Hippo Leather

How the Smithsonian tanned its most famous hippo.

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.

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