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Fascinating facts about the invention of Blue Jeans
by Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss in 1873.

BLUE JEANS
AT A GLANCE:
No item of clothing is more American than the blue jeans invented in 1873 by Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss. These two visionary immigrants, turned denim, thread and a little metal into the most popular clothing product in the world. Waist overalls, was the traditional name for work pants, which is what these first jeans were called. The word jeans became more popular around 1960 when the baby-boom generation adopted the term for its favorite type of pants, blue jeans..
THE STORY
RELATED INFO
BOOKS
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QUOTATIONS
DID YOU KNOW?
Invention: blue jeans
Blue jeans image courtesy www.levistrauss.com
Definition: noun / waist overalls, jeans, Levi's jeans
Function: Clothes, especially pants, that are usually close-fitting and  created from the rugged cotton twill textile that is colored blue with indigo dye
Patent: 139,121 (US) issued May 20, 1873 for Fastening Pocket-Openings
Inventor: Jacob Davis (aka Jacob Youphes)
Jacob Davis photo courtesy www.bendavis.com
Criteria: First to invent. First to patent. First practical.
Birth: 1834 in Riga Latvia
Death: 1908 in San Francisco, California
Nationality: German
Inventor: Levi Strauss (aka Loeb Strauss)
Levi Strauss photo courtesy www.levistrauss.com
Criteria: First to patent. First practical. Entrepreneur.
Birth: February 26, 1829 in Buttenheim, Germany
Death: September 27, 1902 in San Francisco, California
Nationality: American (of German decent)
Milestones:
1847 Strauss family moves to New York City where Levi joined his brothers dry-goods business
1853 Levi moves to San Francisco, California to establishing a dry-goods business Levi Strauss&Co.
1854 Jacob moves to New York, then to San Francisco, California then to Canada for nine years
1868
Jacob settled in Reno, Neveda tailoring clothing and manufacturing tents and horse blankets
1871 Jacob who was using rivets on horse blankets, decides to try them on pant pockets for strength
1872 Jacob wrote a letter to Levi suggests that they hold the riveted pants patent rights together.
1872 on August 8, filed patent application for Improvements in Fastening Pocket-Openings
1873 patent 139,121 awarded to Jacob Davis and one half assigned to Levi Strauss & Co.
1873 Levi hires Jacob to oversee production of the riveted pants at the San Francisco plant
1875 Levi and two associates purchased the Mission and Pacific Woolen Mills
1890 the year that the lot number "501" was first used to designate the denim waist overalls
1935 Levi's jeans for women were first featured in Vogue magazine
1936 The red Tab Device was created to help identify Levi's 501 jeans from a distance
1960 The word jeans became popular when the baby-boom generation used the term for the pants
jeans, blue jeans, levi's, denim waist overalls, 501, dungaree,
Levi Strauss, Jacob Davis, invention, history, inventor of, history of, who invented, invention of, fascinating facts.
The Story:
The first jeans came in two styles, indigo blue and brown cotton "duck." Unlike denim, the duck material never became soft and comfortable so it was eventually dropped from the line. Although denim pants had been around as work wear for many years, historically dating back to England in the 1600s with a fabric there called denim, it was the first use of rivets that created what we now call jeans. "Waist overalls" was the traditional name for work pants, which is what these first jeans were called. The word jeans became more popular around 1960 when the baby-boom generation adopted the term for its favorite type of pants. How were blue jeans invented is a simple story.

Levi Strauss came to San Francisco in 1853, at the age of twenty-four, to open a west coast branch of his brothers' New York dry goods business. He had spent a number of years learning the trade in New York after emigrating there from his native Germany. He built his business into a very successful operation over the next twenty years, making a name for himself not only as a well-respected businessman, but as a local philanthropist as well.

One of Levi's many customers was a tailor named Jacob Davis. Originally from Latvia, Jacob lived in Reno, Nevada, and regularly purchased bolts of cloth from the wholesale house of Levi Strauss & Co. Among Jacob's customers was a difficult man who kept ripping the pockets of the pants that Jacob made for him. Jacob tried to think of a way to strengthen the man's trousers, and one day hit upon the idea of putting metal rivets at the points of strain, such as on the pocket corners and at the base of the button fly.

These riveted pants were an instant hit with Jacob's customers and he worried that someone might steal this great idea. He decided he should apply for a patent on the process, but didn't have the $68 that was required to file the papers. He needed a business partner and he immediately thought of Levi Strauss.

In 1872 Jacob wrote a letter to Levi to suggest that the two men hold the patent together. Levi, who was an astute businessman, saw the potential for this new product and agreed to Jacob's proposal. On May 20, 1873, the two men received patent no.139,121 from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. That day is now considered to be the official "birthday" of blue jeans.

