This is, of course, the weekend of the Super Bowl. While other business sections might focus on advertisements, the Chicago Tribune takes a hometown angle and talks pigskin — or more accurately cowhides since that’s what footballs are, in fact, made of (Chicago’s in the Super Bowl: Local firms team up to make big game’s football, Feb 2). The footballs are made by Wilson, which is based in Chicago, but the balls are made at a factory in Ohio. The leather, however, all comes from Horween Leather which has processed hides in Chicago for over 100 years.
Here’s a description of just what they do for the leather:
For 24 hours, hides are treated with an acid solution that removes the hair. To make leather used in sporting goods, hides get a first round of tanning in large drums where fats and oils are stripped away and chrome is added to strengthen the material.
Employees then take the “wet blue” hides — named for their pre-dyed tint — and assess quality. Every hide will get another round of tanning, but the process depends on the final product. Football leather emerges with a grippable tackiness — part of the reason Nick Horween is irked when announcers blame flubbed passes on slippery balls.
Bone-colored football leather is dried in an oven on the tannery’s top floor, glued to glass plates to keep it from shrinking. A pebblelike texture — Wilson’s pattern includes tiny W’s — is stamped on with heated steel plates. The leather then is sprayed with dye until it’s that recognizable reddish-brown hue.
The whole article is worth checking out and features a video of the Horween plant.