A BRIEF HISTORY OF LEATHER

I have cleaned hundreds of leather suites in Liverpool and come across all kinds of leather types.  Here is a short blog on the history of leather.

It is one of the oldest of man’s activities. Skins obtained from hunting and livestock breeding could be used for clothing and making tents.

Originally they became stiff at low temperatures and rotted with heat. Attempts were made to render the leather more flexible and stronger by rubbing it in animal fats and smoking.  This is how the tanning process began.  Although it was soon discovered that the rotting could be stopped by drying, either by exposure to sunlight or dehydrating action of salt.  These methods which got more refined and efficient allowed skis to be used in the ancient world and continued to do so for century after century to the present day. This can be proven through numerous written documents and paintings as well as archeological findings. Example; in Mesopotamia, Sumerians used skins for long dresses and diadems for ladies. Assyrians used leather for footwear and liquid containers. The ancient Indian

This can be proven through numerous written documents and paintings as well as archaeological findings. Example; in Mesopotamia, Sumerians used skins for long dresses and diadems for ladies.  Assyrians used leather for footwear and liquid containers.

The ancient Indian civilisation first processed the type of leather known as ‘morocco’ today.  Egyptians achieved considerable skill in processing leather which they used for clothing (including gloves) arms and tools.

During roman times, leather was widely used in all the provinces of the empire and more efficient tanning techniques were introduced. Romans used leather for footwear and clothing and for making shields and harnesses.

A tannery was discovered amidst the ruins of Pompei in the eighth century of Spain, here we have the development of the production of ‘cordovan’. This type of leather was famous throughout Europe for several centuries.

A considerable improvement in processing techniques occurred in the twelfth century. Oil tanning was used to produce protective garments. Finishing operations were carried out to improve malleability and improve the appearance of leather.

In the fourteenth century, leather was being used in combination with wood in making chairs, arm chairs and settles that reached craftsmanship levels of an art form.

In the middle of the last century, the discovery of chrome salts led to a drastic improvement in the leather tanning industry.  Chromium salts were adopted and chrome leather (tanning) became the standard for footwear fashion and upholstery leathers.  Substitution of the tanning pits with the rotating drum was also another hallmark and revolutionary element.

Modern technology has allowed for innovation in the leather industry, as the development of chemicals and sophisticated processing methods have greatly expanded the aesthetics and feel of leather.

Leather continues to be the material of choice, not just for commercial and residential furniture but for automotive, aviation and marine applications as well.


Dave Power at Dirtbusters is a professional leather cleaner in Liverpool.