Smithsonian taxidermist William L. Brown was given an almost impossible task on February 4, 1930 when he was entrusted with the body of a 5,000 pound hippo named Old Mom that had recently died at the National Zoo. Until that time, no taxidermist had ever successfully mounted a hippo. The problem lay in the fact that hippo skin was extremely difficult to tan and almost always cracked. Brown found a solution to this leather dilemma by hiring a Russian tanner who swore he could turn the skin supple. Brown was more than please with the tanner’s results stating that Old Mom’s hide was “The finest tanned skin I ever saw. Soft as a kid glove.”
The tanner’s secret? After tanning the hide, he chewed it.
Today Old Mom can be seen at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of natural History.