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Where Does the Cow Hide For Wilson Footballs Come From?

It’s difficult to imagine how the hides for Wilson footballs end up in Chicago, but these balls start life on a farm. While NFL footballs pass through Chicago, they’re made in the Midwest by the Horween Leather Company, a company that processes hides for Wilson. The company works with large ranches that produce as many as 400,000 heads of cattle. It all started with a dream to find a cow to kick off Super Bowl LIII. Today, the hides that make the balls come from steers.

Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa

Cowhide for Wilson footballs is sourced from feedlots in the Midwest and is hand-crafted into the footballs. The company produces more than 35,000 footballs a year and uses approximately 3000 cow hides per year. Cowhide is a natural material that has less stretch than dairy cows, but it can be softer than dairy cowhide. Cowhides are steamed to make them supple and pliable.


The factory where the cowhide for Wilson footballs is made first began in 1885 when the Wagner family decided to start producing their own leather for baseballs and basketballs. Today, Horween is the exclusive supplier of leather for NFL footballs. The leather is processed in a subterranean basement where laborers nail and hammer clean pre-tanned hides to poles and submerge them into the tanning pits. These pits are rows of square pools that can hold up to 600 hides and can be tanned for varying amounts of time.

Dairy cows

Did you know that the cows used to make the leather on Wilson footballs were raised on a farm? Wilson Company, based in Ada, Ohio, uses cowhides from farms across the Midwest to make its footballs. When the cowhides arrive, workers stamp them with the “W” of Wilson. The cowhide is then cut into panels by hand, by 120 employees, and a special recipe is used to treat the hide.

Quality-control check

The cowhide used to make NFL-licensed footballs is sourced from American feedlots. The Wilson Company in Ada, Ohio, makes 4,000 footballs every day by hand. When a cowhide arrives, it is stamped with the Wilson “W.” A team of 120 workers then cuts the panels into panels of varying sizes. They steam the panels to make them soft. Then, each panel is sewn inside out.

Manufacturing process

Every Wilson football is made in the United States, a fact that sets it apart from other game balls. The company’s Ada, Ohio, factory employs 130 workers, most of whom have been with the company for 20 years or more. Wilson does not automate any part of the manufacturing process and instead uses cowhide sourced from the Midwest. They choose lean steers over dairy cows and treat the hides with a special recipe developed by Wilson.

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