The history of Tandy Leather is closely tied with the men and women who have served in the United States Armed Forces.
Charles Tandy enlisted into the military in the spring of 1941 when the Navy offered a limited number of commissions to students attending Harvard’s School of Business. During his initial tour of duty in Hawaii, young Charles discovered how leather crafts were being used for therapeutic and recreational applications in the military hospitals. He wrote to his father about his ideas of how to help stabilize and grow the Hinckley-Tandy Leather Company’s shoe supply business back in Fort Worth, Texas.
With the outbreak of World War II, leather became vital to the war effort and was limited for civilian use. Dave Tandy considered his son’s suggestions and found that specialty leathers that were still available worked nicely for tooling small projects. The company began providing resources for therapeutic leathercraft programs in hospitals, military recreation centers, and for rehabilitation.
Al Stohlman and many of the other early pioneers of leathercraft were veterans who began tinkering with leather during their tours of duty and paved the way for the leathercraft industry upon their discharge.
“Back then a lot of the military gear was made with leather, so it was fairly common that soldiers learned to repair or customize their own leather gear,” said Charlie Davenport, Tandy Leather’s Director of Research & Development, who served as a Corporal in the Marine Corps Infantry during Desert Storm. “Many of these troops contributed to the developing popularity of leathercraft.”
Upon sharing their leather projects, often friends and relatives would want to know where they could learn. Tandy became a popular destination for military families, many soldiers teaching their kids leathercraft while on leave.
“I was really introduced to leathercraft in high school by a teacher who had been a Colonel in WWII,” said George Hurst, who earned the rank of Sergeant First Class when working for the Army Security Agency during the Korean War. “I was very thankful to have access to leathercraft during my time in the military. Working with leather provided a creative outlet during leisure time; it felt more productive than playing cards or watching old movies, and often I’d turn a profit on reselling my projects”
Hurst also remembers the impact that leathercraft had on long-term care patients, such as military hospitals and VA facilities. It has traditionally been used in both physical therapy to rehabilitate motor skills and mental therapy to provide a task to keep their mind focused. In both cases, leathercraft has often been useful in fighting the onset of depression and anxiety in patients by providing a sense of value and productivity.
“My personal story about military experience and leathercraft are probably different from most folks,” said Van Woodruff, retired Army Sergeant First Class. “In 2008, I was diagnosed with OCD; not the ‘attention to detail’ kind, but rather a condition that made me extremely reclusive. I was medically retired in March 2014 after 13 years of service, but leatherworking has been my personal salvation, providing me with an outlet since 2009.”
Having seen the countless certificates and plaques on superior officer’s Glory Walls, he wanted to create something that would stand out and be unique. Now Woodruff works full time in his leathershop, creating projects he refers to as “Leather Biographies”; framed pieces of custom leather art that share the story of the soldier’s military experience.
To many of our employees and customers at Tandy Leather, Memorial Day is much more than just a day off to celebrate with family; we observe this day in remembrance of those who sacrificed so we have the freedom to celebrate.