Nowadays the term suede is used to refer to the middle splits of hide which have the surface roughened up to disguise the splitting marks and the absence of grain. This is actually a missuse of the term.....indeed the modern leather industry has had to invent a new name for this attractive product as the missuse of the old name had left the product nameless, so true suede is now refered to as nubuck!
Traditional suede was a leather with the surface grain layer ground off.....sueded (possibly a corruption of Sweden) This could be done for various reasons, usually probably for a combination. These included improving the penetration of tanning / dressing or dying materials, disguising an imperfect, irregular or unpleasing grain surface, and creating an interesting mat effect. The name had no implicationsof thinness or softness.
As such suede has a considerable history: for example, the material that C17th buffcoats were made of was actually suede, as the surface grain was removed. It is probable that the material has been in use almost as long as man has been making leather.