Inside Horween Leather | A Continuous Lean.

Inside Horween Leather

Oct 21st, 2010 | Categories: Chicago, Factory Tour, Footwear, Made in the USA | by Michael Williams

This past summer I took a trip to visit the Horween tannery in Chicago. The purpose of the trip was to document the process of making shell cordovan for Wolverine. (Full disclosure, Wolverine is a client of my marketing firm Paul + Williams.) The cordovan would eventually be used in the making of the newly released Wolverine 1000 Mile 721LTD boots. To be able to go out there, see the Horween plant and document everything was really an amazing experience. To follow the process of making these special (and damn-good-looking in my totally-unbiased-opinion) boots was definitely the highlight of my summer and something I am really proud to have been a part of. While the cameras were rolling I tagged along shooting hundreds of photos of Horween, which up until now, have been sitting in a folder on my computer. With the boots just landing in stores I feel like it is time to show you all some of my favorites from Horween. (I also have a photo series from the factory where the boots were made. Standy by for that.) I can say for certain that the legend of Horween is 100% real and was something experienced first hand with them this summer in Chicago. You’d be hard pressed to find better people. They remind me of the folks back home in Ohio — salt of the earth.

Comments: 27

27 Comments to “Inside Horween Leather”

  1. pat
    on Oct 21st, 2010
    @ 2:18 AM

    great pictures .even if they’re clients of yours……. it’s a good post

  2. TMH
    on Oct 21st, 2010
    @ 3:17 AM

    For Us By US. Looking forward to seeing more.

  3. Nick Gill
    on Oct 21st, 2010
    @ 5:07 AM

    Love it, love it. Some of the best grime I’ve ever seen! I need help. Great grime though!

  4. Ramalhoni
    on Oct 21st, 2010
    @ 7:35 AM

    Beautiful pics… we also have some great tanneries here in Portugal, but they lack the old world look that this pics have, they’re all impersonal and modern looking.
    Some things are worth keeping they way they were!!!…..
    Ps: I’ve been meaning to get for my office one of those steel desks … that one is really nice..

  5. steven wade
    on Oct 21st, 2010
    @ 8:50 AM

    i live so close to this place and pass by it often, it’s nice to see the inside. great pictures.

  6. Robert
    on Oct 21st, 2010
    @ 8:52 AM

    …love seeing craftsmanship in action. Great post.

  7. AB
    on Oct 21st, 2010
    @ 10:13 AM

    What did it smell like in there?

  8. ThatGuy
    on Oct 21st, 2010
    @ 10:38 AM

    Reminds me of Kinky Boots.

  9. Great.Lakes
    on Oct 21st, 2010
    @ 11:11 AM

    Man, I have such a connection & love of the Great Lakes region & it’s industrious people.

    They are some great photos coming out of the 721LTD’s.

    Are the rest of the boots in the Wolverine line made of Horween Chromexcel?

  10. Noah
    on Oct 21st, 2010
    @ 11:21 AM

    I live in Chicago and run a store where we actually carry the 721 boot (as well as other 1000 mile boots) and its amazing how few people here in Chicago know what Horween is let alone that some of the best leather comes from their hometown. Here we are in a sports town and nobody even knows that the NFL pigsking is created in their backyard. Posts like this are so important and informative.

    The pics are great. They really make you pine for a time when things were truly done by hand… and done well. Horween is an american institution.

  11. JonIndia™
    on Oct 21st, 2010
    @ 11:28 AM

    pictures look crisp. i like the color too, not too over-edited.

  12. Sam C
    on Oct 21st, 2010
    @ 11:50 AM

    Love that picture of the tanker desk

  13. CSP
    on Oct 21st, 2010
    @ 1:28 PM

    Great post and pictures. I’ve seen those new boots, and they look great, but with such a limited run, they are just too expensive to me. However, I do own a pair of Red Wings made with Horween leather — excellent boots that should last my lifetime.

  14. Mike
    on Oct 21st, 2010
    @ 3:07 PM

    American Expeditionary Forces, France, 1918 — that’s all the endorsement you need. Great post.

  15. JD
    on Oct 21st, 2010
    @ 3:34 PM

    Glad to see appreciation for Horween. I pass by their riverside location often, usually a little queasy, as I regularly dry-heave in the summer heat when the tannery’s stench is redolent of rotting barbecue. At least they’re making something of quality.

  16. Sinuhe
    on Oct 21st, 2010
    @ 3:36 PM

    Your depth and variety of pictures will someday make a great book on our favorite subject.

