Texas is known for its rodeos and cowboy boots, neither of which would be the same without leather. Leather has ingrained itself into the culture of Texas, making it practically impossible to envision cattle country without leather goods. Not only has leather shaped Texas’ fashion, but it has also helped boost local economies. The leathermaking industry has a long history in Texas and an excellent example of this is Yoakum, Texas.
Yoakum is the self-proclaimed “Leather Capital of the World” and “Land of Leather,” capitalizing on the town’s history of leather making that can be traced back to 1919, when Phillip Welhausen and William Green opened a small tannery called the Texas Hide & Leather Company. Two years later, the company expanded, creating two new divisions that allowed them to manufacture leather goods. This was just the beginning, and they quickly outgrew their original building, requiring a second space to be built.
In 1923, Welhausen’s nephew, C.C Welhausen, became the general manager. In addition to changing the name to Texas Leather & Manufacturing Company, the younger Welhausen expanded the line of products they created and built a third building to accommodate their rapid growth. The company primarily produced harnesses, whips, saddles, and horse collars. With its saddlery lines stable, it began expanding into handbags, billfolds, and novelty goods. In addition to the company’s consistent growth, it was frequently being renamed. In 1929, the company was reorganized under the name Texas Tanning & Manufacturing Company before eventually becoming known as The Tex Tan Welhausen Company. In 1951, the company was sold to Tandy Corporation where it would continue to build its leathermaking reputation. Even with the changing names, the business continued to do grow.
The Welhausen’s leather plant was the first in Yoakum and set the stage for a robust leathermaking community to take root in this small town. Welhausen’s leathermaking expertise attracted people searching for steady work to Yoakum. To this day, there are still several leathermaking companies in Yoakum and the town continues to celebrate its leathermaking history.
Previously, the town would throw an annual “Land of Leather Days” celebration every February drawing crowds of people excited to tour the town’s leathermaking plants, shop for new leather products, and participate in the Chili Appreciation Society International’s annual chili cook off. In 2010, due to financial strain, the festival was merged with the Tom Tom Festival which happens annually the first week of June. If you’re in the area and want to learn more, the Yoakum’s Heritage Museum tells the story of Texas’ “Leather Capital” and has a leather room dedicated to the town’s leathermaking legacy.