Friday, May 20, 2022

This Week in 1873, Patent for Blue Jeans Issued


149 years ago today a U. S. patent is granted to Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis for “Improvement in Fastening Pocket Openings”, i.e. for the use of rivets to strengthen the weak spots around the pockets.

Details from — and if you end up confused about who actually invented blue jeans, you’re not alone, the underlined could have been worded more clearly:

In 1872, he wrote a letter to Strauss about his method of making work pants with metal rivets on the stress points—at the corners of the pockets and the base of the button fly—to make them stronger. As Davis didn’t have the money for the necessary paperwork, he suggested that Strauss provide the funds and that the two men get the patent together. Strauss agreed enthusiastically, and the patent for “Improvement in Fastening Pocket-Openings”–the innovation that would produce blue jeans as we know them–was granted to both men on May 20, 1873.
It was Davis, not Strauss, who invented jeans with rivets. 

Two main factors drove their popularity — miners and railroad workers — and the amount of ancillary economic activity those two fields generated in the mid- to late-1800s is nearly impossible to imagine today. 

Is there another name — other than Jesus himself, and ignoring world leaders— that became as famous worldwide as Levi Strauss? Michael Jordan maybe? Muhammad Ali? It’s a pretty short list.

Wikipedia tells the story with much greater detail:

In his tailor shop, Davis made functional items such as tents, horse blankets and wagon covers for the railway workers on the Central Pacific Railroad. The fabric Davis worked with was heavy-duty cotton duck cloth and cotton denim which he bought from Levi Strauss & Co., a dry goods company in San Francisco. To strengthen the stress points of the sewn items he was making, Davis used copper rivets to reinforce the stitching.

In December 1870, Davis was asked by a customer to make a pair of strong working pants for her husband who was a woodcutter. To create suitably robust pants for working, he used duck cloth and reinforced the weak points in the seams and pockets with the copper rivets. Such was the success of these pants that word spread throughout the labourers along the railroad. Davis was making these working pants in duck cotton and, as early as 1871, in denim cotton. Before long, he found he could not keep up with demand.

Davis had previously applied for patents for other inventions. Realising the potential value in his reinforced jeans concept, in 1872, he approached Levi Strauss, who was still his supplier of fabric, and asked for his financial backing in the filing of a patent application. Strauss agreed, and on May 20, 1873, US Patent No. 139,121 for "Improvements in fastening pocket openings" was issued in the name of Jacob W. Davis and Levi Strauss and Company. That same year, Davis started sewing a double orange threaded stitched design onto the back pocket of the jeans to distinguish them from those made by his competitors. This trademark feature became Registered U.S. Trade Mark No. 1,139,254.

Apparently the only reason that Levi Strauss instead of Jacob Davis became a household name was that Strauss funded the patent application process, even though the invention itself, the rivets to strengthen the pants, was Davis’.