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Jacob Davis: The Inventor of Riveted Jeans

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The history of denim jeans is full of myths. 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 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. According to the myth, he then added copper rivets on the pockets corners and other exposed areas as an extra reinforcement.

This may be the truth?! However, here at Rope Dye we back the following interpretation of how the copper rivets were added to workwear.

The True Inventor of Blue Jeans as We Know Them

The inventor of the key feature 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 for 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.

The Partnership Between Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis

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 Davis, 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.

Learn more about the history of Levi Strauss here.

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25 comments

Avatar
Abhishek May 29, 2014 at 13:22

Great to know this, copper actually looks perfect for denims

Avatar
panatella June 10, 2014 at 14:47

The idea to dye them blue was Strauss’ idea. The white material stained easily, so he came up wit the idea of dying them with a dark blue stain made from indigo. To this day, if you actually look in a Levi’s catalogue the dark blue color is called indigo. I know this because my father worked for Lev’s for over ten years. This information was straight from the company’s archives based in San Francisco.

Avatar
thomasbojer June 10, 2014 at 15:04

Hi Panatella,
I am not sure your informations are completely correct. Levi Strauss did not invent indigo dyed denim, the story your father has been told is most likely part of the pre-Lynn Downey era, i.e. before the company itself knew much about it’s heritage. Hundreds of years before the invention of the riveted blue jean, denim, duck, and other coarse fabric were dyed with indigo. You are right, however, about the strain part, as the indigo dye makes the fabric more dirt and water repellant.

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