With the patent secured, Levi hired Jacob Davis to oversee production of the riveted pants at the Levi Strauss & Co. San Francisco plant. Sometime during 1873, the first riveted clothing was made and sold. (the exact date was lost along with the company records in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire). Jacob Davis was in charge of manufacturing when Levi Strauss & Co. opened its two San Francisco factories.

In 1875 Levi and two associates purchased the Mission and Pacific Woolen Mills from the estate of former silver millionaire William Ralston. Much of the mill's fabric was used to make the Levi Strauss & Co. "blanket-lined" pants and coats.

The denim for the riveted work pants came from the Amoskeag Mill in Manchester, New Hampshire, a company known for the quality of its fabrics. Within a very short time, all types of working men were buying the innovative new pants and spreading the word about their unrivaled durability. Hard to imagine that back in 1885, when denim first established itself as a reliable work wear cloth for a working man's garment that a pair of Levi overalls cost $1.25. Brand new.

Holding a patent on this process meant that for nearly twenty years, Levi Strauss & Co. was the only company allowed to make riveted clothing until the patent went into the public domain.. Around 1890, these pants were assigned the number 501, which they still bear today. When the patent expired, dozens of garment manufacturers began to imitate the original riveted clothing made popular by Levi Strauss & Co.

In the 1950s, high school kids put them on as a radical way of defining themselves, of wanting to look and be more adult and dangerous and rebellious against adults because adults didn't wear jeans. A decade later, blue jeans became a symbol of egalitarianism, a uniform for young adult baby boomers waging a generational war. In the 1970s Me Decade and the beginnings of celebrity culture surfaced, jeans were definitely about being sexy and all about fashion.

In 1980 came the controversial Calvin Klein ad slogan heard around the world. Who can ever forget 15-year-old Brooke Shields (barely old enough to get her driver's permit) purring into living rooms "Nothing comes between me and my Calvins"? As Vogue magazine editor in 1988, Anna Wintour's first cover was a pair of Guess? stonewash jeans teamed with a Christian Lacroix bejeweled top. The 1990s took denim onto country-western dance floors, onto the red carpet and created puzzling fashion styles from born-to-be-torn grunge jeans to baggy hip-hop jeans to rock star appeal all adding to the confusion of casual Fridays.

The term "Levi's," though, was not the company's--it originated with the public, just as the public invented the term "coke" for Coca-Cola. But when the public started referring to the pants generically as "Levi's," the company quickly trademarked it. No item of clothing is more American than the blue jeans invented and perfected in the last quarter of the19th century by Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss These two visionary immigrants, turned denim, thread and a little metal into the most popular clothing product in the world - blue jeans.

TO LEARN MORE

RELATED INFORMATION:
Levi Strauss Biography   from The Great Idea Finder
Jacob Davis Biography   from The Great Idea Finder
History of Apparel    from The Great Idea Finder

ON THE BOOKSHELF:
The Kid Who Invented the Popsicle: And Other Surprising Stories About Inventions
by Don L. Wulffson / Paperback - 128 pages
(1999) / Puffin
Brief factual stories about how various familiar things were invented, many by accident, from animal crackers to the zipper.

Mistakes That Worked
by Charlotte Foltz Jones, John O'Brien (Illustrator) / Paperback - 48 pages (1994) / Doubleday
Recounting the fascinating stories behind the accidental inventions of forty familiar objects and products. 
Panati’s Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things
by Charles Panati / Paperback - 480 pages Reissue edition (September 1989) / HarperCollins
Discover the fascinating stories behind the origins of over 500 everyday items, expressions and customs. 
Mr. Blue Jeans : A Story About Levi Strauss
Maryann N. Weidt, Lydia M. Anderson (Illustrator) / Paperback - 64 pages / First Avenue Editions
Basic values shine stronger than the famous copper rivets in the sturdy denim pants as the story of the Strauss family and company unfolds.
The Blue Jean
by Alice Harris / Hardcover: 144 pages / PowerHouse Books (October, 2002)
The Blue Jean is a long-overdue appreciation of this iconic piece of clothing, sure to appeal to anyone who's ever worn a pair of jeans. That means young and old, male and female, famous and normal alike.

ON THE WEB:
Invention of Levi's Jeans
Sometime during 1873, the first riveted clothing was made and sold. (We're not sure of the exact date because we lost all our historic records in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire.)
(URL: www.levistrauss.com/Heritage/)
Levi Strauss Biography
The Gold Rush of 1848 attracted many adventurers to California. One of them was a twenty-year-old named Levi Strauss. When he died in 1902, Levi's estate amounted to nearly $6 million, the bulk of which was left to his four nephews and other family members.

