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Levi Strauss arrived in San Francisco in 1853 and opened up a wholesale goods business, selling clothes and blankets to the small general stores throughout the American West. Business steadily grew and Strauss opened up Levi Strauss & Co. headquarters in 1866 at 14-16 Battery Street. Just six years later a Reno Nevada tailor, Jacob Davis wrote to Levi Strauss informing him of his invented process to rivet the pocket corners on men’s trousers to increase strength.
Then in 1873, Strauss and Davis received a patent on the process of riveting trousers and this date is regarded as the date of the birth of the blue jean. This was the original 501® jean but at this time it was simply called “XX” – an industry term meaning highest quality and the term for the high quality denim used in their manufacture.
The jeans had one back pocket featuring the same stitching design as today’s jeans, a watch pocket, a cinch, suspender buttons and a rivet in the crotch. They were made using 9 oz. XX blue denim and produced in San Francisco.
In 1886 the Two Horse® brand leather patch is introduced to waist overalls and in 1890, 501® is used as a lot number to designate the famous copper-riveted waist overalls. The following year a second rear pocket is introduced to the jeans before Levi Strauss passed away at the age of 73 in 1902. His nephews took over the company and their descendants still run the company today.
Twenty years later belt loops were added to the overalls. This results in some men removing the cinch in order to wear them with a belt. Later in the twenties Cone Mills develops the 10 oz. red selvedge denim exclusively for the 501® jeans. This denim was woven on 29” wide looms and is known as XX denim.
The famous red tab is introduced in 1936 and placed on the rear pockets of the overalls. The word “LEVI’S®” is also stitched onto them. The branding was created to separate Levi’s® overalls from the competitors.
After World War II the 501® jeans went through a few changes – the cinch was removed, the rivets were replaced on the watch pocket and the trademark Arcuate stitching is produced with a double-needle machine which gave it a diamond shape where the two lines of stitching met. In the late 1950s the leather patch is replaced by a patch made of heavy duty card stock because of the expansion of the company which made it more cost effective.
In the 60s the word ‘jeans’ is used in advertising and branding after being coined by teenagers in the previous decade. The pre-shrunk Levi’s® are introduced in 1963 and the following year Levi’s® jeans become part of the permanent collections at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
In 1971 the Levi’s® branding is changed from all capital letters conforming to the company’s new housemark. In 1983 Cone Mills began producing XXX denim through the use of 60” wide looms. The 80’s also saw the start of their innovative television commercials which resulted in the classic American rock songs featured re-charting and enjoying new success such was the impact of the advertising campaign.
Recently to celebrate their history they introduced the Levi’s Vintage Clothing range which offered reproductions of their classic designs from their archives. Levi’s® recently celebrated both the 125th anniversary of the 501® jeans and in 2003 the sesquicentennial of the company.
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