Peabody Leatherworkers Museum History

Come see why Peabody, Massachusetts was

“The Leather Capital of the World!”

Peabody Leatherworkers Museum

When the first settlers of Peabody arrived, local Native Americans had been producing leather in the area for years. Peabody had an abundant supply of fresh running water, which was essential in the tanning process. The new settlers traded with the Native Americans and began using Peabody’s rivers as a source for their tanneries.  By 1770, the leather making industry was growing and the treasurer of Danvers (present day Peabody), granted seals to local tanners. By 1855, there were 27 tanneries in South Danvers and 24 currying establishments.

The Civil War had initially caused a depression in the tanning industry. However, the need for leather production became a demand once more thanks to the booming shoe factories in nearby Lynn.  By 1870, Peabody was one of the leading producers of leather in the area. In 1894, Arthur C. Lawrence established his A. C. Lawrence Leather Company.  It employed thousands of workers and secured the city’s place in history as the largest manufacturer of calf and sheep skins in the world, earning Peabody the title of “Leather Capital of the World.”  The increase of immigration in the early 1900s brought thousands of new leather workers into the city of Peabody.  By 1910, immigrants from 21 different countries were living in the city.  By 1914, Peabody and Philadelphia were the largest leather producing cities on the east coast.  In 1919, Peabody was recognized as the world’s largest producer of leather, and was widely referred to as “The Leather City.” At this time, there were 91 establishments dedicated to the production and processing of leather.

The success of the leather industry in Peabody flourished until the mid to late 1900s.  Residents and employees became increasingly concerned with harmful chemicals that affected both the water supply and the health of the leather workers.  Because the factories were not able to acclimate to new costly environmental standards, they gradually began to shut down.  By the 1970s, most of the remaining companies moved overseas, while others closed due to increasing state and federal environmental regulations.   Travel Leather Co. is the last remaining leather tannery in Peabody.

Help preserve the legacy of George Peabody and the the history of our great city. We accept donations of all shapes and size. 
Send us an email if you’d like to learn more or mail your check to: 205 Washington Street, Peabody, MA 01960