Industry: Cheboygan, MI - Phister & Vogel Leather Company
The tannery of the Pfister and Vogel Leather Company was constructed in 1892 and covered 25 acres of land. The land was given to the company as an incentive to encourage the development of a tannery here – something which had been the goal of Cheboyganites for quite some time prior.
The plant was comprised of dozens of buildings, everything from the buildings actually needed for the production of leather from hides to a company store, hospital, boarding houses, and the ubiquitous nearby saloon.
The Pfister and Vogel Leather Company was based out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and their operation here was a branch factory. The tannery had capacity to tan a thousand hides per day by December 1892. A spur railroad line connected the tannery with the tracks of the Michigan Central (and later the Detroit and Mackinac), bringing in raw hides and taking out tanned leather. It employed some 250 men by 1894.
Cheboygan was well suited for a tannery due to the prevalence of hemlock. From hemlock bark an extract is created which, when combined with raw hides, creates a chemical reaction which prevents decomposition. With plenty of hemlock in the area, there was little shortage of extract, at least until 1926.
The tannery produced leather that was used in the production of boots, particularly for US troops during the First World War. They also made leather belts for machinery in the days before the introduction of rubber belts, among other things.
Across the street (what is today US-27) from the tannery, a number of houses were constructed for families who worked at the factory. These were owned by the company but let out to workers. Nearly identical in their construction, many of them are still standing yet today and can easily be identified along the highway.
As had happened with the lumber industry, eventually the quantity of hemlock available began to dry up. By the early 1920s the situation became critical, and the tannery closed in 1926. [CD]