The History of Leather Part 9 – Industrial Revolution

Posted on 18/07/14

When leather became really big business (approx. 1760-1840)

If the Medieval era was when leather became big business, then by the middle of the 18th century, it was really big business.

Rudimentary machinery allowed factories to massively step up their production levels. It was a good thing too – factory workers, for example, needed to be equipped with heavy leather boots to protect them from the open machinery and detritus of a working factory floor. After all, there were no high visibility jackets, no guardrails, no warning signs, no hard hats, no two hour safety seminars with awkward group role-play exercises. Really, they could probably have done with some leather armour at the very least – chainmail might have been a bit much.

Leather products were instrumental in maximising efficiency and increasing luxury and durability in the Industrial Revolution. With the thriving railway industry came increased demand for a number of leather products that would survive the daily grind of moving freight and passengers around the country – be it upholstery, overalls, water hoses and so on. It was thanks to leather belting that the excess energy from the newly built mills, which would have been wasted otherwise, could be transferred via leather belting to shop floor machinery.

Manchester in particular underwent a massive transformation over the course of the Industrial Revolution. Transforming from a quaint market town with a population of 10,000, into the world’s first industrial city with a population of 70,000 and an insatiable thirst for coal to power its factories working at full capacity.

Leather production was at its peak, right slap bang in the middle of the Industrial Revolution. These facts and figures should put that into perspective:

* At around 1800, the wool and leather industries were two of the most important industries in Great Britain

* By 1801, wool and leather were two of the four largest British industries by value added, alongside the cotton and building industries

* Between them, the wool and leather industries accounted for 68% of the total of value added in British industry as a whole – their contributions to that 68% were roughly the same

* Between the 1750s and the 1800s, the annual total of leather produced is estimated to have risen by approximately (£11.3 million’s worth)

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