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Levi Strauss arrived in San Francisco from Bavaria in 1850. Trained as a tailor, he planned to manufacture tents for those people arriving in California as a result of the Gold Rush. He discovered there was no demand for this product and instead used this canvas to make waist-high overalls. Later he switched from canvas to a tough cotton fabric from France called Serge de Nimes. This material eventually became known as denim. In 1860 Strauss strengthen the pockets of his trousers with copper rivets. In 1873 he patented these blue denim trousers that were now known as jeans. Levi Strauss's jeans were popular with cowboys and farmers and his company continued to grow after his death in 1902.

A Brief History Of Levi's, The Original Blue Jeans

Levi’s, the signature brand of the clothing company Levi Strauss & Co., is famous for creating and popularizing the blue jeans that have become a staple in every American wardrobe. Read on to learn the history behind how the company, and the garment, came to be.

Levi Strauss himself was born in 1829 in Bavaria, a province of Germany that is famous today as the host of Munich’s Oktoberfest and Neuschwanstein Castle. After the death of their father in 1846, Strauss and his sisters moved to New York to join their brothers. The brothers worked in the business of wholesale dry goods, running the company J. Strauss Brother & Co., a business that Levi soon joined. A few years later, during the gold rush, Levi picked up and moved from the east coast to the west in the hopes of making a fortune in California. He soon began his own branch of the dry goods company, the original version of Levi Strauss & Co.

Meanwhile, Jacob Davies, a tailor who grew up in what is known today as Latvia, moved from New York to California in 1856. Failing to strike gold or make ends meet running his tailor shop, Davis moved to Canada for a decade before returning to the US and opening a tailor shop in Nevada. Levi Strauss & Co. soon became his denim supplier.

Although denim pants were already quite commonly worn at this point, they were not quite on a par with what we now call blue jeans. After being asked to make a pair of pants that would hold up better during normal wear and tear, Davis came up with the idea to incorporate metal rivets into the parts of the pants most frequently strained. These new, reinforced pants became popular so quickly that Davis resolved to take out a patent on the design, but he did not have the capital to do so on his own. Instead, he reached out to Strauss with the intent of forming a partnership, and the two soon joined forces to patent the idea. Their patent was granted on May 20th, 1873, a day which is now known as the birthday of blue jeans.

The pants became popular with incredible speed, but for decades they were still referred to as ‘waist overalls’ or simply ‘overalls.’ It wasn’t until the 1960s that the name ‘blue jeans’ became widely used.

Davis soon came to work for Strauss’s already well-established company and continued to do so for the rest of his life. Levi Strauss & Co. soon established its signature Levi’s brand of denim wear, which would go on to become one of the most notable brands in the world. The Levi Strauss & Co. headquarters is now located in Levi’s Plaza, just off of San Francisco’s Embarcadero. Watch the video below to learn more about the impact Levi’s blue jeans have had, from the Levi’s historian.

Levi’s Philosophy and History

No other brand is quite so clouded in legend and conjecture. In fact, much of Levi’s history was lost in the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake and fire in their hometown of San Francisco, but there’s still quite a bit that we know for certain.

Jacob Davis. Image via Levi Strauss & Co.

We know that in 1872, Jacob Davis, a humble tailor in Reno, Nevada, wrote to a Bavarian dry goods merchant named Levi Strauss with a business proposal. Davis was a customer of Strauss, regularly buying rolls of denim and duck canvas, which he cut into hard-wearing clothes for miners in western Nevada. But the miners were constantly coming back for repairs: the fabric held up, but the stitching at stress points did not. Davis eventually took rivets from a saddle to reinforce his “waist overalls” where the stitching had failed and the iconic jean was born.

Unable to scrounge up the cash required to file for a patent and worried that other tailors might steal his idea, he appealed to Levi Strauss for help. Strauss saw promise in Davis’s invention and put up the money. The following year, in 1873, the XX riveted waist overall was created and their idea was patented, guaranteeing that Levi Strauss & Co. would have exclusive rights to the most durable workwear of the era. And Strauss, a savvy businessman, had access to the very best denim available, which happened to be a 9oz. fabric from Amoskeag Mills in New Hampshire that ultimately gave the garment its designation: XX.

Two Horse Brand. Image via Levi Strauss & Co.

In 1886, the iconic Levi’s patch was created, which depicts two horses attempting (but failing) to rip a pair of jeans in half. Levi Strauss & Co. chose this clear imagery to entice even illiterate customers. So successful was the patch that, for many years, Levi Strauss & Co. was simply known as the “two-horse brand.” Four years later, in 1890, the waist overalls were given their permanent name: lot number 501.

