The History of Leather

Leather has played a significant role in human history, evolving alongside civilisations and adapting to the changing needs of societies. J.Wood Leathers is the latest business from a long line of leather merchants, the history of leather has always been a topic of interest to our team. Let’s take a look at how leather has developed from a survival tool to the modern material it is today. 


Where it all started

The story of leather began with the early humans who used primitive tools to craft clothing and tools from animal hides. The Stone Age marked the emergence of specific leather-working tools, laying the foundation for the art of tanning. This fundamental technological discovery led to a wider use of edged stone tools—an essential factor in the evolution of man.

During this period, early humans became systematic and successful hunters, controlling fire and cooking their meat. They had developed a wider range of tools for both butchering and skinning. Some even lived in large tent-like shelters constructed with animal skins, showcasing an early understanding of the curing effect produced by drying out skins and the mild tanning action of wood smoke.

Fast forward to 100,000 years ago, Neanderthal Man perfected warm, protective clothing from the hides of animals such as deer, horses, bears, rhinoceros, or mammoths. This was a crucial adaptation during the last great ice age when they flourished despite the intense cold, living in skin-covered tents.


The Bronze and Iron Ages

Advancements in technology during the Bronze Age led to increased trade and leather specialists, expanding the use of leather in various goods. Leather armour, belts, capes, and hats became staples due to the material’s adaptability and availability. The Iron Age brought about a surge in population and the introduction of a new concept of ‘leisure time’, contributing to the popularity of coloured leather goods and footwear.


Leather goes global

Leather’s importance extended across the globe, with ancient cultures like India, Egypt, China, Greece, and Rome incorporating leather into their daily lives. The Greeks are credited with developing vegetable tanning, a technique that has persisted through the ages. In this time period, the first alum tanning process was introduced and gave rise to the distinctive aroma of tanneries, prompting the separation of these facilities from living quarters.


The Middle Ages and Viking Age

During the Middle Ages, leather craft flourished, bringing about the era of innovations in tooling, carving, dyeing, and painting. Leather became integral to mediaeval life, used for closed-in shoe designs, seat backs, and military gear. The Viking Age showcased leather’s utility in footwear, headgear, and military armouring, emphasising its role in interior protection and personal style.


The Renaissance and Enlightenment

The Renaissance brought about intellectual growth, influencing leather’s integration into ornamental seating and refined leather armour. Leather guilds formed, preserving knowledge and skills within specialised communities. The Enlightenment shifted focus towards socio-political aspects, with global powers attempting to control leather production and distribution.


Industrial Revolution and Victorian Era

The 18th-century Industrial Revolution ushered in mechanisation, revolutionising leather production. Patent leather and chrome tanning emerged, influencing fashion and leather goods. The Victorian Era introduced chromium tanning in 1858, propelling leather into a new era of faster production, softer textures, and greater versatility.

In 1854, the invention of the sewing machine changed the nature of leather-using industries. William Henry Perkins discovered the first synthetic dye, mauve, in 1856. This marked a pivotal moment in the history of leather, influencing fashion and dyeing techniques.


Modern times

Since 1963, leather has undergone a series of changes, and adaptations to fit with modern uses and ideals. Leather has been a timeless look in fashion, decoration, car interiors and more for decades. From its humble beginnings in ancient times to its current status as a symbol of luxury and durability, leather will always have its place in society. 


The 21st century

J.Wood Leathers was founded 25 years ago and has been a strong player in the leather merchant industry in the area since. owner, Jack Wood, is from a line of leather merchants, bringing these years of heritage, and a modern touch to the business. Since the early 2000s, J.Wood Leathers has designed and manufactured a range of beautiful products. The range has expanded rapidly since then, even moving into other ventures such as Highland Dress

Though our business has not been around since the birth of leather usage, the history of our industry is always forefront of our minds. The heritage, not just within the business, but the wider industry is our key priority to uphold, respect and infuse into all our products.


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