Adopted from the American Kennel Club website
Heinrich Essig, a prominent citizen of Leonberg, Germany, in the 19th century, had a passion for collecting animals of all kinds.
Though there is no written proof, it is said that in 1846 Essig, bred a Landseer Newfoundland female with a St. Bernard male, crossing them for 4 generations. He then out crossed with a Pyrenean Mountain Dog, and crossed again with a St. Bernard. The Leonberger breed was born.
Large, impressive dogs were very popular, and Essig exported more than 300 dogs in the following years. He donated Leonbergers to royalty, using his position on the town-council to not only promote the town of Leonberg, but also his dogs. At one time, Garibaldi, the Prince of Wales, King Umberto of Italy, and the Czar of Russia all owned Leonbergers. Empress Elisabeth of Austria owned seven of them.
When others tried to cash in on this new breed, the official cynologists tried to ban these breeders from shows because they believed it was unethical to produce dogs only for the money. These dogs were then shown as other breeds. One dog, Ceasar, was shown as three different breeds. In Berlin he was shown as a "long-haired Alp dog" and in England, a St. Bernard. Then Dr. Kunzli, a St. Bernard expert, found him to be a beautiful Leonberger.
Today we know that there must be more dogs involved in the bloodlines than the ones Essig claims created the breed. Modern genetics claim it would be impossible to create the Leonberger from the just 3 breeds as described. Old photos show black and white dogs, black dogs, red or yellow colored dogs--all said to be Leonbergers.
After Essig died in 1889, the first Leonberger Clubs were founded. In 1895, the "Internationaler Klub fur Leonberger Hunde Stuttgart" was founded and the first Leonberger breed standard was created.
All written records were destroyed following World War I. Two men, Stadelmann and Josenhans, are credited with tracking down Leonbergers, sometimes with unknown and sometimes partially known ancestors. They found approximately 30 dogs and began a breeding program with 6 males and 6 females during 1922/23. By 1927, there were 342 registered Leonbergers. Breeding continued during and after WWII, with 22 puppies registered in 1945 and 27 in 1947.
After WW II, the task of rebuilding the breed was spearheaded by a committee led by Hans Weigelschmidt as President and Albert Kienzle as Secretary. Their first task was to revise the German standard, condensing the rather long 1895 standard version.
The height of the dogs was shortened to at least 76 cm. for males and to 70 cm. for females. (Previously at least 80 cm for males and 70 cm. for females). In the 1960s the standard was again revised with the heights were changed to 72 cm. minimum, and 80 cm. maximum for males and 65 cm. minimum with 74 cm. maximum for females.
In 1964 Robert Beutelspacher was assigned to breeding records, and introduced the first European breed-book in 1968. Beutelspacher presented the German standard to the FCI, so every judge would be working from the same standard.