Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis received their patent for Levi’s on May 20, 1873. Since then, their famous pants have gone on to become the iconic clothing of miners, cowboys, rebels, and supermodels alike. From the original overall to the modern skinny jean, each generation finds a way to reinvent the blue jean.In celebration of Levi’s 140th anniversary—and its eternal youth—here are five facts about the man and the trousers that started America’s love affair with denim.
1. “Levi’s” could have been “Loeb’s.”
Levi’s are an American classic, but Levi Strauss was actually born Loeb Strauss in Bavaria, Germany. In 1847, Loeb left Germany with his mother and two sisters to sail to New York City and join his half-brothers’ dry goods business. He became a U.S. citizen in 1853 and headed to San Francisco to start his own company as Levi Strauss.
2. Levi Strauss went to San Francisco to cash in on the Gold Rush.
Strauss went to San Francisco during the California Gold Rush to pedal dry goods to the state’s burgeoning population. Levi’s eventually became the pant of choice for miners, carpenters, and the men on the docks. Levi’s haven’t forgotten their Gold Rush roots: as of 2014, the San Francisco ’49ers new home will be named Levi’s Stadium.
3. Levi Strauss never actually wore Levi’s.
By the time he got his patent in 1873, Levi Strauss was a successful businessman who wore only dark suits and starched white shirts. Levi’s at that time were for laborers, not successful merchants.
4. Levi’s jeans used to be called “waist overalls.”
Until the 1950s, customers asked for overalls—not jeans—when they came into a store.
5. The 1873 patent was for an “Improvement in Fastening Pocket-Openings.”
Jacob Davis was a tailor from Reno, Nevada, who had the idea to create riveted clothing for miners in Reno. He wrote to Strauss in 1872, asking him to be his business partner. The first pants they produced were made of brown cotton duck (a canvas-like material) and blue denim. They were reinforced with rivets and had buttons at the waist for securing suspenders: waist overalls.