The history of denim jeans is full of myths. This is the second article about how Levi’s invented the blue jeans and became one of the most well-known brands in the industry. One of the most commonly accepted myths relate to the very invention of the riveted jeans.
In the long standing version of the story, Levi Strauss arrived in San Francisco in the early 1850s and discovered that the hardworking gold miners needed for sturdy pants. He then supposedly got the idea to use some of the canvas, which he had difficulties getting rid of, to sew a couple overalls and added copper rivets on the pockets corners and other exposed areas (so-called “stress points”) as an extra reinforcement. This may be the truth?! However, here at Denimhunters we back the following interpretation of how the copper rivets were added to work wear:
The inventor of this key invention that has been crucial to success Levi’s, and separated the companies products from the other competitors, was a tailor from Reno in Nevada named Jacob Davis. An often omitted protagonist in the story of the origin of jeans.
According to LS&Co. historian, Lynn Downey, in 1870 Davis was contacted by the wife of a robust labourer who had the habit of wearing his trousers out very quickly. She pre-paid Davis $3 the most durable and tough pair of white canvas pants. He got the idea to use copper rivets at the points where the pants often first ripped (corners of pockets and the crotch) to give them extra strength and durability. The invention was an instant success. After 18 months he had sold 200 pairs and other tailors began to imitate his invention. Davis knew he needed to patent his idea. But he did not have neither the money to patent nor production facilities to take full advantage of the opportunities of the idea. He needed a business partner.
Davis wrote a personal letter to Levi Strauss, who was Davis’ main supplier of raw materials and already then was a reputable businessman in the area. Davis suggested that together they could seek patent and divide the costs. Strauss immediately spotted the potential of the invention and agreed to seek patent together with David, and furthermore in return offered that Davis could move to San Francisco and be responsible for the management of production. At first, production took place in private homes, but soon it became necessary to establish a factory, which Davis became head of.
On the May 20, 1873 they received the patent, which they had the next 17 years. Levi Strauss & Co. was thus the first company to mass produce pants with rivets, which has founded the company’s success and unique historical position in the denim market, and “Levi’s” became synonymous with durable work wear. During this period, competitors sought to imitate the invention, but none was as original and punchy as the copper rivets.
Around 1907 Davis sold his share in the patent and production for Levi Strauss & Co. But remained head of the factories until his death years later. Despite 17 years’ head start with a patent for using copper rivets, LS & CO. is not the only jeans manufacturer that has created a successful denim brand. Learn more about how Blue Bell and Lee created their success and became a serious competitors to Levi’s.