few friends and I were sitting around drinking coffee a few days
ago, and the subject of blue jeans came up, and we starting comparing
notes on how old our jeans were.
“I’m not sure how old my jeans are, but they’re older than my kids,”
Then the origin
of blue jeans came up. And, being the historian, I was assigned
the duty of finding out who invented them.
I found the answer in a neat little book, “The Best of the West,”
by a fellow historian and friend, Bill O’Neal of Carthage.
The inventor was Levi Strauss who was only eighteen in 1847 when
he came to America from his native Bavaria to work as a merchant
in New York City. In 1853, he joined his brother-in-law David Stern
in the dry goods business in San Francisco.
Leaving New York with a supply of cloth, Strauss sold almost all
of it on the way to California, arriving in San Francisco with a
single bolt of canvas tent cloth.
Meeting a mine worker in the city, he designed for the man a pair
of heavy canvas pants. Recognizing his opportunity, he bought large
quantities of canvas sail cloth from ships standing in the harbor.
Within a year Strauss and Stern had become the largest pant makers
after switching from canvas to heavyweight blue denim.
The pants with copper rivets quickly became known as “blue jeans”
or “Levis.” The pants quickly became popular with western workers
because of their durability.
Levi. Strauss & Company was incorporated in 1890 and the San Francisco
plant employed 500 workers to meet the demand. Strauss, who now
had the most famous name in the west, grossed one million dollars
in 1902. He died in 1902, but his four nephews continued to produce
At first, cowhands resisted the strong denim trousers, looking upon
them as the uniform of miners and other workers the cowhands disdained.
In time, however, Levi’s became regulation wear for cowboys.
Turned up cuffs on the trouser legs were used to hold horseshoe
nails while shoeing horses and by the early 1900s Levis were often
worn with shirts sporting snap buttons.
Rodeo cowboys, who sometimes were caught on saddle horns by unyielding
shirt fronts, requested the snap buttons so they could quickly free
themselves from a wild bronc.
© by Bob
Bob Bowman's East Texas
January 10, 2011 Column.
A weekly column syndicated in 109 East Texas newspapers