Sunday, December 20, 2009

Blue Jeans - An Unintentional Discovery

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

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.

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.
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.

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