The History of Jeans and Levi Strauss

Perhaps the most famous clothing brand name in the world, Levi Strauss & Co. were the inventors of blue denim jeans. Here’s how it happened.

In the mid 1800s during the California Gold Rush a young German immigrant travelled to San Francisco with the intention of opening a West Coast branch of his brother’s New York dry goods business.

That young man’s name was Levi Strauss. Upon his arrival he was asked by a gold prospector what he was selling. Upon being told he was selling rough canvas for tents and wagons the prospector said he should be selling pants, as he couldn’t find any that were strong enough to last.

The comment clearly registered with Strauss. Instead of selling his canvas for tent-making, he turned them into waist high overalls. While they proved popular with miners they complained of chafing so Strauss turned to a French twilled cotton cloth called “serge de Nimes” – from which we get the now common term “denim”. That was in 1853 and Levi Strauss & Company was founded.

Twenty years later the company began using a design with stitched pockets. Working with Nevada tailor David Jacobs, Strauss developed the process for putting metal rivets in the ‘jeans’ for strength.

On May 20, 1873, they received U.S.Patent No.139,121 for the process and that date is now considered the official birthday of “blue jeans.”

The company has gone from strength to strength and has several noteworthy landmarks in its history. These include the time they created a denim tuxedo for Bing Crosby after the crooner was almost refused entry to a hotel due to wearing Levi’s jeans and the fact that legendary rodeo star Pancho Villa wore only Levi’s for his somewhat crazy performances with Brahma bulls, in which he was often tossed and gored!

Today the company, which still has its headquarters in San Francisco, California, employs over 11,000 people and boasts revenues of over $4 billion a year, yet are still owned by descendents of Levi Strauss.

As well as the world famous Levi’s brand, Levi Strauss & Co. also has Dockers and Signature by Levi Strauss as brands, selling a range of Levi’s clothing apart from the blue denim jeans.

Levi Strauss & Co is almost as famous for its advertising campaigns as it is its jeans. They have successfully used old, forgotten songs in their television adverts only to see the songs re-popularised and sell again.

Such songs include “When a Man Loves a Woman by Percy Sledge, recorded in 1966 and used in 1987 by Levi Strauss – it made number two in the UK charts that year!

“The Joker” by the Steve Miller band was used in 1990 – 13 years after its original release – to advertise Levi’s clothing and it topped the UK chart!

Apart from Levi Strauss’ own stores, Levi’s clothing, including Dockers and Signature by Levi Strauss, are sold in hundreds of different outlets all over the world, underlining the continued popularity of the humble blue jeans, originally designed in 1853 to be hard wearing clothing for miners.

They’ve come a long way!