Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss

Jacob Youphes was born in Latvia and changed his surname to Davis upon immigrating to the US in 1854. Löb Strauß came across the pond in 1847 from Bavaria, changed his forename to Levi, and started a dry goods shop in gold rush-era San Francisco. These two migrants would later join together to patent a simple but popular idea: copper riveting at the stress-points in work pants for increased durability. This innovation set the stage for blue jeans, one of the most popular items of clothing in history.

In the early 1870s, Davis was a tailor in Reno, Nevada. The inadequacy of contemporary work pants for miners and other heavy laborers is reported to have manifested itself through a particular customer of Davis's, whose problem inspired the tailor to apply metal rivets in the pockets and fly to prevent further ripping. Davis obtained cloth for his business from Strauss, who was a merchant in San Francisco. It's likely Davis used cotton duck cloth, and not denim, to make his early pairs of riveted pants. What's known for sure is that he and Strauss worked together to mass produce both duck cloth and denim "waist overalls" and that by 1911, duck cloth had gone by the wayside in favor of denim.

So how did Strauss get involved? Davis had a good idea but didn't have the means to capitalize. Strauss was a successful businessman with money. Evidently he was also someone whom Davis could trust. After being approached by the Latvian entrepreneur, Strauss engaged in what can be merrily described as "unfettered capitalism," providing the resources to help Davis patent his invention. The two went into business together and it didn't take long for this clothing operation to outgrow the dry goods store which had been a San Francisco staple since the 1850's. It didn't even take a century for the ancestor of waist overalls, blue jeans, to become a symbol of comfort and freedom the world over.

Levi Strauss Bio, company website
Jacob Davis Bio, company website
History of Denim, company website
US Patent 139121 illustration
Ideafinder info on blue jeans

1 comment:

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