(URL: www.levistrauss.com/Heritage/History.aspx)
Jacob Davis Biography
By 1871 Davis was routinely using rivets on the pants he made, first on duck, soon after on denim, and was beginning to be imitated by other tailors. He contacted Levi Strauss, his fabric supplier, to help with a patent.
(URL: www.bendavis.com/home/davis.html)

Levi Strauss the Inventor of Trousers called Denim Jeans
Eventually in the 1950s people asked for denim jeans or just as often - Levi's jeans rather than waist overalls. Other manufacturers began to produce jeans such as Lee Coopers and Wranglers also became famous.
(URL: www.fashion-era.com/denim_jeans_and_casual_wear.htm)

Patent Infringement Case - 1874
This story lay undiscovered for 100 years until Ann Morgan Campbell, chief of the San Bruno branch of the National Archives, brought it to light in an article in the Nevada Historical Society Quarterly.
(URL: www.baseportal.com/)

Once Rebellious, Denim Now Mainstream
Whatever its origin, denim has always been vital to the cotton industry. Consider this recent finding from the publication, Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor: Seven out of 10 Americans say jeans are their first pick for casual wear. Article by Michael Quintanilla for the San Antonio Express-News
(URL: www.mysanantonio.com/salife/fashion/stories/MYSA102705.1P.jeans.98abce8.html)

Jacob Davis letter to Levi Strauss
Ben Davis Manufacturing, was founded in 1935. The Davis family has been involved in the US garment industry since the mid 1800s. Company Founder Ben Davis' grandfather Jacob Davis was instrumental in the creation of the original Levi's Jeans. This page displays a copy of the letter Jacob Davis sent to Levi Strauss in 1972 regarding a partnership in acquiring a U.S. patent.
(URL: www.bendavis.com/home/levi.html)
Levi's
The official Levi's Web site.
(URL: www.levi.com/)
Invention Dimension - Inventor of the Week
Celebrates inventor/innovator role models through outreach activities and annual awards to inspire a new generation of American scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs.Featured Levi Strauss for the invention of Blue Jeans.

(URL: web.mit.edu/invent/iow/strauss.html)

WORDS OF WISDOM:
"Nothing comes between me and my Calvins." - Brooke Shields, 1980 controversial Calvin Klein ad

DID YOU KNOW?:

  • An original pair of Levi's jeans is part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
  • The word, 'jeans,' came from the cotton workpants worn by sailors from the port of Genoa, Italy, who were themselves known as Genes.
  • The  jeans market has grown to be a $14.6 billion industry
  • On May 20, 1873, Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss received patent #139,121 from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
  • Levi's 501 jeans are the original Shrink-To-Fit, button-fly blue jeans first created in the 1800s. 501 jeans are the oldest and best selling product of Levi Strauss & Co. The number 501 was assigned to the jeans around 1890.
  • In 1885 a pair of Levi waist overalls cost $1.25. Brand new. By the turn of the century, the company charged $8.50 for a pair of blue jeans.
  • In 1997, Levi Strauss & Co. paid $25,000 for a pair of 100 year old jeans (for their museum) found in an old Colorado mine, which is the oldest known pair of Levi jeans.
  • Seven out of 10 Americans say jeans are their first pick for casual wear.
  • Levi Strauss & Co. currently makes 501 jeans in approximately 108 sizes and 20 finishes/fabrics.
  • A typical pair of Levi's 501 jeans takes about 1 3/4 yards of denim, 213 yards of thread, five buttons and six rivets.
  • There are 37 separate sewing operations involved in making a single pair of Levi's 501 jeans.
  • The red Tab Device was created in 1936 to help identify Levi's 501 jeans from a distance.
  • Until 1960, Levi's 501 jeans were called "waist overalls."
  • One bolt of denim weighs approximately a quarter of a ton. Cutters use an electric saw to cut through 120 layers of cloth at one time. About 60 pairs of jeans can be cut from one bolt of fabric.
  • The double row of stitching on the back pockets - known as the Arcuate stitching design - is the oldest apparel trademark still in use today. It was first used in 1873. During World War II, the Arcuate stitching design was painted on the pockets due to government rationing of essential items such as thread.
  • Rivets were first used on 501 jeans in 1873 because miners complained that their pockets ripped under the weight of ore samples. The early jeans had rivets on the front and back pockets. Rear rivets were covered beginning in 1937 because of complaints that the rivets scratched school desk chairs and saddles. Since 1967, reinforced stitching has replaced the back pocket rivets.
Designated trademarks and brands are the property of their respective owners.
Reference Sources in BOLD Type. This page revised July 28, 2006.
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