THE GLOVE INDUSTRY.
THE art of making gloves has long been a prominent feature in the prosperity of Fulton county, yielding a comfortable
support to all thus engaged, while many have reached wealth. It has flourished in this region, indeed, for three
quarters of a century, but, before presenting its local details, the reader may be interested in its previous history.
The use of gloves can be traced to the earliest times, and not only the ancient Asiatics had them in use but also
they have been found on Egyptian monuments, as a tribute to the dead; the Persians also wore gloves of valuable
furs, and Homer mentions that the shepherds and farm laborers of ancient Laertes used greaves and rough gloves
made of bull's hide in order to protect themselves against thorns. Gloves were also in use among the Greeks, being
at first considered a sign of effeminacy, but later on finger stalls were used by them at meals. The latter were
subsequently introduced from Greece to the the Romans, who were also unacquainted with the use of forks, and therefore
substituted their fingers. The Romans also wore gloves for finery; their noble ladies attached to their tunics
long sleeves, which reached over the hands, and we learn from Virgil that the peasants wore similar garments during
the winter. Military gloves were also worn by the Roman soldiers, from which the scale covered gauntlet was developed
in the days of chivalry. The ancient Scandinavians, the German tribes, the Franks, and other early European nations
used gloves, both in their daily intercourse, and while traveling or hunting, the style and material differing
according to the occasion. Coming down to a later period ladies began to wear gloves in the thirteenth century,
the first style being made of linen and reaching to the elbow. Linen gloves were followed by knitted ones, and
subsequently leather gloves were introduced, which became highly popular in the court of Louis XIV of France. In
the early part of the seventeenth century the manufacture of gloves reached Germany, being brought there by French
refugees from Grenoble who introduced their art to Erlangen, Haberstadt, and Magdeburg. In England, during the
reign of Queen Elizabeth, great display was shown in gloves, some of which cost several thousand marks. Glove making
is also one of the oldest of the civilized arts of Scotland. Much has been printed on the subject both in Europe
and America and local writers have carefully investigated the origin of glove making in Fulton county; some of
their statements are at variance in certain details, but it is evident that the material whence all early gloves
or mittens were made was the skin of the deer, which was abundant in the vicinity, and which suggested to the settlers
the importance of making it available in a profitable manner.
The primitive buckskin mittens and breeches made by the early settlers were due to the necessity occasioned
by the rough, laborious work of the farmers and wood choppers, leather being also cheaper than the product of the
loom. It is not probable that any gloves or mittens were manufactured in what is now Fulton county and offered
as articles of merchandise prior to 1809, but from that date, it may safely be said, the manufacture became a recognized
industry. It began in a small way among the New England settlers in the vicinity of Kingsboro. They were a shrewd
and industrious race, more accustomed to trade and commerce than their Dutch neighbors, who were chiefly farmers.
Many of those Kingsboro settlers were skilled tin workers and their ware found sale abroad. Among those who were
thus engaged were the Wards of Kingsboro, John Monroe and the Leonards of West Bush, also Chester Phelps of North
Kingsboro, whose success no doubt led others to embark in the same business. It was their custom to make a stock
of useful articles, pack it upon the back of a horse and then lead the animal up the Mohawk, and "Chenango
country" (as it was then called), and exchange the ware for wheat, peltry, and any other articles of domestic
or commercial value. In this way they accumulated quantities of deer skins, one of which was usually taken in exchange
for a tin basin. At first these skins were used for jackets and breeches, the latter being especially serviceable
because of their durability.