  17. A.G.
    on Oct 21st, 2010
    @ 9:01 PM

    Talk about the real thing; I live in Pittsburgh where we know a little about genuine items. Fortunately there is a shoe store here that carries the 721s. I’ll be there on Saturday to try them on! Thanks for a great post.

  18. doane
    on Oct 21st, 2010
    @ 10:07 PM

    The pic with all the framed Superbowl balls is lights out.

  19. jdg
    on Oct 22nd, 2010
    @ 10:42 AM

    I’m in Detroit and a bit obsessed with vintage work stuff made here (finck’s, carhartt, etc.) I was eager to get my hands on these 1000 mile boots from GR-based Wolverine. They are beautiful boots but I have to say I’ve been pretty disappointed. I bought two pair of originals in Horween Chromexcel, in rust and black. The rust, in particular, has required a lot of maintenance and gets really orange without frequent polishing. I wore the black for several weeks w/o cat’s paws just to get a sense of the overall durability (now, I do put my boots through a lot of work) but the right sole wore through in a matter of days. I’ve tried to get in touch with someone at Wolverine about their expectations for the soles, but no one has responded to my e-mails.

    In contrast, my Red Wing 9011s (same look and price point as the 1000 milers) have stood up much better to general wear. The leather (featherstone) uppers get scuffed but don’t have the dye problems I’ve seen with the Wolverines. I want to like the Wolverines, and if they performed even adequately I’d be singing their praises. but I can’t help but feel this collection is intended for coastal workwear dandies and not guys (and gals) who are actually going to put the leather on the pavement.

  20. Ryan
    on Oct 22nd, 2010
    @ 1:06 PM

    The scent of the Horween tannery is unreal. Pallets of horse and calf hide enter the building at the lower level– the scent is unbearable for some. The upper levels have a scent worth bottling, especially the drying rooms and top floor where piles of cordovan condition for months. An amazing experience, thank you MW for this post.

  21. Nick Horween
    on Oct 22nd, 2010
    @ 1:11 PM


    re: rust – As a general statement red dyes and pigments are much less light- and colorfast than other colors. If you’ve been wearing the boots in a lot of sunlight or wet conditions, it’s not unusual for the red to fade out a bit, which would leave you with more of an orange cast. You can try some darker polish to knock down the orange

    re: soles – Unless you drag your right foot against the ground, that’s weird. It sounds like an issue with that particular bottom, which wouldn’t really be apparent until you put the boot through some wear. I’ve worn these boots quite a bit and didn’t have an issue at all.

    re: 9011s – this is a great boot, and I can’t speak for who the collection was intended for. I can say, the leather on the 1000 miles can take a beating.

  22. jdg
    on Oct 22nd, 2010
    @ 1:40 PM

    Nick, just to show what I’m talking about, here’s a phone pic of that sole. I probably should have had cat’s paws put on there, but honestly I was intrigued by the whole “1000 mile” branding and wanted to put that to the test of my ordinary day-to-day tramping around. As for the rust leather, it’s not just an orange cast. They actually turned an orange from the toes up through the laces that I have to fight every few days with polish.

    I’m not some Red Wing agent here to disparage Wolverine. I really wanted to love these boots: I grew up not far from where they’re made. But I’ve seen Wolverine giving these boots aware to heritage bloggers all over the net to rave reviews (and, of course, who doesn’t like free $300 boots?) and long before anyone wrote about them I shelled out full price for each pair (because of my commitment to local, quality-built products) and I’ve had major gripes about each pair. Sure, they make great Heritage Porn, but I expect more out of a pair of $300 boots than just looking great. And that’s something my 9011s have given me in over a year of wear.

  23. Dave
    on Oct 22nd, 2010
    @ 1:46 PM

    Love that last shot of the SB footballs.

  24. frank pepe
    on Oct 22nd, 2010
    @ 3:14 PM

    appreciate the full disclosure

  25. adease
    on Oct 26th, 2010
    @ 1:02 PM

    Nick, I still have to find a way to visit you guys real soon. Great post MW.

  26. Nina Thomas
    on Oct 26th, 2010
    @ 6:04 PM

    All this talk of heritage work boots, I must get a pair made with Horween leather…for my husband!

  27. Nina Thomas
    on Nov 5th, 2010
    @ 4:02 PM

    Not sure if they are crafted of Horween leather, but they sure are sweet; Whites boots from Imogene and Willie in Nashville and made in America.