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Fascinating facts about Jacob Davis
co-inventor of Blue Jeans in 1873.

Jacob Davis
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 STORY
RELATED INFO
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DID YOU KNOW?
Inventor(s): Jacob W. 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: Lativian
Invention: blue jeans
Blue jeans image courtesy www.levistrauss.com
Function: noun / waist overalls, jeans, Levi's Jeans
Definition: 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-Fastening Pocket-Openings
Milestones:
1834 Jacob Youphes born in Riga Latvia
1853 Levi Strauss starts a dry-goods business Levi Strauss & Co. in San Francisco, California
1854 Jacob moves to New York City, New York and changes his name to Jacob Davis
1856 Jacob moves to San Francisco, California
1858 Jacob moves to Canada where he lives for for nine years, marries and starts a family
1867 jacob returned to San Francisco by ship from Victoria, British Columbia
1868 Jacob moves to Virginia City, Nevada where he operated a cigar store for three months
1868 Jacob moves to Reno Nevada investing in a brewery, he lost virtually everything
1869 Jacob opens a tailor shop abricating wagon covers, tents and horse blankets
1869 Jacob buys the cloth he needs from San Francisco's Levi Strauss & Co.
1870 Jacob expands his business to include work coverall clothing
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
1909 Jacob Davies dies in San Francisco, California
CAPS: Davis, Jacob Davis, Jacob Youphes, Levi Strauss, ARY, jeans, blue jeans, levi's, denim waist overalls, 501, dungaree, SIP, history, biography, inventor.
STORY:
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.

Jacob Youphes was born in 1834 in Riga Latvia. He came to the US and then to San Francisco in the 1854 and changed his name to Jacob Davis. He operated a tailor shop in New York City and Augusta, Maine. In 1856, he arrived to San Francisco and shortly thereafter moved north to Weaverville to work as a tailor. In 1858, he left California for western Canada where he lived for nine years, married, and started a family.

Davis returned to San Francisco by ship from Victoria, British Columbia, in January 1867. He soon traveled to Virginia City, Nevada where he first opened a cigar store, but within three months he again turned to his trade as a tailor. In June 1868, he relocated once again, this time to the fledgling railroad town of Reno Nevada. Investing in a brewery, he lost virtually everything. By 1869, he had opened a tailor shop on the town's main thoroughfare, Virginia Street. He began fabricating wagon covers and tents from a rugged off-white duck cloth sold by San Francisco's Levi Strauss & Co.

He moved around the West extensively trying to make a living through the 1860s. In 1868 Jacob settled in Reno, Neveda tailoring fine clothing and manufacturing utilitarian items such as tents and horse blankets from "duck" (a sturdy cotton fabric) with copper rivets for added strength.

In the late 1870s a woman came to him for a pair of "cheap" pants for her "large" husband who had the habit of going through pants rather quickly. Having found that thread alone did not always adequately hold the pockets onto work pants, Jacob decided to try out rivets, which had proven their worth on horse blankets on the pockets for these pants.

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 him apply for a patent.

The patent application was rejected several times by the patent office but finally granted jointly in the names of Davis and Levi Strauss & Company on May 20, 1873. By then, Davis had already departed Reno for San Francisco to operate what amounted to an elaborate tailor shop for Strauss (he delivered his first pants to the company on June 2) and then, when more output was needed, to open and run a new Strauss manufacturing plant. After the expiration of the patent in 1890, Strauss began cranking out a less expensive version of Double XX to compete with a sudden flood of blue jeans on the market made by other companies.

Strauss was a regional company, and for decades jeans were a very small part of its business and were sold mostly to workers. (Jacob Davis went to New York in 1876 and opened a plant, J. Strauss, Brother and Company, which shut down after Jonas Strauss's death nine years later.) One company official was quoted saying, "To be honest, at first we didn't look beyond the cowboy/miner/laborer market in California, Arizona, Nevada, and maybe Colorado and Utah and, in a minor way, Oregon and Washington."

Davis remained with Strauss the rest of his career, taking over shirt lines as well as pants, and continued to supervise the Levi Strauss factory until his death in 1908, he was succeeded in the job by his son Simon Davis, who ended up running the company. Simon was instrumental in the company's rebuilding after the 1906 earthquake and designed a coverall that became the company's first nationally marketed product.

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. Unfortunately, because Davis didn't insist on his name being included in the product name, Levi Strauss' name alone became a synonym for the pants, leading to the spread of a myth that Strauss invented them.

While Levi Strauss sold work jeans, it was an obscure, Jewish tailor working at 31 Virginia Street in Reno Nevada who added the rivets. A federal patent-infringement case filed in February 1874 in the U.S. Circuit Court of California, and housed in the National Archives regional branch in San Bruno, south of San Francisco, contains the facts.

TO LEARN MORE

RELATED INFORMATION:
Invention of Blue Jeans   from The Great Idea Finder
Levi Strauss Biography
   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.
The Blue Jean Book: The Story Behind the Seams
by Tanya Lloyd Kyi  / Paperback: 79 pages / Annick Press (September 3, 2005)
The story of denim's rise from modest workpants to high-fashion statement. Ever since Levi Strauss made the first blue jean pants in California in the 1870s, everyone has wanted a pair. No one imagined America's love of denim would travel around the world, yet jeans remain an essential part of our lives. The Blue Jean Book chronicles this love affair.

ON THE WEB:
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/)
Dungaree Dad
In 1854, a Jewish Latvian immigrant named Jacob Youphes arrived in New York, whose harbor was not yet adorned by the Statue of Liberty. Article by Dennis Myers for Reno News & Review
(URL: www.newsreview.com/issues/reno/2005-06-16/culture.asp)

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/)
Copper rivets in jeans: A Reno idea
The truth in 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 in 1974.
(URL: news.rgj.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060514/COL17/605140304/1120)

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.

(URL: web.mit.edu/invent/iow/strauss.html
)
Riga Latvia
Tourism - Patricia LTD Tourist Office. Information links for traveling and visiting Riga Latvia including accommodation, things to do, places to see and how to get to Latvia.
(URL: www.rigalatvia.net)

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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
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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