The Indian process of tanning was then exclusively practiced, the operation consisting chiefly in the use of the
brains of a deer, which rendered a soft, pliable and durable leather. Later on the brains of hogs were substituted,
but with less satisfactory results, as the deer's brains possessed certain properties similar to the soda ash ("fat
liquor") in use at the present day. Indian tanned leather is still used to some extent in the manufacture
of gloves and mittens, but the greater share of it is made by Indians in the western states. The vast improvement
that has since then been made in the manufacture of glove leather has really thrown all the early methods out of
Ezekiel Case came to Kingsboro from Cincinnati in 1803 with a certain knowledge of the Indian tan process and he
with others made a few mittens, but the first practical leather dresser in the community was Talmadge Edwards,
who moved to Johnstown from Massachusetts about 1809. He was formerly a leather dresser in England and understood
the manufacture of gloves and mittens. He soon made the acquaintance of James Burr and William C. Mills, who hired
him to come to Kingsboro and teach them the art. In 1809 Mr. Burr made a few pairs of mittens, and took them up
the Mohawk, selling them at encouraging prices wherever opportunity offered. The following year he increased his
output and sold a part of it by the dozen, this being the first transaction of the kind in the county. Later on
he introduced several practical improvements in the process of tanning, among them "the bucktail," for
which he secured a patent. This invention was replaced by the emery wheel, first introduced by Daniel Hays about
1874. James Burr built and operated a leather mill in what is now Forest street, in Gloversville, the property
afterwards coming into the hands of Aaron Simmons. His son, James H. Burr, and his grandson, Harvey W. Burr, still
carry on the glove business within a short distance of the site of the old mill, and their establishment is a continuation
of the oldest glove and mitten factory in the county.
William C. Mills continued to be an extensive manufacturer for many years subsequent to 1809. He began making annual
trips to the Holland Purchase in 1805, and bought there wheat for flouring purposes, and also deer skins for manufacture.
It is said that 400 to 500 skins constituted his annual purchases. He died in 1833, but his children and grandchildren
have been, and are to day, prominently identified with the industry.
John Ward, of Kingsboro, engaged in the business about 18 to and made annual trips to Pennsylvania, where he also
purchased skins. He became a manufacturer of considerable importance and carried on an extensive business for those
times. He was known as a man of untiring energy and strength of character, but died in 1815, at a time when his
prospects seemed the brightest.
Philander Heacock, father of W. J. Heacock, began making gloves in 1819 in the old Haggard house, that stood until
recently near the Daniel Hays mill in Gloversville. It was in this old house that his son, the late Joseph Heacock,
was born. Philander had learned the trade of bark tanning in the old McLaren mill in Johnstown, the site of which
is now occupied by a mill owned by Simon Schriver. He afterwards moved from the Haggard house to a farm west of
the present site of Gloversville, and continued to dress leather and also make gloves and mittens. He was thus
engaged more or less until the time of his death, June 22, 1837. His sons, Joseph S. and Willard J., were both
subsequently engaged in the manufacture of gloves on an extensive scale. Lemuel Heacock, a brother of Philander,
was also a manufacturer. As an evidence of the extent of the industry in 1825, it may be said that E1isha Judson,
father of Daniel B. Judson, went to Boston that year with a load of gloves in a lumber wagon, making the trip in
six weeks, and bringing back to his employers, Philander and Lemuel Heacock, $600 in silver. This was the first
trip of the kind ever made, and it is hardly necessary to add that its results afforded the highest gratification.
The Judson family has ever since been prominently connected with the glove industry. Alanson Judson, a younger
brother of Elisha, jr., reaped a handsome fortune from its profits, and his son, Charles W. Judson, now living
in Gloversville, has also been a successful manufacturer. Daniel B. Judson, son of Elisha, jr., and grandson of
E1isha, sr., is still engaged in the business at Kingsboro, being one of the largest manufacturers in the United
Josiah, Daniel and Abner Leonard embarked in the business at an early date, probably about 1820.
Willard Rose was also an early manufacturer, and began making mittens at Bennett' s Corners about 1830. He had
an extensive farm and in connection carried on the glove business for nearly forty years.
A. S. Van Voast, of Johnstown, was engaged in the business in 1833, being then a young man. At the time of his
retirement from active business he was one of the oldest manufacturers in the country.
Humphrey Smith began manufacturing in 1834 and his brother, D. W. Smith, in 1837. The latter is now living in Gloversville.
They were at that time located at Smith's Corners, about one and one half miles northwest of Gloversville. D. W.
