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Manufacture This

The blog of the Alliance for American Manufacturing

Centuries-Old Family Business Continues to Produce American Made Leather.

Stephen Meyer and his family can trace their tanning business back to the 1800’s.

It was around this time that the Meyer family immigrated to Philadelphia, and got to work. One of the first clients of the Meyers’ nascent tanning business was the well-known Steinway & Sons piano company.

In the 1850’s, the family moved to New Jersey to take its tannery closer to Steinway, which ultimately used Meyer leather for 150 years in its pianos.

In 1875 Stephen’s great-great grandfather, Richard E. Meyer, was born. He would become the first American-born tanner in the Meyer family. And thanks to Richard, the Meyer family has kept the tradition alive and has been making leather in the United States as Richard E. Meyer & Sons for nearly 200 years.

“Beyond the fact that manufacturing gives people jobs, doing it in the U.S. allows you to have more access to the companies you are working with,” said Stephen. “American manufacturing is an important part of our identity and the leather industry specifically, so being able to continue that tradition is really important to us.”

The family business passed through generations before finally landing in the hands of Stephen’s father, Karl, in 1973. A few years later, Karl moved the business from its 150-year-old building in North Bergen, New Jersey to a facility he built himself in Montgomery, New York.

Although Stephen says that his father was hesitant for his sons to continue the family business, Karl ultimately changed his tune and realized that there was a lot of potential left in the tanning industry. What’s more, he wouldn’t have been able to do it alone.

“Being a small American business in the manufacturing and leather industry, we are all too familiar with the difficulty of retooling a facility and modernizing our brand,” Stephen said. “We believe that a manufacturer should always be working to maintain and improve the quality, speed, and capacity of their facilities. We are always finding new ways to improve and operate more efficiently.” 

In 1999, Stephen’s brother Jesse launched a second family business called Pergamena, which uses traditional processing and manufacturing methods to make leather for accessories, handbags, furniture, and notebooks. In doing so the company inadvertently became North America’s first new commercial parchment producer in generations.

Pergamena has made a name for itself. Its leathers and parchments are made at its tannery in New York, using domestically sourced skins, environmentally-friendly production processes, and generations of tanning expertise to manufacture vegetable-tanned goat and calf leather, as well as calf, deer, goat, and sheep parchment.

From raw materials to custom pieces, each of its products are handmade.

“We have also been working closely with several designers based in and around New York City for the past several years, all of which have their own brand of style that incorporate our vegetable-tanned leather,” said Stephen. “We have a respect for the material because we produce it and we like to work with people who also find it just as interesting and cool as we do.”

Stephen has been working alongside his dad and brother at Pergamena since 2008. He serves as the manager and co-owner at Pergamena and additionally helps with the marketing and general management of the business. He has helped transform the family business by learning everything from website coding and design to email marketing and sales, all while continuing to enhance his own skills of the family craft.

“We are able to handle the material, see what it turns into from start to finish, and how completely different it looks compared to what it started out as,” said Stephen. “That’s one of the joys of being here.”  

Check out Pergamena here.