The Tanning Industry

written by Ellen M. Rohr

The manufacture of leather for glove leather, shoe soles, legging leathers and other leather goods became a strong industry in the early 1850s. Raw materials such as hide and tree bark were used in the tanning of leather. Hides were often shipped in from cattle lands such as Texas. Two Rivers/Two Creeks was chosen as bark land for the Wisconsin Leather Company and the Pfister & Vogel Leather Companies because of the vast amount of hemlock forests in this area.

In 1850/51 the Wisconsin Leather Company was formed by William Allen and E.P. Allis. Headquartered in Milwaukee, a tannery was erected north of Two Rivers and opened for business in May 1851. Edward Allis retired in 1853 and the business continued by the Allens alone until about 1862 when Cyrus Whitcomb joined the business. The business in the area continued until the early 70s.

The summer and fall of 1871 were quite dry. History books document the fires in Pestigo, Wisconsin and the Great Chicago Fire in October, 1871 but little has been documented about the lands in between. October 5, 1871 a vast fire hit the forested lands between Two Creeks and Two Rivers. Roads were impassable. The safest way out of the area was by way of steamer on Lake Michigan. The forests were destroyed. The tanneries now had less local land to use for their raw materials. To keep up with the demand for leather, the leather companies had to ship their raw bark materials from further distances. By the mid 1870s the expense of keeping the Two Rivers tannery up was getting too great for the Wisconsin Leather Company. They began selling off the property which was now well cleared for farmland. In April 1879, the Freidrich Jonas family bought 40 acres in section 26, Town of Two Rivers from Cyrus Whitcomb and the Allen families at a cost of $250. By 1884 Wisconsin Leather Company had completely abandoned their efforts in Manitowoc County.

The Wisconsin Leather Company
Excerpt from the Pioneer History of Milwaukee, by James Smith Buck, Published 1884 Milwaukee News Co.

This well known institution was founded at Cazenovia, State of new York, in 1809, by Rufus Allen, Sr. where it was conducted by him until 1842, when Geo. W. Allen was admitted as a partner, and the business continued under the title of Rufus Allen & Son for four years, when wishing to enlarge their business, a branch house was established at Milwaukee, in 1846, by William Allen and Edward P. Allis, at what is now 334 East Water Street, which was continued until 1851, when, it being considered that the right place had been found, the whole business was removed to this city, a new store, No. 147 East Water, rented (146 being too small) and the name changed (Messrs. William Allen and Edward P. Allis being partners) to the Wisconsin Leather Company, under which title it has been known up to the present time.

As one of the main requisites for the manufacture of leather is a tannery, one was at once constructed at Two Rivers, in the county of Manitowoc, soon after which the following appeared in the Sentinel and Gazette, of November 25, 1851:

The Wisconsin Leather Company

We were in receipt yesterday of a calf skin from the tannery of the Wisconsin Leather Company, at Two Rivers. Accompanying the gift was the following letter:

Genl. King:

Dear Sir: Accompanying this letter is a piece of calf skin, together with an order for its making up, and being among the first fruits of our enterprise is a good indication for what may be expected in the future. Our tannery is now in full blast; we have expended $60,000, and we are just beginning to get returns.
We are yours,
Wisconsin Leather Company,
Office, 347 East Water Street (old No. 149)

In 1853 Mr. Allis retired, and the business continued by the Allens along until 1862, when such had been their success as to necessitate the erection of an additional tannery at the Two Rivers, in which they continued to manufacture until 1870, when a third one was erected at Milwaukee, and a new partnership formed by the admission of Cyrus Whitcomb and Rufus Allen Jr. which continued until 1882, when a joint stock company was formed with Geo. W. Allen, president; Geo. C. Allen, secretary; Rufus Allen, Jr., treasurer, and Cyrus Whitcomb, general manager.

One Response to “ The Tanning Industry ”

  1. […] Wisconsin Leather Company was founded in New York in 1809 and expanded to Milwaukee in 1846. It had a number of different locations on Water Street before […]

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