Archival Field Trip

Archival Field Trip: Horween Leather Co.

Horween tour photos by Rick Gersbach

Last week, Rick, Sara and I visited the Horween Leather Co. in Chicago, Illinois. Nick Horween directed our tour of the tannery, one of the oldest in the US. Horween produces highest quality leathers that are used for Alden shoes, NFL footballs, Russell and Quoddy moccasins, Altadena Works packs, Makr leather wallets and more.

The Horween factory consists of five floors and we were intent on seeing everything. Nick warned us that our eyes might glaze over. He might also have cautioned us about intense odors, high heat, puddles underfoot, sharp hooks overhead and proximity to machinery, ancient and modern. The many-stepped tanning process takes six months, so we weren’t able to follow one hide from raw to finish state. We watched as cow and horse hides were stripped of hair, shaved of flesh, dyed, cut out, wrung, squeegeed, stacked, left to rest, hung up, impregnated with wax, split, dried, stamped, measured, and polished (not in that order).

Fortunately for readers wishing to better visualize the complexities of the tanning process, friend and photographer Rick Gersbach provided documentary evidence of our tour. A full set of Rick’s Horween photographs can be viewed via his flickr site here.

At the end of the tour, Nick, our charming and well informed host, showed us some belts, shoes and wallets made from Horween leathers. While I’ve always admired shell cordovan leather from afar, I’m now fundraising for a Highland brand belt and a custom pair of Alden Style 500 boots in whiskey or cigar shell cordovan. But for now, I’ll console myself with the chromexcel hide I purchased from Horween for future projects.

Dreaming of Alden Surgical boots in whiskey shell cordovan
For more stories and reports about the Horween Leather Co., read Nick’s own official Horween blog.

17 thoughts on “Archival Field Trip: Horween Leather Co.”

  1. Very nice post. That place is 3 miles from my home. I’ve alway wondered what it looked like in there. Good for you, Lesli! So interesting.

    I know that the leather of the Red Wing boot I wear was tanned in that building. The guy in Red Wing told me, I had no idea. I wear the Gentleman Travelers. BOSS!

    Seems like you had a nice time in Chicago.
    Looking forward to more posts about your trip.


  2. Glad you guys liked the tour images. The experience was pretty amazing!

    Rick did a great job w/the photography. I have a second set of lower grade images that I migh post to my flickr site just for future reference (some more quirky detail views).


    You need to send a year wear report on your Alden shoes. How did sizing work out on the shell cordovan models? True to size, etc?


    I’m not sure but I don’t think Red Wing is still getting their leather from Horween. It sounds like they have their own tannery source (local to Red Wing?). Nick would know.

    We’ll have to meet up next time I’m in town (for the next hide purchase).

    I’m not actual sure WHERE I would buy those Alden surgical boots (not yet). I’ll talk to Jordan Sayler at Winn Perry since he’s my main Alden shoe advisor/sizer/guru, etc. I believe I could order them directly from Alden if I were dead certain on my sizing (which I’m not). I’m such a crazy small Alden size that a custom order would be mandatory. Anyone want to coordinate a group order?

  3. Lesli, thank you for the post. I enjoyed it a lot.

    I sencond the group order idea. I always want to try Alden shoes but unfortunatly they donot have women’s sizes (I am a size 39Euro)

  4. Jing–

    I’m a euro 39 too! What’s your UK size? Need to secure baseline fit via Winn Perry. And than maybe I could dabble in an exotic Style 500 order for us all.

  5. The only Uk shoes I own are the C&J ones. I have the loafer Naseby in size 75C and all other boots like Barbwell, Gresham in 80C.

    The Style 500 is sweat 🙂 Thank you!

  6. Lesli,

    Horween is great! I take my students there for a tour whenever I can fit it into the schedule.

    I’ve been buying leather from them since I was a student- they have always been really good to work with- way better than other tanneries that have since closed their doors here in Chicago.


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