I've been trying to track down information on the very earliest leather competitions in the United States. It's easy to find information about Chicago's Mr. Gold Coast, begun in 1973, which became International Mr. Leather in 1979. But was this Gold Coast event the very first-ever leather competition? I haven't seen anyone make that claim, but I haven't found anything earlier. I contacted the Leather Archives and Museum in Chicago. Their researchers have suggested that they'll have some response "soon."
Tonight, laid up on the couch with an injury, I resumed my own research. While combing through some posts on the BLUF website, I came across a link to a site called simply, "Leather Fetish History." The site was put together and maintained by a couple of Dutch leathermen named Lei and Mark.
Wow! What a site! It didn't provide an answer to my specific question, but this is genuinely well-done research with considerable coverage of the leather scenes in both America and Europe. It includes rare photos from as far back as the 1940's, magazine covers, artwork, a film tour of the old Eagle's Nest bar in New York City, along with some other YouTube clips, and much other leathery goodness.
It also includes three "Life stories" by leathermen. The most interesting of these is "Jason's" story. Born in 1916, his story as a leather fetishist for over 80 years represents an amazing leather journey that takes him across two continents and through every phase of the developing leather community. His insights are both sweet and sharp.
Leather Fetish History is located here: http://www.cuirmale.nl/index.htm
Too many people who call themselves leathermen think their leather journeys begin and end with a trip to the last bar or to the doorsteps of their last trick. However, our community has a rich history and a rich culture that stretches beyond the boundaries of our own cities and the borders of our own country, a culture that has survived and thrived within the broader gay community. Lei and Mark's Leather Fetish History site provides links to other leather communities around the world, from America to Berlin to Japan and many places between.
At first, I thought to summarize some of that history here. Instead, I urge you to visit Lie and Mark's site: http://www.cuirmale.nl/index.htm. Sign their guest book and say "thank you." You will definitely learn something, and that's always a good thing.