So, the top ten leather scientists of all time. Choosing a ‘best’ list is not easy, in fact it’s difficult and definitely a subjective analysis that depends on a myriad of factors, probably mostly to do with personal influence rather than objective analysis: a strange thing for a scientist to say.
Actually, I’m going to cheat, and have three top-ten lists, one from the pre 1940s, table 1, one for the 1940-1970s, table 2, and one post 1970, table 3. Obviously there will be some overlap, but leather science seems to divide neatly down these lines: the first was the developmental stage of leather science; the second, to my mind, the ‘golden’ age of leather science and the third period, especially the 80s/90s onwards, a time when leather science went through radical change, with a regeneration of ideas brought on by the external pressures of environmental control and global competition.

Pre 1940
Let’s start with the ‘father’ of leather chemistry Prof Henry Richardson Procter.1 If you have been a member of the SLTC, or indeed know anything about leather chemistry, Procter is probably the one name you will know. Born in North Shields, England, in 1848, he was the son of a tanner and entered the industry straight from school, staying on Tyneside until 1891, when he was invited to take up the post of principal at the newly formed Yorkshire College, in Leeds. He was said to be a thorough man of science, an eager and fruitful investigator, and an excellent teacher. This led to students coming from all over the world to Yorkshire College. During this time he wrote a number of textbooks on leather technology which are still considered to be standards.
Prof Douglas McCandlish.2 A student at Yorkshire College in 1902, he worked with the father of leather chemistry H R Procter in Leeds, during which time he and Procter developed many of the chemical analyses used today in the leather industry, including estimation of ammonia in used lime liquors, analysis of single-bath chrome liquors, determination of alkaline sulphides, and the estimation of sulphides in lime liquors. He was appointed to the Chair of Leather Industries at Leeds University from 1919 until his retirement in 1949. He also worked with Wilson at Gallun & Sons in Milwaukee, USA.
Louis Meunier,3 a name many may not have heard, but a very important person in the foundation of the IULTCS. Born in France in 1870, he came to leather chemistry via dyeing, and was appointed the first head of the French Leather School in Lyon, a post he held from 1921-1943, when he was succeeded by another great French leather chemist Prof P Chambard. Meunier was instrumental in the foundation of the IALTC, the forerunner of the IULTCS in the early part of the 20th century. It could be argued that without such men, the whole IULTCS ideals would not have been developed.
Prof Edmund Stiasny,4 like many of the founding fathers of the leather industry he was an inorganic chemist by training. In his PhD he investigated the constitution of chromium salts under the tutelage of Prof Werner at the University of Zurich. In 1909 he was welcomed at Leeds University’s Leather Industries Department, and succeeded to the vacant chair when Procter retired in 1913. His ‘discovery’ of the first syntans was a world event in 1913, and is what Stiasny is probably best remembered for. However he did much, and I would suggest more interesting, work on the composition of ‘old limes’, chrome tanning and the qualitative detection of vegetable tannins. After the ‘Great War’, in which he fought, he was the first professor at the Institut fur Gerbereichemie, and published his ‘magnum opus’ – the comprehensive monograph ‘Gerbereichemie’  – in 1931. He also worked closely with Gustavson after the second world war, and together they published a number of papers on the chemistry of chromium. As one person in Stiasny’s obituary says: ‘As I watch the chrome tanning dressing drum turn, their rhythm brings back the memories of Edmund Stiasny.’ What a lovely way to be remembered.
John Arthur Wilson5 was to enter the leather industry, and many of us do, unintentionally and unlike many of the founding fathers he had no formal university education but was a naturally gifted chemist. He spent one year at university in New York before getting married and ‘speeding to Milwaukee’. There he came across a forward-looking tanner Arthur Gallun, who gave him a job in the company’s laboratory. Within a few months Wilson had made so many improvements to the process that Gallun sent him, and his wife, to work with Procter at Leeds. It was there that Procter and Wilson worked upon the problems of gelatine swelling in the presence of acid and neutral electrolytes, the first application of Donnan membrane theory outside Professor Donnan’s own laboratory.
Returning to Gallun’s tannery he became chief chemist and heavily involved in the American Leather Chemists Association, becoming president in 1921. He wrote a number of papers with his wife on the
theory of colloids, and wrote extensively on leather science matters, which culminated in his book ‘Modern Practice in Leather Manufacture’, published in 1941, two years before his death. He, and his work, are remembered in the John Arthur Wilson Memorial Lecture given each year at the ALCA annual conference.
Dorothy Jordan Lloyd6 began what has turned into a backbone of women leather scientists running down the spine of the leather industry. Other names who followed her included Mary Dempsey, Joanne Bowes, Clara Deasy, Betty Haines, Jean Tancous, Eleanor Brown, Catherine Money and Maryann Taylor.
Jordan Lloyd was born in 1889, the daughter and grand-daughter of two prominent surgeons in Birmingham, England. It would appear natural that her early studies at Newnham College, Cambridge, were in zoology, later physiological and then physico-chemical studies of muscle. She assumed the mantle of director of British Leather Manufacturers Research Association (BLMRA) in 1927, having joined at its formation in 1921 under the first director Dr Robert Pickard, and remained at BLMRA for the rest of her life, until 1946.
Her greatest achievement, to my mind, was being the first woman to make an ascent and decent of the Eiger mountain in one day (1928). However, under her guidance the BLMRA became a leading research institution and not just in leather chemistry, but medicinal and collegenic chemistries. She steered it through the difficult days of the Great Depression of the 1930s, and dislocation during the war. She also oversaw, and indeed wrote a number of chapters of ‘Progress in Leather Science’, a project she, sadly, didn’t see finished.