An original pair of 501s from the Levi’s archive in San Francisco. Image via Ryan Lindow.

The exact reason for this rebranding were lost in the 1906 fire, as was the decision to begin stitching an arcuate (those swoops) on the back pockets of the waist overalls, but an iconic look was created.

The twentieth century would bring many more innovations to the famous waist overalls. In 1915, Levi’s struck their “golden handshake” deal with Cone Mills, who would supply a heavier, unsanforized denim and put a red yarn in the selvedge edge to even further distinguish Levi’s products. Belt loops were added in 1922, and the classic red tab made its debut in 1936.

John Wayne in Stagecoach 1939 — before fabric rationing.

In the wake of the Great Depression, many cattle ranches converted from working ranches into “dude ranches,” which acted as vacation destinations for wealthy East Coast tourists. It was there that a range of fashionable men and women from outside the Wild West encountered Levi’s jeans for the first time, further elevating the brand’s profile.

But even as Levi’s ads graced the likes of the New York Times and Vogue Magazine, it wouldn’t be until after World War II that denim (and Levi’s) would go mainstream.

Marlon Brando in The Wild One, 1953.

Like many things, the modernization of the silhouette came out of wartime necessity. Fabric rationing during World War II led Levi’s to remove extraneous details—like the back cinch—and large cuffs and baggy fits were discouraged in order to save resources. The results of these restrictions are most apparent in the 1944 edition of the 501, which slimmed up the fit, dropped the rivets, and featured painted on arcuates to save thread.

Many of these changes lived on long after the end of WWII. The tight fit of the shrink-to-fit 501 was even somewhat scandalous in the deeply moralistic 1950s, and it didn’t help that a rising wave of crime and juvenile delinquency was being valorized onscreen by hunky actors like Marlon Brando and James Dean, who both wore jeans legendarily well (although between you and me, James Dean wore Lees).

During this period, Levi’s was gaining more clout, but the corporation was in the middle of a culture war being fought by its customers. School principals banned jeans in schools, East Coast sales were suffering because people didn’t like the unsanforized (shrink-to-fit) denim, and companies like Lee and Wrangler were putting up stiff competition.

By 1967, however, Levi’s was the undisputed victor of the three big jeans companies. They pivoted out of Western wear market and directed their attention towards the fastest growing demographic in the country–teens. Levi’s embraced the hippies that embraced them with clever collaborations with counter-culture icons like Jefferson Airplane. The release of the 505 and “White” Levi’s was so successful that the brand even found a strong foothold on the East Coast for the first time. Finally, Levi’s was nationwide, and soon they would go global.

The history of the ‘Nevada’ jeans

A lesser known part of the Levis history is the ‘Nevada’ jean. One of the earliest designs from Straus and Davis, (Levis Strauss & Co) this jean was nicknamed the ‘Nevada’ after a pair was discovered at the bottom of a mineshaft in 1998, dating from 1879.

In 2001 the ‘Nevada’ was put up for sale on eBay. Bidding was fierce and a rumour of one of the people trying to buy the jeans off eBay was Ralph Lauren. Levi’s wanted them for their archive and they won with the winning bid of $46,532 dollars. In 1879 the same pair were sold at 99 cents, they looked like any early Levi jean, waistband, crotch rivet, a cinch and suspender buttons.

The ‘Nevada’ also included a unique knife pocket on the rear outer of the left leg. As these jeans were created before the invention of the double stitch sewing machine, the distinctive arcuate (bow-shaped) stitching on the pockets will have been stitched twice using a hand-mechanised, single stitch machine, giving it a unique character.

In 2001 after the winning bid, Levis celebrated its return with a reproduction of the ‘Nevada,’ complete with the shopping and distressing of the original. With only the 501 created they have become a collector's item almost as much as the original.

These are the oldest pair of jeans in existence, If you look at them from the front they look like the perfectly fashioned jeans. No one would know that they are 139 years old. Yet if you were to wear general men’s clothing from 1879 people would say, where is the costume party?

Success in the West

The California Gold Rush of 1849 led many to travel out west to seek their fortune. Strauss was no exception. In early 1853, he headed out to San Francisco to sell goods to the thriving mining trade. Strauss ran his own wholesale dry goods company as well as acted as his brothers&apos West Coast agent. Using a series of different locations in the city over the years, he sold clothing, fabric, and other items to small shops in the region.

As his business thrived, Strauss supported numerous religious and social causes. He helped establish the first synagogue, Temple Emanu-El, in the city. Strauss also gave money to several charities, including special funds for orphans.