Smith was actively engaged in the business for a period of about fifty years, being associated with James O. Parsons
from 1870 until 1889, at which time Mr. Smith retired permanently. During his early career as a manufacturer he
was associated with his younger brother, James H., the firm of D. W. & J. H. Smith continuing until 1860.
U. M. Place engaged in the business in Gloversville, then a mere hamlet, in 1832, and was an active manufacturer
for thirty nine years. He was also greatly interested in promoting the construction of the railroad from Fonda
to Gloversville, and was so enthusiastic over this project that at times he even neglected his personal interests
to insure its success.
Rufus Washburn, lately deceased, was engaged in the glove business as early as 1836 or 1837.
John McNab began making buckskin gloves at his father's homestead in 1836, before he had reached his majority.
Later on he built a house near his present residence and continued to manufacture gloves for more than half a century,
retiring from active business in the fall of 1887. He has been a successful manufacturer and has won wealth and
influence and, what is far more, public respect. As his name has been prominently connected with the old West mill
property at the extreme west end of Fulton street, in the city of Gloversville, it may be proper to add a brief
sketch of that historic mill. When John McNab, sr., settled on the old hpmestead in 1803, there was a grist mill
standing on the premises now known as the West mill property. This was purchased by Jacob Clute about 1823 or 1824,
and occupied by John D. Clute, his brother, who built and conducted a small store which contained the usual miscellaneous
assortment for country traffic. The grist mill was afterward discontinued and the water power used to drive a double
set of stocks with a flutter wheel. A small dam was subsequently constructed below this mill and the power was
used to propel the machinery in a carding and fulling mill, which was operated by John Howe and James and Timothy
Wrigley. John McNab, sr., also constructed a primitive skin mill, consisting of one set of double stocks, propelled
by a pitch back water wheel. The entire West mill property passed into the hands of Daniel Leonard, who built a
mill and put in four double stocks which were run by an overshot wheel. He continued to operate this mill until
November 23, 1843, when it was purchased by John McNab, jr., who increased the power and rebuilt a portion of the
mill. It was operated for a number of years by Lewis Johnson, but the title of the property remained in the hands
of Mr. McNab until February 1, 1887, when, with the full concurrence of Johnson, it was sold to its present owners,
the West Mill Company, at that time consisting of T. C. Foster, Lawton Caten and W. D. West.
About 1845 John McNab constructed a trunk or water way from the small dam on his father's property, for a distance
of 100 rods in an easterly direction and built a mill, and a large overshot wheel, with six double sets of stocks,
bucktails, etc., on the site of the mill now owned by Daniel Hays on West Fulton street. The water that had thus
been brought to the mill by artificial means was utilized to propel the stocks and machinery. This mill was afterwards
sold by Mr. McNab to James Christie and George Mills, who conducted it for a time and then sold it to its present
owner, Daniel Hays.
Jonathan Ricketts has long been one of Fulton county's prominent glove and leather men. He came to America in
1837, from Yoevil, England, and located in Johnstown in 1839. He began business as a leather dresser in the winter
of 1840-41, doing nearly all the work himself. This was in the old McLaren mill near the cemetery in Johnstown.
He introduced the dressing of sheep skin in 1841 and reaped a rich reward from that business for many years. He
began dressing South American sheep skins about 1848 and in 1855 he used nearly 40,000 of them. The first mill
which he built is still standing, just east of the Cayadutta creek, on West Main street in Johnstown. It was erected
in 1856 and occupied by Mr. Ricketts nearly twenty five years. He began making sheep skin gloves in 1841 and carried
on both tanning and glove making, relinquishing the former business about five years ago, and the latter two years
later, having acquired a competency by a life of active toil and perseverance. He received the silver medal at
the New York State Agricultural Society's Fair, held at Albany in 1850, for gentlemen's kid gloves. He was contemporaneous
with the Bertrands, who came from France in 1844, bringing with them the art of manufacturing fine kid gloves,
which up to that time was unknown in Fulton county, but it was not carried on to an important extent until after
the late civil war.
