Sunday, March 27, 2011

-The forgotten inventor- And Rivets!

Circa 1875 poster

We all have at least a couple pairs of jeans in our wardrobe and I'm sure one or both is Levi's brand. Today, Levi's are a household name, but few people think about the origin of these useful and even fashionable pants. While playing around in California history, (doin' research for my work in progress), I learned some fun facts I'll share with you.

The tailor, Levi Strauss, is typically given sole credit for inventing denim jeans with riveted pockets (back in 1800's California). But did you know he had a business partner?


Jacob Davis (born Jacob Youphes) was the guy responsible for the rivets that keep your sturdy jeans together whether you're digging trenches, panning for gold, or riding your horse into the sunset shouting "Yee-haw!"

Levi Strauss came to California to mend and make tents. He ended up with quite a bit of leftover fabric. He made pants out of it and they grew popular. He had a dry goods business that boomed in gold rush California.

Meanwhile, Jacob, who made things like wagon covers, tents, etc.,(with fabric he purchased from Levi's company) found copper rivets held horse blankets together quite well. One day a lady asked for some strong pants for her large husband. He used the rivet method with great success. He wrote to Levi Strauss to suggest they hold the patent for riveted pants together. So, they went into business as partners.

The next time you yank on those Levi's give a little wink and nod to Jacob, the forgotten inventor.


Now because I love words, I thought I'd include a little blurb about the origin of the word "jeans." The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology says that it came in 1843 from the singular form "jean" for the strong twilled cotton cloth (1567), which comes from the adjective "jene" Genoese (1436), which was borrowed from Middle French, "Genes" Genoa, the city in Italy, where such cloth was made.

Oh, and because one of my favorite quotes is about rivets, I'll bug you further. It comes from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

"[At the coast Y]ou could fill your pockets with rivets for the trouble of stooping down--and there wasn't one rivet to be found where it was wanted."

Isn't that always the case? Pins and spare buttons are like that too. But I digress.

*(links to image origins in image captions)


Tony said...

Wow, it's amazing the things you find out when you research. Really interesting stuff. I've never given those rivets a second thought until now.

Al said...

Never heard about Levi's partner.
Thanks for the history.

Joylene Butler said...

I'm trying to remember where I first heard this. Probably BIO. Fascinating life of one both men. Thanks for clarifying. I love hearing about origins.

rama said...

Hello Amanda,
Long time,how are you?
That is an interesting piece of information about Levis & Jacob.
We own so many things but we don't bother to know much about their origins.
It was interesting reading about it. Thanks for sharing. Have good week ahead.

Amanda Borenstadt said...

Hi. Thanks for dropping by, everyone! :)

Tony, yeah, often the little things like rivets don't get noticed.

Al, I'm always happy to pass along neato history. :)

Joylene. Me too and you're welcome!

Rama. Thanks! You have a good week too! :)

Abby Minard said...

Wow, awesome research!! Love the old history :)

Amanda Borenstadt said...

Thank, Abby! :)

karabu said...

Cool. This reminds me of something I heard once that said most folks who made their fortune out west didn't do it by finding gold, but by creating a business to serve the gold hunters. Interesting.

Amanda Borenstadt said...

So true, Kara. There's a saying that the entrepreneurs "mined the miners" because they were so successful and made so much money off the miners.

Medeia Sharif said...

I love jeans. And this post was fascinating. :)

Amanda Borenstadt said...

Thanks, Medeia!
I love jeans to. :)

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