Moser Leather Company
New Albany, Indiana
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.
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.
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.
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- 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. Article.
- “Manufacturing.” New Albany Public Art Project Bicentennial Series. N.p., 2011. Web. 19 July 2011. Article.
- “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. (need more)
- “Tradition… A Key to Success at Caldwell/Moser.” News and Tribune [New Albany, In.]. 30 Mar. 1997: 3. (need more)