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Levi's by the Numbers - Levi's Advertising - Levi's History - Levi's Organization

While the history of jeans goes back to the 15th century, it was Levi Strauss who popularized blue jeans in the United States.  In  the 1850s, Strauss came to San Francisco to open a West Coast branch of his brother in law’s dry goods business, which was based in New York.  Strauss initially made pants out of a cotton material.  Seeking something more durable, he switched to  brown canvas sailcloth.  After he used up his supply of sailcloth, he switched to a sturdier fabric called serge that was made in Nimes, France.  This fabric was originally called serge de Nimes, but the name was shortened to denim.

In the early 1870s, one of Levi Strauss’ customers was Jacob Davis, a tailor from Reno, Nevada.  Davis bought the cloth from Levi Strauss and made it into pants.  One of Davis’s customers kept ripping his  pants pockets.  Davis came up with the idea of putting metal rivets in the pants at the point of strain.

Jacob Davis decided to patent the metal rivets idea.  He approached Levi Strauss and suggested they hold the patent together.  Strauss agreed, and the two men were awarded the patent on May 20, 1873.  This date is today considered the official “birthday” of blue jeans.  

For almost 20 years, Strauss and Davis were the only ones allowed to make riveted clothing until the patent entered the public domain.  The two horse design first appeared in 1886.  In 1890, the pants were assigned the number 501.  Once the patent expired, other companies started making these riveted denim jeans.  In 1936, the red tab attached to the right rear pocket was introduced as a way to identify Levi’s jeans at a distance.

In the 1940s, jeans were worn by workers, especially in the factories.  Blue jeans became popular in the 1950s as a symbol of protest against conformity.  In the mid-1950s, Donald Freeland of the Great Western Garment Company introduced the technique of stone-washing denim.  In the 1960s, blue jeans became widely accepted, especially among the younger generation.  Their popularity continued into the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, and it continues today.  

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