Marcellus Gilbert was one of the early glove manufacturers, and subsequently established the firm of Gilbert &
Welk, of Johnstown, which was eminently successful. Among other manufacturers who were engaged in the business
in and about Johnstown prior to 1840 were James McMartin, D. H. Cuyler, Samuel Hill and Howard Hill.
John Filmer was one of the early leather dressers He came to Fulton county from Brooklyn in 1832 and was engaged
in dressing leather in Gloversville for such well remembered manufacturers as the McNabs, Leonards and Evans.
Isaac V. Place began manufacturing in 1840, his shop being a few miles north of Kingsboro. He afterwards carried
on the leather business together with the manufacture of gloves and continued thus until within a few years of
his death, which occurred in December, 1891.
Many others might be mentioned who have been connected directly or indirectly with the glove industry in the county,
as the assertion has been truthfully made that three fourths of the inhabitants are engaged in some of its various
branches. The reader will find brief notices of those manufacturers who have embarked in the business since the
middle of the century, in the succeeding chapters of this work.
The early process of making gloves differed greatly from that practiced at the present time. There are many persons
now living who can remember the time when gloves were cut from the skins with common shears. The patterns were
made of pasteboard or shingles and were laid upon the leather and traced with sharp pointed pieces of lead, commonly
called "plummets," which were often made by pouring melted lead into a crack in the kitchen floor. Many
hundred thousand dozens of gloves and mittens have been cut from skins marked in this way. The goods made during
the early days, although rough and primitive in style and workmanship, were eagerly sought after by those who performed
heavy labor, and hence the tin peddlers disposed of many dozens of them during a season. Later on, when the manufacture
of gloves superseded that of tin ware, and the industry gave evidence of a prosperous future, many men, women and
children in all parts of the county became engaged in it. The men and children usually cut the gloves and the wives
and daughters did the stitching, usually placing one mitten on the seat beneath them and sitting upon it while
plying the needle on its mate. This method partially served the purpose of the modern "laying off" table,
straightening the mitten out, and having a tendency to make it soft and flexible.
In the course of time, when the sewing machine was introduced into the business, these same wives and daughters
readily became familiar with its use and today a majority of the farm houses in Fulton County each contains one
or more of these machines.
THE SEWING MACHINE.
The introduction and development of the sewing machine in glove making presents an important feature in the
history of the industry. In the early days, when all gloves were made in family circles, and when no manufacturer
thought of having his goods stitched inside his shop, the gloves after being cut, were matched with fourchettes
and thumb pieces, and then were tied up with a buckskin string in lots of a dozen pairs, with thread, needles and
silk, and a handful of scraps to be used for weltings. The country people for miles in the vicinity, came after
these packages which they placed in bags and thus carried home. The gloves were mostly made by women, who would
thread the square pointed needle with the heavy linen thread doubled, tie a knot in the end, wax it, place a strip
of buckskin between the edges for a welt, and then stitch the seam. The lighter gloves were made without a welt,
backstitched, and an expert needle woman could thus make a neat, close fitting glove, while the welted gloves and
mittens, if well sewn, would give excellent service. This work was laborious, however, and when in 1852, it became
known that machines were being made that would actually sew a seam, and that Churchill & Company, of Gloversville,
had a machine which they were testing on glove work, manufacturers throughout the country became interested and
much discussion arose concerning its merits. Some of the manufacturers were quick to see the great advantage that
would arise both to themselves and to their employees if the sewing machine could be successfully operated in glove
making, while others were incredulous and declared that gloves sewed together with such a machine would never give
satisfaction. These first machines were "Singers" and were large and cumbersome, both needle bar and
shuttle being driven by cog wheels. They were noisy, and their "clatter" often distressed the nerves,
but they certainly would sew a seam, and a few manufacturers cautiously gave them trial. They were at first used
to stitch the thin binding on the top of gloves and mittens, but as the invention was very imperfect they needed
constant repairs, and eventually Abner Allen, an employee of the Singer Company at Gloversville, began to repair
and perfect these machines, and was the first man thus engaged. The next sewing machine was the Grover & Baker,
introduced by David Spaulding in 1854. They were framed also of cast iron, standing about ten inches high, with
a circular needle underneath, and leaving a chain stitch on the underside of the leather.
