The birth of the ALCA was not a sudden phenomenon. A group of leather chemists met at the annual convention of the Association of Official Agricultural Chemists (AOAC) in 1893. Their sole concern was to find an accurate method for analyzing the tanning extracts used in the industry. Extracts were often altered by traders or experimented with by tanners. Thus, commercial interests — and not purely scientific pursuits — sparked the initial banding together of leather chemists.
These chemists did devise a method of measuring the amount of tanning material absorbed by dried, ground hide. Modifications in this method were made over the next several years and interest in the problem of tannin analysis was very high. In 1897 by-laws were written and officers elected for a leather chemists’ association, but the effort died and the group continued to meet as an unofficial part of the AOAC, though few leather chemists were actually members of this larger group. By 1903 the leather chemists again felt the need for their own organization. Nine of them decided to form the ALCA on November 22 of that year.
President Kerr later summarized the early years in a letter to Dr. H. G. Turley: “The organization of the ALCA in 1903 was the outcome of a decade of sustained effort by a small group of young technological chemists to establish reliable analytical methods for determining the commercial value of all description of materials employed in the manufacture of leather, and to introduce scientific methods of tannery plant control. As late as 1895 there was practically no recognized leather trades chemistry as such in this country; only a few tanners employed chemists in their plants and most of the analytical work called for was done by general analysis in the laboratories of those dealers in chemicals or dyestuffs who had taken on representations for tanning materials. It would be difficult for the members of the ALCA today to visualize the bitter disputes and the wrangling between chemists, to say nothing of the verbal abuse heaped upon the devoted heads of the pioneers of leather chemistry in the middle and late nineties and for many years later for that matter.”
Taken from “Seventy-five Years of ALCA Meeting,” Published for the 1979 Meeting of the American Leather Chemists’ Association, Written and Edited by Scott D. Fields with Special Thanks to John J. Moynihan and The Leather Manufacturer, and Published at the Direction of the ALCA Council, William E. Dooley, President; James M. Constantin, President-Elect; William T. Roddy, Secretary-Treasurer; Councilors, Stephen M. Feairheller, Thomas E. Greene, Bruce D. Miller, John J. Moynihan, and Richard G. Waite.