Levi’s – history of Denim. Story by RUNWAY MAGAZINE. Photo Courtesy: Levi’s, art work Runway Magazine.
Beginning of Levi’s – Beginning of Denim
In the annals of fashion history, May 20, 1873, shines as a radiant milestone—the birth of the iconic blue jean. This momentous day marked the culmination of a collaboration between two remarkable individuals: Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis. Their visionary partnership would go on to reshape the world of fashion and create a legacy that endures to this day.
Levi Strauss, a Bavarian-born dry goods merchant, embarked on a journey to San Francisco in 1853, where he sought to establish a West Coast branch of his family’s New York-based wholesale dry goods business. Over two decades, he not only transformed his enterprise into a resounding success but also etched his name into the annals of local philanthropy. A man of distinction, Strauss embodied the spirit of entrepreneurship and community engagement.
It was within this bustling environment that Levi Strauss crossed paths with Jacob Davis, a skilled tailor. The genesis of denim’s transformation into an enduring fashion staple can be traced back to an earnest request from a laborer’s wife. She beseeched Jacob to craft a pair of pants that could withstand the rigors of her husband’s work without falling apart. Jacob’s inventive solution was nothing short of revolutionary—metal rivets strategically placed at points of stress, such as pocket corners and the button fly.
The riveted pants, a testament to Jacob Davis’s ingenuity, quickly garnered widespread acclaim. Recognizing the potential of this innovative garment, Jacob sought to patent his creation. Yet, he needed a collaborator, a partner with the vision to turn this idea into a reality. It was only natural that his gaze turned to Levi Strauss, the very supplier of the sturdy cloth used in crafting these remarkable pants.
In a fateful letter, Jacob Davis proposed the idea of sharing the patent with Levi Strauss. Recognizing the brilliance of this concept and its commercial potential, Levi Strauss, the astute businessman, agreed to the partnership. Together, they received U.S. Patent #139,121 from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on that historic day, May 20, 1873.
The inception of the first riveted clothing marked a new era in fashion. These revolutionary pants, initially referred to as “waist overalls” or simply “overalls,” became an instant sensation. It wasn’t until 1960, with the ascent of the baby boomer generation, that the term “jeans” firmly took root in our lexicon.
May 20, 1873, holds an indelible place in the annals of fashion history. It is, without a doubt, the “birthday” of blue jeans. While denim pants had existed as practical workwear for years, it was the inspired addition of rivets to these traditional trousers that birthed what we now lovingly refer to as jeans.
Two-Horse Pull Levi’s Logo
In the captivating world of denim history, one emblem stands as an enduring testament to quality and strength: the iconic Two-Horse Pull, a symbol that transcends mere marketing and delves into the realm of legendary promises.
The origins of this symbol can be traced back to May 20, 1873, when Levi Strauss & Co. and the ingenious tailor Jacob Davis secured a U.S. patent for their groundbreaking creation, the riveted pocket opening. This momentous event birthed the modern blue jean, a garment that would become synonymous with durability and style. For nearly two decades, this patent shielded Levi Strauss & Co. from competitors who sought to replicate their innovative design.
However, as the expiration date of the patent loomed on the horizon in 1886, the company faced a pivotal decision. How could they convey the unmatched quality and strength of their riveted overalls to the world? The answer lay in a symbol, a trademark that would soon become recognized around the globe.
This symbol featured a pair of Levi’s® overalls, each flanked by a sturdy horse attached to either side of the waistband. These two horses, standing resolutely, faced in opposite directions, with a man standing beside each horse, ready to coax it forward. A straightforward tagline accompanied this image, declaring, “It’s no use. They simply can’t be ripped.”
The question that lingered in the air was whether the Two-Horse Pull was a mere boast or a genuine claim of truth. To put this trademark to the test, Levi Strauss & Co. decided to reenact its promise in real-life scenarios over the years.
One remarkable instance took place in 1942 when a store owner in Hawaii, John Moodie, embarked on an audacious experiment. Armed with the instructions provided by LS&Co., he hitched two Missouri mules to a pair of Levi’s® jeans and awaited the outcome. With anticipation building, he wrote to LS&Co. stating, “Acting under your instructions on [the] enclosed circular, we hitched two Missouri mules to your pants, and zip.” He requested a refund for his torn Levi’s® jeans.
Two months later, Dick Cronin of Levi Strauss & Co. responded to John’s bold endeavor. He sent a refund check, acknowledging the faith and confidence John had placed in the superior strength of Levi’s®. Cronin gracefully conceded, “We regret, though are not surprised, that the pants did not pass the test without the fatal ‘ZIP’ you mentioned. However, we understand from the many stories surrounding the Missouri mule that we are not the first to have come out second-best in a [tussle] with that animal.”
Yet, John Moodie, in February 1943, returned the check with a note that revealed the true nature of this remarkable test. He argued, “Mules are stronger than horses,” and added with a hint of admiration, “even at that, the Levi’s® came near winning. At the end of the [tussle], one of the mules dropped from exhaustion and expired a short time later.”
In the annals of fashion history, this tale of the Two-Horse Pull transcends the ordinary. It embodies the enduring commitment of Levi Strauss & Co. to quality and resilience, a promise that even a pair of Missouri mules could scarcely test. This iconic symbol remains a testament to the unwavering pursuit of excellence that continues to define Levi’s® as a beacon of durability and style.
As you observe someone donning a pair of Levi’s® jeans today, remember that they are the direct descendants of that very first pair created in 1873. In that pivotal year, two visionary immigrants—Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis—transformed denim, thread, and a touch of metal into what would become the world’s most beloved and enduring apparel. Their legacy, stitched into every pair of jeans, speaks of innovation, craftsmanship, and a timeless sense of style.