This machine was largely used in stitching the laps and binding of buck mittens, as it was claimed that the
stitch was elastic and would not break so readily as the lock stitch. In that branch of the business the sewing
machine completely superseded hand work. Up to that time but few gloves were made entirely on machines, and not
until 1856, when Niles Fairbanks, of Gloversville, introduced the Howe machine, which was small and light running,
were there any grades of gloves made solely upon them. This machine was at once used to make some grades of light
goods throughout. In 1857 the financial crash was felt severely in the glove trade, but the outbreak of the rebellion
in 1861 brought great demand for gloves for army use. Many new machines were introduced into Fulton county, and
a large majority of the product was made entirely in this manner. Then the enthusiasm over the machine was felt
in every family, and the desire to have one in the house almost bordered on a mania. Many manufacturers became
agents, and sold machines, taking pay in work, which introduced them very fast. In 1858 the wax thread machine
was first used here, but it did not come into general use until after the war, when it was greatly improved. Mr.
Polmateer is entitled to much credit for the introduction of the overstitch machine, which was the next great advance
in glove mechanism.
His machine is now used more particularly on heavy work. In those districts in France where fine gloves are made
the overstitch machine has been brought to the greatest perfection, and this machine is mostly preferred by American
fine glove manufacturers. The pique and prick seam machines, though not in general use, will undoubtedly receive
more attention each succeeding year. The introduction of steam power as a means of propelling the sewing machines
was accomplished in 1875, and as the operatives could do much more work, many were induced to go into factories
who previously would only work at home. The sewing machine has thus assisted modern progress in a manner that has
been repeated in nearly every labor saving device. A machine that at first seemed to rob the hard working women
of their well earned sewing money, has only proved to be the means by which they can earn a much larger amount,
and not only in a shorter space of time, but also earn it easier. The Singer machine has been constantly improved
until no feature of the original remains, while very few, if any, of the Grover & Baker are being made. The
Howe machine has received little improvement, but does good work on fine gloves, if not run at too high a speed.
The Wheeler & Wilson Company sell many machines for the medium grades of glove making, and some new machines
are being introduced. A well known glove manufacturer writing on this subject in 1884 said: "There is room
for many improvements, and I confidently expect that the next ten years will develop a machine that for fine glove
making will supersede all inseaming machines now in use. . . . Probably all will agree with me that in the proud
position the glove manufacturer has reached with us, much credit must be given to the sewing machines."
Niles Fairbanks, now living at Gloversville at an advanced age, holds the distinction of making the first cutting
dies for gloves and mittens, but as in many similar instances, the profit arising from his invention has been gathered
by others. E. P. Newton started in 1859 the first general machine works in this county in which glove and mitten
cutting machines were manufactured.
Much activity was given to the glove trade by the war of the rebellion, and the price of both gloves and skins
advanced materially. Since the close of the war there has been a general tendency on the part of manufacturers
to make a higher grade of goods, and while the early makers devoted themselves entirely to the production of heavy
buckskin gloves and mittens, the majority of those now engaged in the business make as fine a quality of kid gloves
as can be produced in any part of the world. This great advance has been accomplished chiefly during the past five
or ten years. The improved facilities for tanning, coloring and finishing, and the knowledge brought to this country
by great numbers of expert leather dressers and glove makers from England, Germany and France, has placed the industry
in Fulton county on an equal footing with all competing nations The business indeed has reached so great an extent
that not less than from twenty thousand to twenty five thousand people are engaged in glove making and its allied
industries in Fulton county, while from six million to seven million dollars are invested in the business.
