Interest in the leather industry has long been widespread in Texas because of the emphasis given to cattle. The hide and tallow trade flourished along the Gulf Coast from 1840 to 1880; lack of refrigeration facilities made it nearly impossible to ship meat, but hides and tallow were sold until choice beef became too valuable to kill for these byproducts alone. Texas, for many years the nation's largest producer of hides, sent most of its products to New England, where the necessary raw materials needed for tanning were obtained from forests. Subsequently, however, with mineral and chemical tanning, manufacturers of leather products established their plants nearer the hide supply. From four leather and leather-products establishments in Texas in 1939 the number increased by 1947 to fifty-one. The number of workers in the industry jumped from 637 in 1939 to 1,470 in 1947. To a great extent the Texas industry was still in 1950 largely devoted to making consumer goods from leather shipped from other states. There were eight tanneries in the state, the most notable of which was at Yoakum. Texas early developed as a boot, saddle, and harness state, with notable centers at Dallas, Nocona, and later Fort Worth. In 1950 there was a sharp increase in the domestic demand for hides.
By 1963 Texas had eighty-four leather and leather-products plants, only twenty-seven of them employing twenty or more persons. Most of the larger plants were engaged in the making of boots and shoes, a branch of the industry that employed 1,784 workers and turned out shipments with a total value for the year of $16,584,000. The largest leather-products center was Yoakum, where seven leather plants operated in 1967, two of them among the largest in the state. These two produced casual footwear, saddlery, belts, gloves, and other products. Another of the state's largest leather plants, at Gainesville, turned out women's shoes and moccasins. Other leading fabricating centers were at El Paso, San Antonio, Dallas, Nocona, San Angelo, and Fort Worth. All these cities had leather plants that employed 100 or more persons in 1963, and most of them had smaller leather plants as well. But in spite of the hides and leather goods in the Texas past, the state ranked low in leather production. The leather industry failed to keep pace with the American economy in general, and, nationwide, employed no more workers in the 1960s than in the early days of the twentieth century. With centralization and mechanization the number of leather and leather-products plants declined nationally, and there was a rapid shift toward the use of synthetics and other leather substitutes. Nevertheless, in 1990 there were 148 leather and leather-product plants in the state, employing approximately 7,600 people.