the funding and the above-stated residential development didn’t ever happen. I sold the property to the City of New Albany in April 2016. Contact me if you want more information.
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.
I would like more info if anyone can or is willing to help out thank you.
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
Is that Korrect measuring machine functional?
So why did it close? The story goes from a booming business in 1998 to closing in 2002?
That’s awesome to hear James!
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
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?
Hello James. My name is Shawn Bailey and I knew your grandfather Jim, and your father as well. I worked for Thomas A. Bailey Jr. Plumbing and Heating Co. My uncle Tom and Jim where both WWII U.S. Navy Veterans, and old friends. I think Jim was in the Submarine Force. My first visit to the Moser Leather Co. was in 1975 when I was 14 years old. I helped my Uncle maintain the boilers, space heaters, water tanks, plumbing, etc. I spend many hours working in and around the tannery until I joined the Navy in 1984. I will never forget my experiences working in the tannery. Although the methods of tanning were primitive, the results were superior. I have several tannery and Jim Thornton stories if you would like to hear them some time.
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.
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.
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.
Thanks James. I will update the article to reflect that. It's good to see that the old tanning traditions still live on.
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
Its currently complety abandoned I know this personally.
I'm surprised you didn't find this website in your research. Give it a look, there are some great historic photos and a nice summary here: