Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis Patent Blue Jeans

Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis Patent Blue Jeans

On May 20, 1873, San Francisco businessman Levi Strauss and Reno, Nevada, tailor Jacob Davis are given a patent to create work pants reinforced with metal rivets, marking the birth of one of the world’s most famous garments: blue jeans.

In San Francisco, Strauss established a wholesale dry goods business under his own name and worked as the West Coast representative of his family’s firm. His new business imported clothing, fabric and other dry goods to sell in the small stores opening all over California and other Western states to supply the rapidly expanding communities of gold miners and other settlers. By 1866, Strauss had moved his company to expanded headquarters and was a well-known businessman and supporter of the Jewish community in San Francisco.

Jacob Davis, a tailor in Reno, Nevada, was one of Levi Strauss’ regular customers. In 1872, he wrote a letter to Strauss about his method of making work pants with metal rivets on the stress points—at the corners of the pockets and the base of the button fly—to make them stronger. As Davis didn’t have the money for the necessary paperwork, he suggested that Strauss provide the funds and that the two men get the patent together. Strauss agreed enthusiastically, and the patent for “Improvement in Fastening Pocket-Openings”–the innovation that would produce blue jeans as we know them–was granted to both men on May 20, 1873.

Strauss brought Davis to San Francisco to oversee the first manufacturing facility for “waist overalls,” as the original jeans were known. At first they employed seamstresses working out of their homes, but by the 1880s, Strauss had opened his own factory. The famous 501 brand jean—known until 1890 as “XX”—was soon a bestseller, and the company grew quickly. By the 1920s, Levi’s denim waist overalls were the top-selling men’s work pant in the United States. As decades passed, the craze only grew, and now blue jeans are worn and beloved by men and women, young and old, around the world.


Levi Strauss and the History of the Invention of Blue Jeans

In 1853, the California gold rush was in full swing, and everyday items were in short supply. Levi Strauss, a 24-year-old German immigrant, left New York for San Francisco with a small supply of dry goods with the intention of opening a branch of his brother's New York dry goods business.

Shortly after his arrival, a prospector wanted to know what Mr. Levi Strauss was selling. When Strauss told him he had a rough canvas to use for tents and wagon covers, the prospector said, "You should have brought pants!" saying he couldn’t find a pair of pants strong enough to last.


Jacob W. Davis Biography

Jacob W. Davis was a tailor who invented pants reinforcement with copper rivets. He was born in 1831 in Riga, Latvia where he trained and worked as a tailor. In 1854 he immigrated to the United States and opened a tailor shop in New York. He changed name there, moved to Main and in 1954 to San Francisco. Trying to find more profitable work Davis left California in 1858 and moved to Western Canada where he paned for gold, sold tobacco and wholesale pork. There he met his future wife, Annie Parksher from Germany with whom he had six children. He returns to San Francisco in 1968 with whole family and then to to Virginia City, Nevada where he opens a tobacco store in the start only to returns to his original trade - tailoring. In 1868, they moved to Reno, Nevada where Jacob opens tailor shop in 1869 where he made tents, horse blankets and wagon covers that were usually been bought by railway workers on the Central Pacific Railroad. He used heavy duty cotton “duck” and heavy duty cotton “denim” fabric for these products. He bought them from Levi Strauss & co from San Francisco. In January 1871, one costumer, a wife of a local woodworker, appeared with ordered of pair of pants for her husband who was too large for ready-made clothes. Her special request was for pants to be made as strong as possible. Jacob had copper rivets that he used on horse blankets and he used them to fasten the pockets so they don’t tear.

This kind of pants, made from duck and reinforced with rivets, became very popular among people in need of heavy work clothing. Orders began to flow in and Jacob made 200 pairs in the next 18 months some of them made from duck and some from denim. He began to fear that someone will steal his idea so he decided to patent it. Because he didn’t have enough money (some $68) for patent application he asked Levi Strauss to help him. On May 20, 1873 the full US Patent No. 139121 was granted in the name of Jacob W. Davis and Levi Strauss and Company.

May 20, 1873 is considered to be the official “birthday” of blue jeans. After that Jacob Davis was named production manager at the shop of Levi Strauss & co. One more characteristic thing Jacobs used on his denim pants was double orange threaded stitch to distinguish them from those made by his competitors. This became Registered US Trade Mark No.1339254. Demand continued to grow so Strauss decides to make manufacturing plant which Davis continued to manage for Strauss. Beside denim pants - jeans, Levi Strauss & co also manufactured other lines including work shirts and overalls. Jacob W. Davis worked there until the end of his life overseeing the production. He died in San Francisco in 1908.

At the historic location of Jacob Davis' tailor shop: 211 N. Virginia Street in Reno, the Reno Historic Resources Commission placed a historic marker on May 20, 2006.


Levi Strauss Biography

Levi Strauss is founder the first company for manufacturing of blue jeans. He was born on February 26, 1829 in Buttenheim, Germany as Loeb Strauss. 1847 he went to New York with his two sisters and mother to join his brothers on dry goods wholesale business. In 1850 he changed his name to Levi and in 1853 he became an American citizen. When California Gold Rush began he decided to go west and to open a West Coast branch of the family dry goods business in San Francisco in early March 1853. He opened his dry goods wholesale business as Levi Strauss & Co. and sold clothing, bedding, combs, purses, handkerchiefs and bolts of fabric delivered from his brothers in New York. He became a well-known figure in the city being active in the business and cultural life of San Francisco and supporting the Jewish community, he himself being of German Jewish descent.

One of his costumers was Jacob W. Davis, a Reno, Nevada tailor. Strauss got a letter from him in 1872. In that letter Davis told him about the new way he was making pants from duck and denim. To make them stronger Davis used copper rivets to make them stronger. He also wanted to patent the idea of riveting the clothing because he was afraid that someone will steal the idea. Because he did not have enough money for patent application (some $68) Davis was asking Strauss in the letter, to be his business partner and to share the costs. Strauss agreed and on May 20, 1873 the full US Patent No. 139121 was granted in the name of Jacob W. Davis and Levi Strauss and Company. That was the birthday of the blue jeans.

Jacob W. Davis already had pretty high demand for "waist overalls", as they were called then, which he fulfilled himself so Levi Strauss new that it would be a good idea to place Davis as a production manager at the shop of Levi Strauss & co. Production was done in the beginning by individual seamstresses from their homes. After that, in 1880s Levi Strauss leased space for his own factory south of Market Street and production moves there. Major product that was manufactured there were famous 501 jeans but Levi and Jacob also produced shirts and overalls.

His other business pursuits were charter member and treasurer of the San Francisco Board of Trade, director of the Nevada Bank, the Liverpool, London and Globe Insurance Company and the San Francisco Gas and Electric Company. He was also known as a great philanthropist. He gave funds to a number of orphanages, provided funds to build a new railroad from San Francisco to the San Joaquin Valley and for twenty-eight scholarships at the University of California.

He died on September 26, 1902 in San Francisco at the age of 73 and left. His estate was estimated to be around 6 million dollars. Part of it was left to his four nephews while the rest was left to charities.


Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis receive patent for blue jeans

Born Loeb Strauss in Buttenheim, Bavaria, in 1829, the young Strauss immigrated to New York with his family in 1847 after the death of his father. By 1850, Loeb had changed his name to Levi and was working in the family dry goods business, J. Strauss Brother & Co. In early 1853, Levi Strauss went west to seek his fortune during the heady days of the Gold Rush.

In San Francisco, Strauss established a wholesale dry goods business under his own name and worked as the West Coast representative of his family’s firm. His new business imported clothing, fabric and other dry goods to sell in the small stores opening all over California and other Western states to supply the rapidly expanding communities of gold miners and other settlers. By 1866, Strauss had moved his company to expanded headquarters and was a well-known businessman and supporter of the Jewish community in San Francisco.

Jacob Davis, a tailor in Reno, Nevada, was one of Levi Strauss’ regular customers. In 1872, he wrote a letter to Strauss about his method of making work pants with metal rivets on the stress points–at the corners of the pockets and the base of the button fly–to make them stronger. As Davis didn’t have the money for the necessary paperwork, he suggested that Strauss provide the funds and that the two men get the patent together. Strauss agreed enthusiastically, and the patent for “Improvement in Fastening Pocket-Openings”–the innovation that would produce blue jeans as we know them–was granted to both men on May 20, 1873.

Strauss brought Davis to San Francisco to oversee the first manufacturing facility for “waist overalls,” as the original jeans were known. At first they employed seamstresses working out of their homes, but by the 1880s, Strauss had opened his own factory. The famous 501brand jean–known until 1890 as “XX”–was soon a bestseller, and the company grew quickly. By the 1920s, Levi’s denim waist overalls were the top-selling men’s work pant in the United States. As decades passed, the craze only grew, and now blue jeans are worn by men and women, young and old, around the world.


The Origin of Blue Jeans

On the 109th anniversary of Levi Strauss’ death, his chief product—blue jeans—have become a $91 billion per year industry, an icon of American culture, and quite possibly the world’s most popular article of clothing. His name, more than any other, evokes the tough denim fabric and heavy stitching of America’s favorite pair of pants. But the birth of blue jeans came under surprising circumstances—and the ancestral trousers barely resemble the blue jeans of today.

It all started in 1871, when tailor Jacob Davis of Reno, Nevada, had a problem. The pants he was making for miners weren’t tough enough to stand up to the conditions in local mines among other issues, the pockets and button fly were constantly being torn. “A miner’s wife came up to Davis and asked him to come up with pants that could withstand some abuse,” says curator Nancy Davis (no relation), from the American History Museum. Davis looked at the metal fasteners he used on harnesses and other objects. “At that time, he came up with the riveted trousers.”

As local miners snapped up the overalls he made with rivet-strengthened stress points and durable “duck cloth,” a type of canvas, Davis realized he needed to protect his idea. “He had to rush, due to the fact that these worked really well,” says Nancy Davis. “He realized he had something.” Lacking the money to file documents, he turned to Levi Strauss, a German immigrant who had recently opened a branch of his family’s dry-goods store in San Francisco, and the two took out a patent on a pair of pants strengthened with rivets.

Davis soon moved to San Francisco, and wide scale production of riveted pants started for the first time. Strauss ran the business, while Davis became production manager. “ actually was the person in charge of making sure that the trousers really did what they said they were going to do,” says Nancy Davis. “He was the person who knew how these pants should work.”

A close-up of the Smithsonian's original Levi Strauss trousers. Photo courtesy American History Museum

Business for the company boomed as pants flew off the shelves. “Strauss was doing pretty well in terms of bringing in merchandise from the East, but this was great because he didn’t need to bring in everything. He could manufacture it there, and that cut out a lot of cost,” says Davis. “He didn’t make just the jeans, but this was the principal thing he was making, and they were very popular.”

Essential to the Levi’s name was the integrity and ruggedness of the trousers. As seen on the American History Museum’s own pair of antique duck trousers, made sometime between 1873 and 1896, the label clearly proclaims “Patent Riveted Duck & Denim Clothing. . .Every Pair Guaranteed. None Genuine Unless Bearing This Label.”

Even as the patent expired in 1890, Levi Strauss & Co. was already associated with a tremendously popular product and set up for long-term success. But introducing a new, more flexible fabric—blue denim—to go with the rivet idea proved to be the combination that would shape American wardrobes for more than a century and counting. “The brown duck continued to be used as late as 1896, and for a while it was side by side with the blue jeans,” Davis says.

The 1890 creation of the iconic Levi’s 501 style, in particular, led to the denim jeans taking over, eventually moving outside of the working class demographic and into the embrace of everyday casual fashion. “Initially, with Davis, it was the people who really needed serviceable pants, and needed them to last a lot longer than most,” says Nancy Davis. “Then we have record of—as early as the 1930s—people, other than blue-collar workers, wearing jeans. You do have people wearing them who don’t need to wear them, especially young people.”

In the latter half of the 20th century—decades after Strauss’ death in 1902—blue jeans achieved widespread cultural significance. “They really come to their apex in the 60s and 70s,” Davis says. “The interesting thing is that this particular type of pants, the blue jeans, have become international,” she adds. “It’s what people think of. When they think of America, they think of blue jeans.”

About Joseph Stromberg

Joseph Stromberg was previously a digital reporter for Smithsonian.


Mess. Levi Strauss & Co., Gents,

Inclosed please find Chack for $350.00 for which please give me credit balince my account and wright me how much thare is left to my credit, deduct $4. for the Plush and Thread which I have sent back. The reason I send you so much money is because I have no use for it here and you may alowe me Interest as well as the Baink.

I also send you by Express 2 ps. Overall as you will see one Blue and one made of the 10 oz Duck which I have bought a greate many Peces of you, and have made it up to the Pants, such as the sample the secratt of them Pants is the Rivits that I put in those Pockots and I found the demand so large that I cannot make them fast enough.

I charge for the Duck $3.00 and the Blue $2.50 a pear. My nabors are getting yealouse of these success and unless I secure it by Patent Papers it will soon become to be a general thing everybody will make them up and thare will be no money in it. tharefor

Gentlemen I wish to make you a Proposition that you should take out the Latters Patent in my name as I am the Inventor of it, the expense of it will be about $68, all complit and for these $68

I will give you half the right to sell all such Clothing Revited according to the Patent, for all the Pacific States and Teroterous the balance of the United States and of the Pecific Coast I reserve for myself, the investment for you is but a trifle compaired with the improvement in all Coarse Clothing. I use it in all Blankit Clothing such as Coats, Vests and Pents, you will find it a very salable article at a much advenst rate.

