The Leather Craftsman: Milwaukee Tanneries 1901 - 2001

Sometimes when I find myself bored at night I realize I've just been wasting precious moments of my life flipping through random Facebook posts.  Last night however, that mindless post flipping paid off.  Don't ask me how but somehow I ended up on an old blog called The Leather Craftsman.  The Leather Craftsman hasn't been updated since 2012 but it's pages contain some excellent historical insight into Milwaukee from the perspective of a local leather craftsman and former business owner by the name of Bill Odbert.

The blog is full of interesting stories about Milwaukee in the 60's and 70's and one blog post in particular really hit home.  The blog post, "Milwaukee Tanneries 1901-2001" gives a pretty interesting history about tanneries here in Milwaukee and how over time it went from a booming industry employing thousands of people to an industry today has less than 10 local tanneries operating in Milwaukee. It's a classic story of boom, bust, lost jobs and outsourcing overseas and I'd recommend it for anyone that lives here in Milwaukee.  

Why am I posting this here?  Well, when we started our Tannery Collection we did a ton of research into how we could make these items and we came to the conclusion that it would be easiest to get the items made right here in Milwaukee rather than source it overseas.  Here at Fyxation we are faced with new challenges everyday and we just saw this as another hill to climb and didn't think anything about the history behind what we were trying to accomplish.

We were lucky enough to get introduced to one of the remaining tanneries here in Milwaukee and after meeting with them we realized that we'd be able to source all the leather we needed from a local business that was located only 10 blocks from our workshop.   We knew that Milwaukee used to be the home of a number of tanneries as many of them have now been converted into condos or office space but we didn't really think too hard about the hardship behind all those once empty buildings.  We simply went out and found a supplier, found a way to make the leather in house and haven't looked back since.  We now are an exporter of these made in Milwaukee items as our Tannery Collection is currently in stock in 3 continents! Our new leather department now consists of a staff of three and we plan to hire additional staff as we continue to grow our collection.  

When Milwaukee lost all those tanneries an entire industry of leather makers and shops went out of business as well. Bill writes how back in the day he could walk down the road from his shop on Brady Street and buy leather from 3 local tanneries and if they didn't have what he needed he could drive a short distance to find dozens more.  When those tanneries shut down it became harder for local craftsmen like him to get the supplies needed to make their goods and eventually smaller businesses followed the tanneries and closed their doors.  

Reading Bill's blog really made what we've accomplished with our Tannery Colllection hit home. We're proud of what we're doing here at Fyxation and now are even more proud knowing that we've been able to bring a small but growing leather enterprise back to the City of Milwaukee.

1 comment

  • Bill Odbert

    I’m still in business at 133 W. Pittsburgh Ave. Since 2012, I have been going to Burning Man so I should update the blog.
    Thanks for your comments and if you need any assistance just let me know.

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