On 20th May 1873 two immigrants were granted the patent for that quintessential American garment: the blue jeans. Levi Strauss was born in Buttenheim, Bavaria in 1829 from where he emigrated to New York in 1847; Jacob Davis (r.n. Jacob Youphes) was born in Riga, Latvia in 1834 and moved to New York in 1854. Levi worked with his elder brothers in their dry goods business, before moving to San Francisco, California during the Gold Rush to make his fortune; Jacob also moved to California, then to Canada, before he set up a tailoring business in Reno, Nevada.

Jacob bought bolts of hard-wearing denim fabric from Levi, who imported them from Europe. With this cloth he made trousers for working men, which he strengthened by using copper rivets at the points of greatest stress on the fabric. Realising he had developed a winning product, but without the funds to arrange a patent for his invention, Jacob wrote Levi a letter in 1872 suggesting that Strauss pay for the necessary paperwork in return for joint rights. Levi responded enthusiastically and the next year they received patent #139,121.

Davis joined Strauss in San Francisco to run the Levi Strauss & Co. factories that produced the “waist overalls” as jeans were called at the time. He continued in this position until his death in 1908. Strauss also continued to run his business until he died in 1902, but his company and his name lived on.

The Levi Strauss & Co. website has a history page with pdf documents about Strauss, Davis and the history of denim available for download, as are other resources for teachers and students.

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