For many centuries, bark was used to tan leather. "Bark peelers" cut down trees, peeled off their bark, and carried it to the tannery.
And for many years after it was learned how to make paper from wood, most paper companies couldn't use bolts with bark; so pulpwood was peeled in the woods, using a spud to pry the bark off. There were many different patterns for spuds; the most popular was probably just a buggy spring with a sharpened end.
One thing that everyone understood was that the amount of effort involved varied greatly with the season. In the spring when the sap was moving, the bark was 'loose' and would peel easily, but during the dormancy of the tree the bark is tight and very hard to remove, though the relative difficulty varies with species.