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The History of Levi Strauss Jeans

Ever wonder about the history of your jeans?

Ever wonder about the history of your jeans?

Who Was Levi Strauss?

The history of jeans or denim goes as far back as the sixteenth century Europe when sailors in Genoa wore the material used in jeans. But it was the California Gold Rush of 1849 that started the evolution of pants in American that would one day become blue jeans.

The first blue jeans were invented by a fabric importer in San Francisco, California, when he observed how bad the pants on some of the gold diggers looked after a hard days work looking for gold. He realized these pant simply could not hold up to the grueling work of the miners since almost every miner returned from the mines with ripped and tattered pants. The pants needed to be made of more substantial and more rigid fabric.

The fabric importer was no other than Levi Strauss, and he saw a business opportunity.

The Beginning of Levi Strauss and Company

Levi Strauss first moved from Germany to New York City in 1847 with his family to start a dry-goods business. Later he moved to San Francisco in 1853 to establish "Levi Strauss and Company."

While in San Francisco, he became a very successful businessman and a well-known philanthropist. The main product Levi sold was a rugged canvas used for tents and wagon covers. He also sold mining supplies such as shovels and picks since the California gold rush was in full swing in 1853. Everyone was heading west to mine for gold with the hope of becoming rich.

Levi got into the pants business when a prospector came into his store and asked him, "what are you selling?" Levi replied, "I sell tough canvas for tents and wagon covers." The prospector said, "You should have brought pants."

The miner was basically saying he could not find a pair of pants tough enough to last.

The move to creating pants put Levi in the spotlight.

The move to creating pants put Levi in the spotlight.

From Tents to Pants

After hearing that, Levi decided to make pants out of the tough canvas he was selling.

He made the canvas into a waist overall, and the miners like them, but there was a chafing problem while wearing them because the material was too rough. Levi eventually tried another material called twilled cotton cloth, which was much more comfortable but still tough.

The material was later named “denim,” and the pants were originally made in two colors, indigo blue and brown cotton (duck). The brown cotton denim was eventually dropped because the material was not quite as comfortable and soft as the indigo blue denim. The Levi denim was tough, but there was still one problem; the pockets ripped too easily.

Rivets Saved The Day

One of Levi’s most popular customers was a tailor named Jacob Davis. Jacob originally emigrated from Latvia to San Francisco in 1854, later moved to Canada in 1858, and stayed there for nine years.

Before moving to Canada, Jacob Davis operated tailor shops in New York City and in Augusta, Georgia until returning to San Francisco in 1856. Finally in 1868 he settled in Reno, Nevada and opened a shop fabricating tents and wagon covers from bolts of canvas he brought from Levi. Again, the problem with ripped pockets came up, but this time in Reno. Jacob came up with the idea of using rivets to strengthen the corners of pockets on pants since he knew how well rivets held the ends of tents and wagon covers.

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Soon other tailors in the area began using his idea to sew rivets to pant pockets to strengthen them. Jacob contacted Levi by letter indicating he needed his help to patent his idea and that he was willing to share the patent rights once they were granted.

The U.S. Patent Office issued the patent on May 20th, 1873, to Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss & Company for “Fastening Pockets and Openings.” After receiving the patent, Jacob moved to San Francisco and delivered his first pairs of pants to Levi on June 2nd, 1873.

Due to high demands for denim, Levi opened a manufacturing facility there and made Jacob the supervisor. In 1890, after the patent expired, Levi began making a cheaper “Double XX” brand of denim to compete with the flood of denims on market made by other companies.

Levi died on September 27th, 1902, and Jacob died in 1908 after spending his whole career with the company.

After his father’s death, Simon Davis took over the job of running the company. He is credited for changing the company from a regional one to a national organization.

Who knew that denim had such an interesting history?

Who knew that denim had such an interesting history?

A Few Facts About Levi Strauss and Company

  • The official birthday of the “Blue Jean” is May 20th, 1873. This is the date Levi and Jacob received U.S. Patent No. 139,121 for “Fastening Pockets and Openings.”
  • The name “Levi’s” was a name started by the public. When someone referred to the pant, they were always called them “Levi’s.”
  • Levi obtained a registered trademark for the name with a two-horse brand design on it in 1886.
  • Levi wanted to include Jacob’s name in the trademark, but he refused.
  • The Levi trademark is the red tab attached to the left rear pocket. This was created in 1936 as a means of identifying Levi’s jeans at a distance.
  • All these registered trademarks are still in use today.

The Evolution of Blue Jeans

During the 1920s, denim was called waist overalls and were the most popular work pants at the time.

By the 1950s, Levi’s jeans started selling nationally, and everybody was wearing jeans.

