Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 41.djvu/365

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

challenged upon it, hastening the decay of the vats and boxes, and giving an air of desolation to the tannery. But despite all this crudeness, as Bolles has said, and investigation tends to confirm, in this way throughout New England and the Middle States, leather, probably equal to that of any European country except England, was made even before the separation, to an extent more nearly approaching a sufficiency than any other article.

As already noted, the tanner owes more to the mechanic and machinist than to the chemist. In 1793 Deyeux, a French chemist, discovered that tannin was a peculiar body, and two years later Seguin proved that it was the active principle demanded in the operation of tanning. This led to something of a study of the properties of tannin and its distribution. In 1801 Banks, an English chemist, found that it was contained in terra japonica or catechu, and since then the list from which it can be extracted, and profitably, too, has been greatly enlarged. The use of liquor containing this active principle of hemlock or oak bark, the "ooze," as it is called, was suggested in England in 1759, but it was first rendered practically successful by Fay in 1790, and Seguin, of France, in 1795. The English had rendered their leather flexible by giving it a thorough beating with hammers by hand. Switzerland, as early as 1800, used water-power hammers, and subsequently replaced them with stamps. Berendorf, of Paris, in 1842, invented a pressing stamp, afterward supplemented by Harvey and Devergue with a roller which accomplished the same thing by passing it back and forth over the leather.

These advances in Europe were not duplicated in the industry in this country. They had their counterparts here, however, and in the end the progress of the Americans, which is measured in this case by the shortening of the operations and the cheapening of the product, kept pace with their craftsmen across the water. Accidents are said to play an important part in the development of any industry. Analyses of these incidents, however, usually show that the accident lay simply in the fact that there happened to be an observing man, of suggestive mind and quick application, about when the occurrence took place. Barrels full of apples probably had fallen before the historic one caught the eye of a Newton. The steam of the tea-kettle might be making music today without any further results had not fertile-minded Watts, or his double, heard it and seen it. In the same way these forward steps in the making of leather came from a combination of ordinary incidents and practical men who saw in them suggestions for better things. One of the pioneers in bringing about these changes in this country was Colonel William Edwards. He built a tannery at Northampton, Mass., about 1790, selecting the