Mieth Maeser7 is perhaps not a name to come to the top of the list in leather chemistry, and indeed he was a leather physicist really. Probably best remembered for his role of ALCA’s physical and mechanical properties committee, he developed the Maeser waterproof test, a method still used to measure the waterproofness of leather, especially leather for military boots. He developed the idea of a flexing machine that actually mimicked the boot movement, which I know from personal experience causes great problems for anyone wishing to develop a waterproof leather, even with today’s advances in chemistry. But he deserves a place in the top echelons of leather scientists because of his application of science to leather technology.
The same can be said of Dr R Mitton, who, with Axel Landmann and other co-workers, worked at BLMRA in the 1960s. Read practically any JSLTC from that period and you’ll find wonderful statistically planned experiments which extracted the maximum amount of information out of the minimum number of experiments. Today’s proponents of leather science would do well to follow Mitton’s examples.
Dr Gustavson8 was one of the creators of the modern leather chemistry. For 50 years, until Prof Covington came along and questioned Gustavson’s work on chromium chemistry, his theories were used as the basis for understanding chrome tanning. Hundreds of students were taught about his seminal papers from the 1950s. He was lucky enough to have been born Swedish, which meant that in the 1920s he could read first-hand the work of Niels Bjerrum’s treatise on the amphoteric nature of amino acids. This led ‘Gus’ to an explanation of the binding of chrome complexes to the acidic groups of collagen. He also had a background in working in tanneries and became head of the Swedish tanning research institute. His books ‘The Chemistry & Reactivity of Collagen’ and ‘The Chemistry of the Tanning Process’ remain comprehensive, if somewhat dated, treatises on many current leather scientists’ bookshelves.
Dr Humberto Giovambattista9 came from Argentina and was a pioneer of the leather industry in that country. With a doctorate in chemistry, he was asked to organise a leather section at the Laboratory for Testing Materials and Technological Research in 1943. Such was his organisational skills that the faculty and the activities of the laboratory formed the basis of the present Argentine Leather Research Centre (CITEC) which was created by Dr Giovambattista in 1963. He remained its first director until 1973 and continued as an advisor until his death in 1987. He was also heavily involved in a multinational project for the improvement of leather technology in South America. Dr Alberto Sofia, recently retired director of CITEC, commented that Dr Giovambattista was at the top of his list of scientists who had influenced his career.

Post 1970

The need to find environmentally friendly ways of leather production drove the research of the late 20th century, and notable proponents of this include Prof Tony Covington in the UK, Catherine Money at CSIRO in Australia and Prof Jaume Cot, CSIC in Spain.
Catherine Money10 in her 1991 J A Wilson Memorial lecture stated that: ‘in 1941 Wilson wrote: ‘Some communities require the screening of beamhouse sewage…it seems likely that the day will come when all tanners will be required to treat their sewage before running it to the sewers. Fifty years later that day has come…’ Much of the work she did revolved around the tannery waste minimisation, whether it was salt reduction programmes in India, direct chrome liquor recycling, or being involved with one of the first hair-save liming processes, Sirolime. She was also an advocate of utilising tannery waste, with projects ranging from the irrigation of land with treated tannery waste, to the use of hair as a fertiliser.

The future

Were these ten scientists who, to my mind, have promoted leather science, the ‘best?’ In their particular field, maybe, but therein lies the problem; leather is such a vast field encompassing all the major sciences, and some minor ones as well, that anyone could define the parameters differently, and come up with another ten names.
‘To promote the advancement of chemistry and other sciences, especially in regard to their application to problems confronting the leather industry.’ In the 1920s J A Wilson persuaded the ALCA to expand article II of the association to include this statement, and looking at the names briefly discussed above, I would suggest that is exactly what each of them has strived to do over the 150 years this review covers.
But will this ethos continue? Where does leather science go from here? Is there a paucity of excellent leather scientists? Some, from outside the profession suggest that leather science isn’t a ‘real’ science at all, and funding could suffer. Indeed, Prof Covington quipped recently that he knew four professors of leather science…and three of them were him, which as he is retiring leaves a huge gap in the field. As he says in the preface to his book ‘Tanning Chemistry: The Science of Leather’: ‘the future of leather science is uncertain. There are very few of us leather scientists around. Moreover, with the current disinclination towards financing science, especially applied science…it seems unlikely that leather science will command the attention of future practitioners in the field.’
Another leather industry stalwart recently emailed me bemoaning that: ‘not too many of my contemporaries [are] involved any more.’ I know how he feels. Maybe I am living in the past – recent or distant – and a bright future for leather science lies with the Chinese institutions, and possibly Indian institutions, that so eruditely produce papers for JSLTC, once the home of Mitton, Sykes and Covington. I await the IULTCS Congress in Beijing with interest, to see whether the future of leather science is indeed bright.


Table 1:
Leather Scientists Pre 1940

Henry Richardson Procter
Douglas McCandlish
Louis Meunier
John Arthur Wilson
Mieth Maeser
Fred O’Flaherty
Edmund Stiasny
A Seymour Jones
David Woodroffe
Dorothy Jordan-Lloyd

Table 2:
Leather Scientists 1940-1970

Joanne Bowes
R Mitton
Robert L Sykes
Eckhart Heidemann
Willi Pauckner
Mary Dempsey
Robert Lollar
Humberto Giovambattista
Axel Landmann
K Gustavson

Table 3:
Leather Scientists Post 1970

Heinz-Peter Germann
Anthony D Covington
Samir Das Gupta
T Ramasami
David Bailey
Karl-Heinz Munz
Eleanor M Brown
Catherine Money
Jaume Cot
Marc Folachier