The reader will also be interested to learn the varieties of skins used in this vast manufacture and also to note
the localities in the world whence they come. First of all is the deer skin, which opened the way for the subsequent
development of the industry, but in addition we find that at present the manufacturer is using domestic and imported
lamb and sheep skins, calf, elk, horse, hog, goat, dog, and antelope skins, all of which are divided into many
grades and classes. The deer skins are supplied by all parts of the United States (where they may be found), together
with Mexico, and Central and South America. The latter country sends the celebrated Para deer skin, a large number
of which commonly called "Jacks" come from the mouth of the Amazon. Skins are also designated by terms
signifying their origin, for instance, "domestic deer skins," are in this manner distinguished from imported
stock, and are divided into "Wisconsins," "Michigans," "Missouris," thus indicating
the locality whence they come. These are also subdivided into classes according to the time of year they are killed,
which has an important bearing on their value. Thus there are western "reds" and "grays," the
former being skins taken in summer, generally thick and covered with short red hair, whereas, the latter, coming
from animals killed in winter, are usually thin with an abundance of long thick hair. It is a fact well known to
the experienced leather merchant, that the most valuable skins come from the warm and even the tropical regions,
where the animals have thick skins and thin hair, and value is therefore estimated according to the climate.
It is for this reason that the South American importations are so highly prized. Skins are shipped to New York
from nearly every port between Texas and the Amazon, and are invariably named from the place of export. For instance
the "mosquitos" (as they are called,) come from that part of Central America known as the "Mosquito
coast," these skins when dressed often present a spotted appearance, very similar to the marks left on those
who have had small pox, and these "pits," while they do not impair the serviceable quality of the leather,
detract much from its beauty. It may be added that while deer skins are chiefly used in the manufacture of gloves,
some of them are wrought into other channels of trade, among which is the manufacture of piano leather; this leather
is used on the little hammers which form a part of the piano movement, and George H. Taylor of Gloversville is
its largest manufacturer in Fulton county.
Sheep and lamb skins, both domestic and imported, enter into the manufacture of gloves and mittens in greater quantities
at the present time than any others. Through the various modes of tanning and coloring, these skins can be made
into so many different grades and qualities of leather, that they reach high importance to the manufacturer. They
are brought from almost every portion of the world, many of the domestics being shipped to Fulton county from distributing
points in the west, such as Chicago, Cincinnati, and St. Louis. The imported skins on the other hand come under
the name of "fleshers," which means skins that have been split. The flesh side, after the grain has been
removed, being used for bindings. These "fleshers" are chiefly imported from England, Ireland and France.
The assertion is made that the best leather from sheep skins is produced from the coarse wooled animal, as they
possess the finest grain. Here again, the same rule applies as in the case of deer skins, "the coarser the
hair the finer the grain." We frequently find California, Mexican and sometimes Australian sheep skins in
the market, but their quality is not deemed first class. Cape of Good Hope sheep skins were once quite extensively
used, but only a limited number find their way here at present The mocho sheep, which abounds in Arabia, Abyssinia
and the head waters of the Nile, finds its way to Fulton county from Port Said, and is becoming a favorite with
fine glove manufacturers. A description of the process employed to change this skin into leather suitable for gloves
will be found in another portion of this work. The largest manufacturers of mocho skins in this country at the
present time is the Northrup Glove Manufacturing company of Johnstown. There are also a number of leather dressers
in Fulton county who are making a clever imitation of mocho leather from domestic lamb and sheep skins.
The antelope skin also holds high importance, and at one time the annual production of "domestic antelope"
hides was about 80,000 pounds. This, however, has greatly diminished and only a fractional part of the quantity
once used is now brought hither, and yet they afford an excellent leather, in many respects equal to buckskin,
for they are small and light, also very soft and tenacious, resembling indeed the celebrated chamois. The skin
of the African antelope is also valuable, and it was from this variety that the first "dongola" shoe
leather was made; but it is too tight and unyielding for gloves.
