The History of Leather: How it Became a Boot Mainstay

Using leather to make cowboy boots may seem completely normal nowadays, but have you ever wondered about how this primitive material became used to make some of the most luxurious types of boots? The history of leather tanning is very long and quite fascinating, and you might even be amazed at how it became used in your favorite cowboy boot styles.

Earliest History

When man first began hunting animals, these ancient peoples would make it a point to use every part of the animal's body so to not let anything go to waste. This meat eating the meat, conserving the bones for tools and even tanning the hide in order to make the earliest forms of leather. While man would eventually use the leather hide as clothing, these first peoples mainly used it to create tents to protect them from the rain due to the material's waterproof properties. Later, this led to making crude clothing and the first versions of sandals out of the leather.

Rise of Civilization

Some of the first mentions of leather materials in history were seen on Egyptian cave paintings in 5000 B.C. The first leather tanning process was attributed to the ancient Greeks around 500 B.C., and it involved using leaves and tree barks soaked in water to create an early type of vegetable-tanned leather. While the Greeks, Egyptians and Romans didn't make boots out of their leather, they did create clothing, military equipment and more advanced styles of sandals.

18th and 19th Century History

Leather continued on as one of the most versatile materials for many centuries, until industrialization began in the early 18th century. This led to a new need for leather to use in machinery belts, automobile interiors and, eventually, more stylish types of footwear. The vegetable-tanned leather that had been used for hundreds of years was far too stiff for these types of uses, so chrome-tanned leather was created using chromium salt and more sophisticated tanning mechanisms.

Development of the Cowboy Boot

It's difficult to say exactly when the cowboy boot was first created, but it was likely born out of necessity when cowboys started to drive cattle from Texas to Kansas in the late 1860s. They initially wore Wellingtons, a type of leather riding boot that was popular during the Civil War for its comfort and leg protection, but they weren't  quite as durable as long days spent herding cattle would require. Eventually, the cowboy boot as we know it today was born from this Wellington boot.

While the earliest types of cowboy boots were very simple and utilitarian, Hollywood actors in Western films such as Roy Rogers and Gene Autry made them more decorative and flashy. Once cowboy boots began making appearances in films, makers decided to add hand-tooled designs, embossing and inlays using different leather colors that would really stand out on screen.

The story of leather in boot-making is long and fascinating, and owning a pair of leather cowboy boots today is like owning a piece of history. Shop Langston's expansive selection of leather cowboy boots for men and women from top brands like Ariat, Justin and many others.