The name “jeans” did not come into official use until the 1960s. In the '60s and '70s, jeans were embraced by the “Hippies” and came in many styles. The styles were called by names such as hip-huggers, bell-bottoms, baggies, and elephant ears.

The term “designers jeans” became the name in the '80s when designers like Sergio, Valente, Jordaches, and Calvin Klein created slimmer, tight, butt-hugging jeans. I remembered everyone was wearing jeans during the '80s, and by the 1990s, jeans began to lose the designer look and went back to the basic look.

However, fashion designers are now coating the basic look of jeans with a resin and call them "coated denim." Despite these changes, they are still popular among both the young and old.

© 2010 Melvin Porter


Melvin Porter (author) from New Jersey, USA on April 02, 2013:

Jainismus, thanks for your comment and for stopping by to read my hub.

Mahaveer Sanglikar from Pune, India on April 02, 2013:

Interesting information. Here in India too, this brand is popular one.

Melvin Porter (author) from New Jersey, USA on April 04, 2012:

Garry, I believe there are no Levis jeans with a black tag with gold writing. I hope you do not have a pair of counterfeit levis.

Garry on April 04, 2012:

I have a pair of Levis with a black tag and gold writing...... what does that mean.... All the letters are capitalized

Melvin Porter (author) from New Jersey, USA on March 04, 2011:

Imatellmuva, thanks for stopping by to read my hub and thanks for the commit. While reading through my hub I noticed one mistake. The year 1949 sure be 1849. I will correct this as soon as I get home.

imatellmuva from Somewhere in Baltimore on March 04, 2011:

I recently had a discussion about the origin of jeans...I was off by 25 years. I did however have the purpose of the rivet correct. I remember as a kid that Levis were your most durable and long lasting jeans, compared to any other. I also remember the look, and texture of the cloth...that deep indigo, and the couldn't run for the bus, run from a dog...hopscotch was definitely out! I love reading history, and am always intrigued by the origin of things. I really enjoyed this hub!

Melvin Porter (author) from New Jersey, USA on January 07, 2011:

Don, thanks for your comment. It was a fun hub to write. I enjoyed writing and researching this hub because I know just about everyone in the world can relate to this. We all have probably put on a pair of jeans at one time or another.

Don Simkovich from Pasadena, CA on January 07, 2011:

What a fun Hub. Blue jeans really were quite an innovation. I know that people in Eastern Europe and especially Russia have really sought after blue jeans. They really are an "American" clothing item.

Melvin Porter (author) from New Jersey, USA on January 07, 2011:

Stelsie, thanks for the comment. I thought I would write about the history of jeans since this is a world wide phenomena. Many people are unaware of the fact that jeans were originally just work pants for farmers, cowboys, and miners.

Stelsie on January 06, 2011:

Nice one here, Melpor. I love Levis but never bothered about the history of Blue Jeans. Interesting read and a great lesson on how Levi Straus bumped into an "opportunity" and filled a need.

It tells how other people can sometimes be carriers of vital information that can propel us to the next level, if we can see what they see (in us - ability to fill their unmet need).



Melvin Porter (author) from New Jersey, USA on January 04, 2011:

QudsiaP1, thanks for your comment. For long time I did not wear jeans until I became a student in college and I was only wearing them then because designer jeans were the style then. I only wear them mostly when I am doing outdoors work now.

QudsiaP1 on January 03, 2011:

Thank you for writing this hub and bringing this topic to light.

Fact remains that jeans are a garment that I hold very close to my heart because it is safe to say that at a time when I began to wear jeans, no one else did, I am of course referring to women and girls.

Even at the tender age of I was a jean lover and have been ever since. They are comfortable and here well, in Pakistan, as surprising as it may sound, they are some what of a fashion statement.

I majorly started the trend of females wearing jeans. At first I was ostracised for it and 10 years later, almost every one was wearing it, though some people still ostracise it for some reason.

Thank you for the great hub.

Melvin Porter (author) from New Jersey, USA on December 26, 2010:

drbj, thanks for the comment and compliment. I though about writing a hub on jeans for while also. Then one day my daughter brought home an article about jeans and that what gave me the push to finally write it.

drbj and sherry from south Florida on December 26, 2010:

I once toyed with the idea of creating a hub on the invention of jeans but you have done it much better, melpor. Thanks. :)

Melvin Porter (author) from New Jersey, USA on December 23, 2010:

Dahoglund, I agree, I never considered jeans as dress up clothes. I only wore them as casual wear and as work clothes. Thanks for your comment.

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on December 23, 2010:

When I went to a Catholic school in the 1940 and 50's the only dress code for boys was no blue jeans. Cords became the style. We always considered them to be work clothes. I like Jeans but still have a hard time seeing them as dress up clothes.

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