On this day in 1873 Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis were granted a patent for work pants, made from denim and reinforced with rivets . The fabric used was a cotton product called denim. While a denim predecessor known as dungaree has been produced in India for hundreds of years, denim as it is recognized today was first produced in Nîmes, France, according to the website, Cottonworks, and was originally called serge de Nimes. The word jeans, by the way dates back to 1567 with the introduction of the word “genoese” or “genes” to describe the tough twill trousers worn by merchant sailors from the Italian port city of Genoa.
Levi Strauss was a successful dry goods importer based in San Fransisco. According to History Channel, Jacob Davis, a tailor in Reno, Nevada, was one of Levi Strauss’ regular customers. In 1872, he approached Strauss about his new 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 to file for a patent, he suggested that Strauss provide the funds and that the two men get the patent together.
Strauss opened a factory to manufacture the jeans and developed the iconic “501 Brand” which was given that name in 1890. The 1950’s saw blue jeans graduate from being strictly a work garment to become a teen fashion statement inspired by their use in films by Marlon Brando and James Dean.
The company remained family owned for much of its history, but has been publicly traded since 2019 when it opened on the New York Stock Exchange with a share value of $6.6 billion.
James Dean. Contrary to the article… he did not wear Levi Strauss 501s. His sole brand of jeans was the Lee Rider 101Z… that he first bought as a teen in Fairmount IN, and later wore them in his role as Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause, and as Jett Rink in Giant, 1955. Lee Raskin, James Dean Biographer / Author.