Should you decline to spent the amount required for the Patent Papers please wright to me and I will take them out at my own expense, under all cercomestance please dont showe the pents to anybody I have already obtained through Dewey & Co. of the Centific Press 2 Patents and one was rejected, but I am so situated with a large Family that I cannot do anything with it at Present tharefore as I have said if you wish to take out the Papers, Please go to Dewey & Co. of the Centrific Press and have the Papers made out in my name for 17 years they will send them up to me for Signature.

Please answer these as soon as possible, these looks like a trifle hardley worth speakeing off But nevertheless I knew you can make up pents the way I do you can sell Duck Pents such as the Sample a $30 per doz. and they will readyly retail for $3. a pair excuse these long latter, as I could not describe particulars in a short space, I have nothing more at present.

I remain yours Truly, J.W.Davis

me – That was a remarkable letter, Jacob. You may not have won any awards for spelling but you were certainly an entrepreneurial visionary. But there was one word in your letter that I couldn’t figure out: ‘Teroterous.’

Jacob – Teroterous, you know, like what countries are before they become a state.

me – Right! Territories! Gotcha. Levi, what did you think when you first read Jacob’s letter?

Levi – I know a good idea when I see it. I saw the potential right away. I accepted Jacob’s offer and together we received U.S. Patent #139.121 for an “improvement in fastening pocket-openings” on May 20, 1873.

Jacob – Yes, even then, the government used five words when they only needed one – rivets!

The red tag was added as a Levi identifier.

Orange Arcuate trademark on back pockets

Leather two-horse patch and 501 lot number

James Dean in Levis in film, "Giant"


Today in Patent History: Blue Jeans Patented May 20, 1873

The only Figure from Davis’ U.S. Patent No. 139,121.

Davis, a tailor by training, revolutionized fashion after being asked by a customer if he could create a durable pair of trousers for her husband, who was a woodcutter. When Davis created these pants he used the now familiar copper rivet fasteners. Davis charged only $3 for that first pair of jeans in 1870. See Your Denim Jeans Are a Nevada Invention.

The durable patents with the rivets turned out to be extremely popular, with more and more customers asking for Davis to make them a pair of the rivet clad durable pants. It was at this point that David thought that he was on to something big, which lead him to want to patent what he had invented. In order to accomplish this he approached Levi Strauss and ask him to partner with him. Strauss agreed and paid the patent fees. See Jacob Davis and the Copper-riveted Jeans.

The patent, which included only a single photograph and text not even amounting to a full page, described the invention in this way:

“[The] invention relates to a fastening for pocket-openings, whereby the sewed seams are prevented from ripping or starting from frequent pressure or strain thereon and it consists in the employment of a metal rivet or eyelet at each edge of the pocket-opening, to prevent the ripping of the seam at those points. The rivet or eyelet is so fastened in the seam as to bind the two parts of cloth which the seam unites together, so that it shall prevent the strain or pressure from coming upon the thread with which the seam is sewed.”

The inventor goes on to describe the invention narrowly with an eye toward known prior art, saying:

I am aware that rivets have been used for securing seams in shoes, as shown in the patents to Geo. Houghton, No. 64,015, April 23, 1867, and to L.K. Washburn, No. 123, 313, January 30, 1872 and hence I do not claim broadly, fastening of seams by means of rivets.

Having thus described my invention what I claim as new, and desire to secure by Letters Patent, is—

As a new article of manufacture, a pair of pantaloous having the pocket-openings secured at each edge by means of rivets, substantially in the manner described and shown, whereby the seams at the points named are prevented from ripping, as set forth.

Today a patent application written like this would have absolutely no chance of being issued because the description is quite open ended. Of course, anyone who reads the patent would easily be able to understand what the inventor invented and wanted to cover. But somewhere along the way in patent history we moved from an honest, good faith understanding of what was invented and what a patent is intended to cover to a hyper-legalistic approach to patents that requires each and every permutation of an invention to be described with excruciating detail.

Of course, whenever you describe something with such detail and you leave something out then the argument becomes you must have intended to leave that out since you described everything so painstakingly otherwise. Thus, more and more description is required, at greater and greater expense. I’m not sure there has been any improvement in quality of patents, but the cost to prepare and obtain a patent has dramatically risen.


Blue Jeans History - Who Invented Jeans?