The South American water hog skin is extensively used. A familiar variety of this skin is known as the "carpincho,"
and was first dressed by Jonathan Ricketts, of Johnstown, who virtually controlled the market for two or three
years. He succeeded in tanning them so as to render a leather equal to buckskin. Mr. Ricketts introduced these
skins to Fulton county manufacturers, who at once saw their value and they were subsequently imported and tanned
with great success. Daniel Hays, of Gloversville, was among the first to take them up and still continues to manufacture
them. The domestic hog skin, however, is of no value for gloves, as it produces a hard, brittle and unyielding
leather, which one well known manufacturer neatly said, is "fit for nothing but shingles." It is a singular
fact that the skin of those animals with the uncloven hoof or claw foot (with the exception of the horse and South
American water hog) is unsuited for gloves, while the skin of animals with the split hoof, such as the deer, sheep,
antelope and calf make excellent glove leather.
The Russian colt skin is used for ladies' gloves, while dog skins are extensively used in the manufacture of driving
Large quantities of Jersey cloth and knit goods enter into the manufacture of the cheaper grades of gloves and
mittens and this feature of the industry is constantly increasing.
Dressing and Tanning the Skins. - Radical changes have taken place in many features of the tanning process during
the past fifteen or twenty years. Many of the earlier glove makers dressed and tanned their own leather, and a
number of the leading manufacturers still continue this custom, as it insures a uniform quality for their goods
and also saves them the tanner's profit. Among these may be mentioned Daniel Hays, Littauer Brothers, and John
C. Allen, of Gloversville, and the Northrup Glove Manufacturing Company, of Johnstown. Tanning and dressing skins,
however, has become a distinct and separate feature of the industry and there are at present more than thirty five
leather manufacturers in Fulton county, who have thus invested each from five to forty thousand dollars.
A large share of the buck and sheep skins dressed in Fulton county is shipped to other parts of the country to
be used by shoe and saddlery manufacturers and also to makers of piano leather. Millions of dollars worth of shoe
leather is also manufactured from sheep, calf, cow and kangaroo skins at Gloversville and Johnstown, all of which
finds a market in the large shoe manufacturing centres. Much of this leather goes to Boston and Eastern Massachusetts,
while in two or three cases the Eastern dealers and commission merchants have their leather manufactured in Gloversville
Such remarkable progress has been made in the manufacture of sheep and lamb skins that the great majority of the
gloves made from these skins are termed "kid gloves." In fact the term "domestic or imported kid"
is taken literally by the trade as meaning sheep or lamb skins treated with the kid dressing. Until recently the
imported "kid skins" have been considered superior to those manufactured in this country, as they come
largely from Germany, where a greater amount of time is consumed in dressing and tanning, but within the past few
years rapid strides have been made by the Fulton county manufacturers in dressing "kid leather" from
sheep and lamb skins, and many experts now claim that the leather made here is in every respect equal to that from
abroad. One obstacle in the way has been the fact that the foreign manufacturers have controlled the market on
the sheep skins and have thus drawn to England, Germany and France the choicest skins in the world. Competition
and an increased local demand will undoubtedly create a new market for these skins and American manufacturers may
hope to be placed upon an equal footing with those in Europe.
The sheep and lamb skins come to Fulton county in what is known as a "salt pickle," applied after the
wool has been removed. As already stated the greater share of "domestics" are brought here from the West,
where they are shorn of their wool, and folded together in bundles. When received at the mill they are first thoroughly
"drenched," or washed in water to remove the salt and extract the "pickle" as effectually as
possible. It is then customary to place them in an alum bath for about twelve hours, after which they are staked.
This consists of stretching or drawing the skin over a thin, round faced iron attached to a stationary, upright
piece of wood about the height of a man's knee. The skins are drawn over this, partly by the hand and partly by
the knee of the workman, and the operation is generally termed "knee staking." "Arm staking"
is a similar process often repeated in the dressing of leather, particularly in the glove factories.
