Adams and Keen Company

Adams & Keen, Factory. Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania

934 American St.

Adams and Keen was one of four leather manufacturers in Northern Liberties in the second half of the 19th century, and kept a showroom at 5th and Arch Streets in Center City. In 1859, Philadelphia boasted 25 morocco leather factories and produced more leather than any other American city. Nearby Liberty Lands Park is on the site of the old Burk Brothers Tannery. Joseph Johnson and Company Morocco Factory was at West Jefferson and Mascher, one of several leather manufacturers in Kensington. Goatskins were imported from India, treated in Philadelphia and shipped on to other urban centers for manufacture. By the 1860s, Philadelphia supplied nearly every major American city with morocco leather.

The city known as the "Workshop of the World" was also a major producer of rougher hides and of kid skin, the soft leather used for fine handbags, gloves, and shoes. Most of these tanneries were located in the industrial hubs of Northern Liberties and Kensington.

Between 1910 and 1915, 26 percent of Pennsylvania's leather and rubber goods workers were foreign born, and Slavs dominated the tanning and curing sector of leather manufacture. Leather production was a notoriously hazardous and noxious ordeal for both workers and neighbors. The toxic atmosphere on the factory floor meant that the leather industry had high staff turnover—most men could not stand the conditions for very long. The many chemical processes involved in tanning and dyeing leather hides emitted a foul stench for blocks, and older residents of Northern Liberties can still recall the pungent odor of the tanneries permeating the neighborhood.