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150th anniversary: How Levi’s could have been called Jacob’s

May 20, 1873, marks the day that Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis received their patent for riveted pants. Here are a few things you might not know about the brand that has been around for 150 years.

Levi Strauss was born in Germany in 1829 and moved to the United States with his family in 1847. His brothers ran a dry goods company in New York and Levi and his other family members set up an outpost in San Francisco during the gold rush.

You can read about how Strauss lost a fortune in 1857 due to a shipwreck here.

Jākobs Jufess, born in 1831, was a tailor of Latvian-Jewish origin. In 1854, at the age of 23, he immigrated to New York City, where he changed his name to Jacob Davis. Davis worked as a tailor in Maine, San Francisco and western Canada, where he also panned for gold.

More railroad than rush

In 1868, Davis moved his family to Reno, where he helped build a brewery and set up a tailor shop making items such as tents, horse blankets and wagon covers for the railway workers on the Central Pacific Railroad. Davis worked with heavy-duty cotton duck cloth and cotton denim, which he bought from Levi Strauss & Co. in San Francisco.

Should they be Jacob’s jeans?

In 1870, Davis was asked by a customer to make a pair of strong working pants for her husband, who was a woodcutter. He used duck cloth (similar to canvas) and reinforced the weak points in the seams and pockets with copper rivets. He began stitching one back pocket with an arcuate stitching design (still on Levi’s today) to separate his product from his competitors. He also gave each pair a watch pocket, which is now considered a coin pocket. In 1872, after demand increased beyond his production capabilities, he approached Levi Strauss for financial backing to file a patent. Strauss agreed, and on May 20, 1873, U.S. Patent No. 139,121 for “Improvements in fastening pocket openings” was issued in the name of Jacob W. Davis and Levi Strauss and Co.

Lasting partnership

As business continued to boom, Davis moved his family to San Francisco and managed the manufacturing plant for Levi Strauss and Co. Davis oversaw production of the work pants as well as other lines, including work shirts and overalls, until his death in 1908.

“My invention relates to a fastening for pocket openings, whereby the sewed seams are prevented from ripping or starting from frequent pressure or strain thereon; and it consists in the employment of a metal rivet, or eyelet at each edge of the pocket-opening, to prevent the ripping of the seam at those points.” — From Jacob Davis’ 1872 patent request

Levi’s today

The last factories to make Levi’s in the U.S. closed their doors in 2003. The company sourced out production of a limited edition American-made line to a local denim factory for a brief time in the 2010s and the prices were about $200.

Levi Strauss & Co.‘s reported 2022 net revenues were $6.2 billion.

In the last business quarter, the company reported that 30% of its sales were direct to consumers through its stores, and 7% via e commerce. The Americas remain Levi Strauss’ largest market, followed by Europe and Asia.

Levi’s also owns the brands Dockers, Denizen and Beyond Yoga.

Sources: Levi Strauss & Co.; The Smithsonian Institution; Blue Owl Workshop;, Society for Human Resource Management

Photos: The Associated Press; The Register, Levi Strauss; Wikimedia Commons

Source: Orange County Register

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