In this operation the workman has a similar piece of iron, but it is attached to a section of hard wood that fits
into the arm pit, and thus affords a pressure direct from the shoulder. The skins are taken from the staking rooms
and dried. This is accomplished either in the open air, or in artificially heated rooms according to the nature
of the skin and the time necessary to dry it. They are then washed again, slaked and dried with much care. It is
customary at this stage of the process to sort the skins with regard to size and quality and then place them in
the egg bath. This is composed of the yolks of eggs, prepared by mixing ten parts of salt with ninety parts of
egg yolk. Many thousand dozens of eggs are thus used annually - one Johnstown firm alone, consuming two car loads,
or about 15,000 dozen in one season. The skins are revolved in a drum until the egg yolk is thoroughly worked into
every pore, which makes them soft and pliable. They are then ready to color and are placed with the flesh side
down on zinc or lead tables, and the dye spread over them with brushes. The coloring is made of various pigments,
among them redwood, lignum vitae, woodcitron, Brazil bark and many other coloring materials, according to the shade
desired. A mordant, consisting of alum, copperas and blue vitriol is then washed over them to set the color. They
are then thoroughly dried, afterwards dampened again, and rolled up in parcels, with the flesh side out, and stored
away to season, which has the effect of rendering every portion of them equally flexible and soft. They are then
ready for "mooning" process, sometimes called "shaving." This consists in taking the superfluous
particles of flesh and skin from the leather, which renders it uniform in thickness and suitable for the glove
cutter. It is accomplished with a thin, round, sharp steel knife, set at a slight angle, having a hole in the centre
to which a movable handle is attached. The workman, who must be an expert, then grasps the skin, the upper end
of which is fastened to horizontal bars arranged for the purpose, and draws his sharp knife deftly over the flesh
side, leaving it smooth and soft. The skins are usually run over a swiftly revolving padded wheel, which polishes
and softens the leather. Some of the poorer skins are not colored, but allowed to remain in the white and used
Jonathan Ricketts dressed sheep skins in 1841 and was probably the first in the county to engage in that branch
of the business to any extent. It is claimed by some, however, that Christian G. Bach, who came from Germany in
1836, milled the first sheep skins in the county.
In milling oil dressed sheep and buckskin the process is somewhat different. The skins are first put into the stocks
after coming from the beam house, and having been oiled, dressed and milled, they are returned to be "scud."
This consists in taking off any grain that may have been left on them when the skins were first frized. The next
step in the process is to return the skins to the mill where they are scoured. This includes placing the skins
in vats filled with a liquor made of soda ash, where they remain until the grease is removed, when they are again
placed in the stocks where the remaining grease is worked out with water. They are dried and scoured several times
until all possibility of grease remaining in them is removed. They are then staked and finished, put through the
splitting machine and are ready for the glove cutter. From two to five months is required to dress buckskin, and
from four to six weeks for oil dressed sheep skin. In dressing grained leather the hides are received in the raw
state, and include calf, horse, cow, hog, goat and sheep skins. They are first limed and placed in the vats where
they remain about four weeks. At the end of that time they are sufficiently limed to enable the beam men to remove
the hair or wool. The flesh adhering to the skins is usually removed in the large mills by a Hemingway fleshing
machine. The skins then go to the drenches, where the lime is removed. They are then tanned in salt, alum and gabbier.
A portion of the stock is egged, and after being dried is "broken out" on a breaker or power stake, after
which the skins are drummed and are then ready for the market. Another portion of the skins pass through a fat
liquor process, and after being dried are treated in a similar manner to those that are egg tanned. Fish, lard
and neats foot oil enter largely into this process. Deer skins are sometimes rubbed with dry ochre or smoked, as
may be desired. Aaron Simmons, who has been connected with the leather business since 1845, is said to have introduced
the smoking of skins. It is accomblished by placing several hundred of them on racks in a smoke house, and allowing
the smoke from a slow fire to settle upon them. The skins are hung out in the air seven or eight times during the
process and they require much attention and frequent handling. It has been truthfully said it requires years of
experience to make one familiar with the many interesting and important features of the leather business.
In the foregoing review of the origin, progress and development of the county's industry an attempt has only been
made to give the reader a general idea of its character and scope. Were it indeed necessary to treat each feature
of the industry in minute detail, our whole volume would be required for the task.