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Articles » Levi's, where are you from?

Levi's, where are you from?
Date of Publication -01 March 2009
Topic - Lifestyle
Author of the article: rockin_bird
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Every rockabilly fan has at least a pair of Levi's denim jeans. No wonder that you go for popular shrink-to-fit 501s out of the huge assortiment, because it is James Dean style, because it IS the 50's. And it is American, isn't it? Oh, no, in fact it is not! Here is the true story.

One Latvian guy Jacob Youphes moved to Nevada when he was 37 years old. He changed his name to Jacob Davis and during 15 years was moving from one place to another, on the way finding a German wife (who gave him later six children), but stilll keeping the same job as a tailor. By 1869 he had opened a tailoring shop on Virginia Street in Reno, Nevada. He began making wagon covers and tents from an off-white cotton duck cloth which he purchased from the wholesale house of Levi Strauss & Co. (established in 1853 by German-Jewish immigrant Levi Strauss, real name - Oskar Löb Strauß).

In late 1870 a woman customer came to him for a pair of “cheap” pants for her “large” husband who had a habit of going through pants rather quickly. She paid him $3.00 in advance for the white duck pants, and told Davis she wanted them to be made as strong as possible. Davis had some copper rivets in his shop, which he used to attach straps to the horse blankets he made for local teamsters. When he had finished making the pants, it occurred to him that it might be a good idea to fasten the pockets with the same rivets. The pants were an immediate success. Within eighteen months he had made and sold two hundred pairs of the riveted pants, and he was beginning to be imitated by other tailors. By 1871 he was routinely using rivets on the pants he made - first on duck pants, but soon thereafter denim as well.

Worried about others pirating his productd and not having the required money to purchase a patenthe, he asked Levi Strauss to support him. In return, he offered to share the patent rights with the San Francisco company. Levi Strauss agreed, and the patent was granted on May 20, 1873. The patented rivet was later incorporated into the company's jean design and advertisements. Contrary to an advertising campaign suggesting that Levi Strauss sold his first jeans to gold miners during the California Gold Rush (which peaked in 1849), the manufacturing of denim overalls only began in the 1870s.

Davis not only partnered with the company, he moved with his family to San Francisco and became production manager for a line of Levi's copper-riveted clothing.
In 1902 Levi Strauss died at the age of 73. He left his thriving business to his four nephews - Jacob, Louis, Abraham and Sigmund Stern - who helped to rebuild the company after the disaster of 1906.

Around 1907 Davis sold his interest in the patent and the manufacturing to Levi Strauss & Co. , but he continued to supervise the factory until his death in 1908.

In the 1950s Hollywood gave the company a large boost in its efforts to sell jeans to young people, when actors such as Marlon Brando and James Dean appeared in The Wild One and Rebel without a Cause, personifying youthful rebellion, and wearing jeans.

Nearly everyone in America had strong opinions about what wearing blue jeans did to young people. For example: in 1957 was ran an advertisement in a number of newspapers all over the U.S. which showed a clean-cut young boy wearing Levi’s jeans. The ad contained the slogan, “Right For School.” This ad outraged many parents and adults in general. One woman in New Jersey wrote, “While I have to admit that this may be ‘right for school’ in San Francisco, in the west, or in some rural areas I can assure you that it is in bad taste and not right for School in the East and particularly New York... Of course, you may have different standards and perhaps your employees are permitted to wear Bermuda shorts or golf togs in your office while transacting Levi’s business!”

But even as some Americans tried to get denim out of the schools, there were just as many who believed that jeans deserved a better reputation, and pointed to many wholesome young people who wore jeans and never got into trouble. But no matter what anyone thought or did, nothing could stop the ever-increasing demand for Levi’s jeans. As one 1958 newspaper article reported, “...about 90% of American youths wear jeans everywhere except ‘in bed and in church’ and that this is true in most sections of the country.”

Born in Europe, denim's function and adaptable form found a perfect home in untamed America with the invention of jeans; then, as now, denim makes our lives easier by making us comfortable; and gives us a little bit of history every time we put them on.

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