A History of the Tanning Process

Like hundreds of early American settlers of his time, Lewis spent many years in the Tanning Business. No doubt many crude  varieties of tanning have existed since cave man days, however, the refinement of the processes, chemicals, etc. had been developing in Europe in the preceding centuries and the growth of tanneries was becoming more widespread. By the early 18th century, the American Tanning business was booming due to the need for leather and the settlers inability to perform the process at home, as had been practiced throughout the world since early man.


The "New World" was abundant with natural resources, and animal furs and skins were leading the list. To be able to process them locally and then export the finished product was the most cost efficient, and thus, profitable, method. Tanneries were usually built near rivers, ensuring ease of transporting the product to market.


New Jersey Deed Records show that on April 4, 1785, Lewis and Mary Eastwood of Allentown, Monmouth County, New Jersey, sold their tanyard [tannery] for the sum of 440 pounds. 

 A Brief Explanation of the Tanning Process

Tanning is the process of making leather from skin. This is commonly done with the acidic compound tannin, which prevents normal decomposition and often imparts color.

The process of dressing up animal skin/hide into leather consists of three stages. The first stage is the preparation for tanning. The second stage is the actual tanning and other chemical treatment. The third stage applies finishing to the surface.

Preparing hides begins by curing them with salt. In wet-salting, the hides are heavily salted, then pressed into packs for about 30 days. In brine-curing the hides are agitated in a salt water bath for about 16 hours. The hides are then soaked in clean water to remove the salt and a lime/water solution to loosen the hair. The majority of hair is then removed using a machine with remaining hair being removed by hand using a dull knife, a process known as scudding. Depending on the end use of the leather hides may be treated with enzymes to soften them.

Tanning can be performed with either vegetable or mineral methods.
Vegetable tanning uses tannin, from which tanning gets it name. Tannin occurs naturally in bark. The primary bark used in modern times is chestnut, oak, tanoak, hemlock, quebracho, mangrove, wattle, and myrobalan. Hides are stretched on frames and immersed for several weeks in vats of increasing concentrations of tannin. Vegetable tanned hide is flexible and is used for luggage and furniture.

Mineral tanning usually uses chrome. In the raw state chrome tanned skins are blue and therefore referred to as "wet blue". Chrome tanning is faster (less than a day for this part of the process) than vegetable tanning and produces a stretchable leather excellent for handbags and garments.

Depending on the finish desired, the hide may be waxed, rolled, lubricated, injected with oil, split, shaved, and of course dyed. Suedes, Nubucks, etc., are finished by raising the nap of the leather by rolling with a rough surface.


Click for a better view of Tanning chart

A more complete explanation can be found at OTTO DILLE  - Home





A modern sheepskin tannery and details about the modern tanning process:



New York Tanneries of the Early 19th Century

Owned by Samuel CRANCE of Cortland, NY


Obviously, tanning is in the blood, as evidenced by the son of Samuel Crance's obituary -

CRANCE - Robert Crance, Wellsboro Agitator, Oct. 8, 1941  The funeral of Robert Crance, former foreman at the Elkland Tannery and later at the Westfield Tannery, who died at the Blossburg Hospital, was held Wednesday at his late home in Mills.



This mill stands on the west bank of the Chittenango Creek. It was built by Benjamin French about 1825, who ran the mill until 1854, when the present owner, Oney Sayles, purchased it and has run it ever since.
This is the oldest mill now standing in the vicinity ; it is an old-fashioned upright waterpower saw mill.

From: The History of Cicero - Bridgeport tannery was built in 1825, and was run until 1869. The old building, vats and machinery are still standing between the mill race and creek, but is unoccupied.