Jeans are pants made from denim or dungaree cloths which are both cotton cloths but denim is woven and then colored while dungaree is woven from colored yarn. “Jeans” is a short for “blue jeans” which are invented by Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss in 1873. Jeans as name for trousers come from city of Genoa in Italy, a place where cotton corduroy, called either jean or jeane, was manufactured. Republic of Genoa exported the jeans throughout Europe. Weavers from the French city of Nimes tried to copy jean but could not. Fabric they ended up with became known as denim, literally "de Nimes" or “from Nimes”.

In 1851 Levi Strauss came from Germany to New York where his brother held dry goods store as a family business. From there, Levi Strauss went to San Francisco in March 1853, to start a West Coast branch of the business - Levi Strauss & Co. wholesale house. Before he came there, a Gold Rush began in California in 1848. Among other things, miners needed strong clothes that could withstand rough working conditions. One of the tailors that tried to make clothes that would fill this condition was Jacob Davis, tailor from Reno, Nevada, who purchased bolts of cloth from the wholesale house of Levi Strauss & Co. Only problem he had is that clothes ripped at pockets of the pants. He reinforced corners of the pockets with metal rivets and with that made them stronger. Jacob Davis tried to patent the idea but didn’t have the money to file the papers. Because of that he suggested to Levi Strauss in 1872 that two of them hold the patent. Levi liked the idea and on May 20, 1873, the two men received patent no.139,121 from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. After that Levi hired Jacob Davis to oversee production of the riveted pants at his factory - the Levi Strauss & Co. Denim from which the cloths of were at Levi Strauss & Co made came from Amoskeag Mill in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Jeans were working clothes at first. They were made from durable materials and could last long. Men's jeans had the zipper down the front, while women's jeans had the zipper at the left side and both were designed to fit loosely and in form of overalls. In 1950s Jeans without the bib became symbol of youth rebellion after James Dean popularized them in the movie “Rebel without a Cause”. Because of their meaning they became banned in schools, theatres and restaurants. They became more acceptable in 1960s and by the 1970s they became accepted as a part of fashion. In 1965, Limbo, a boutique in the New York East Village, was the first retailer to wash a new pair of jeans to make them look used and worn out, decorated them with patches and decals and sold them like that for $200. Idea soon became a hit. In time jeans changes looks but never got out of style. Today jeans is worn by people of all genders and ages.


This Day in History: May 20, 1873: Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis receive patent for blue jeans

On this day in 1873, San Francisco businessman Levi Strauss and Reno, Nevada, tailor Jacob Davis are given a patent to create work pants reinforced with metal rivets, marking the birth of one of the world's most famous garments: blue jeans.

In San Francisco, Strauss established a wholesale dry goods business under his own name and worked as the West Coast representative of his family's firm. His new business imported clothing, fabric and other dry goods to sell in the small stores opening all over California and other Western states to supply the rapidly expanding communities of gold miners and other settlers. By 1866, Strauss had moved his company to expanded headquarters and was a well-known businessman and supporter of the Jewish community in San Francisco.

Jacob Davis, a tailor in Reno, Nevada, was one of Levi Strauss' regular customers. In 1872, he wrote a letter to Strauss about his method of making work pants with metal rivets on the stress points--at the corners of the pockets and the base of the button fly--to make them stronger. As Davis didn't have the money for the necessary paperwork, he suggested that Strauss provide the funds and that the two men get the patent together. Strauss agreed enthusiastically, and the patent for "Improvement in Fastening Pocket-Openings"--the innovation that would produce blue jeans as we know them--was granted to both men on May 20, 1873.

Strauss brought Davis to San Francisco to oversee the first manufacturing facility for "waist overalls," as the original jeans were known. At first they employed seamstresses working out of their homes, but by the 1880s, Strauss had opened his own factory. The famous 501 brand jean--known until 1890 as "XX"--was soon a bestseller, and the company grew quickly. By the 1920s, Levi's denim waist overalls were the top-selling men's work pant in the United States. As decades passed, the craze only grew, and now blue jeans are worn by men and women, young and old, around the world.


Blue denim

On May 20, 1873, the two businessmen were granted the patent for the “Improvement in Fastening Pocket-Openings.” Originally called “waist overalls,” Strauss organized a factory in San Francisco that would produce the world’s first jeans and hired Davis to manage their production. Although they originally recruited homemakers to do their stitching at home, the business expanded and Strauss opened his first production facility in the 1880s. His 501 jeans became a hit among denim fanatics everywhere.


Watch the video: If Levi Strauss didnt invent jeans, who did?