Levi Strauss & Co. (LEVI)

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Levi Strauss & Co. to Webcast Second Quarter 2021 Earnings Conference Call

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That&rsquos why we commissioned a scientific life cycle assessment of a pair of Levi&rsquos® 501® jeans. We wanted to find out the environmental impact of a pair of Levi&rsquos® 501® jeans.

What did we learn? Some of the biggest impacts occur in two places that we don&rsquot control &mdash the cotton fields and in your hands after they leave our store. So we&rsquore working to promote sustainably grown Better Cotton and sharing tips to help you change your laundry habits: Simply wash less, wash in cold water, line dry, and donate unused clothing so that it can be used again.


We&rsquore also changing the way we design and make our product to help restore the planet. For example, the finishing process of our Levi&rsquos® Water<Less&trade jeans uses significantly less water.

And we&rsquore aggressively pursuing ways to reduce our carbon footprint by shifting to less intensive modes of moving our product from factory to store, including rail and container ships. We&rsquove also reduced energy use at our stores and distribution centers through more efficient lighting and air conditioning.


In 1991, Levi Strauss & Co. published our Terms of Engagement, protecting the rights of the workers who make your clothes. This groundbreaking document also ensures safe, healthy and human working conditions. We&rsquove long been an industry leader in worker rights and continue our efforts to improve apparel workers&rsquo lives, both in and out of the factory.


In 1854, a year after starting his company, founder Levi Strauss donated to a local orphanage. In that spirit, our employees have been giving back to the communities where we operate for more than 150 years. Their involvement strengthens communities from San Francisco to Singapore, and their volunteer efforts help local organizations. We encourage employees to support charitable organizations with their time, talent and money by offering them paid time off to volunteer.

Social Responsibility is deeply embedded into our products, our culture and our business. Learn more at LeviStrauss.com.

Levis - History


Levi’s perfected the five pocket blue jean way back when, setting the bar for every pair and every brand that followed. Not satisfied with mastering the most popular item of clothing, well, ever, San Francisco’s finest would go on to create that most iconic of denim jackets. The Trucker…

Levi’s early releases in this field were beautiful affairs, the Type I, and Type II, lot numbers 506XX and 506XX, pleated fronts, a single pocket on the first, two on the second, leather patches and cinched backs creating a blouson fit. A perfect piece of contemporary clothing that found its way into the world in 1905. Various versions came and went, rivets disappeared, pockets doubled in number, donut buttons became logo buttons, the silver cinch would turn bronze…tiny adjustments here and there. It took a few centuries to get to what we now recognize as the standard bearer. The Trucker. The early ‘60s saw this classic take shape, the 557XX, a substantial piece of clothing in heavy weight, pre-shrunk, ready to wear denim.

Vertical seams were, and still remain, the signature feature of the Levi’s Trucker, as well as the numerous copies that follow. Drawing down from the pocket to the waistband, they offer a central focus and crucially accentuate its slim cut. Out with the boxy silhouettes popular in the ‘40s and ‘50s, this new form hit just below the waist and kept a snug fit to the body. In a move towards something almost tailored the Trucker was designed to create shape whether you chose to size down for a skinnier profile or size up for comfort – slouchy never really an option. Pointed pockets were a part of this more streamlined look – the 557XX one of the first to use this kind of flap, a nod to western wear and an addition that stood the test of time.

However, while this new release was right at home on the ranch, it found equal popularity among a very different audience. Hippie kids, rockers, activists, bikers…the Trucker would find fans in nearly every corner of ‘60s and ‘70s counter-culture. A perfect canvas, it took a beating in the name of customization flowers embroidered, sleeves removed, names emblazoned, slogans painted, chopped and resewn. The jacket was a symbol for just about anything you wanted it to be.

History of Levis

In 1853, the California gold rush was in full swing, and everyday items were in short supply. Levi Strauss, a 24-year-old German immigrant, left New York for San Francisco with a small supply of dry goods with the intention of opening a branch of his brother’s New York dry goods business. Shortly after his arrival, a prospector wanted to know what Mr. Strauss was selling. When Strauss told him he had rough canvas to use for tents and wagon covers, the prospector said, “You should have brought pants!,” saying he couldn’t find a pair of pants strong enough to last.

In 1873, Levi Strauss & Company began using the pocket stitch design. Levi Strauss and Nevada tailor David Jacobs co-patented the process of putting rivets in pants for strength. On May 20, 1873, they received U.S.Patent No.139,121. This date is now considered the official birthday of “blue jeans.”

The two-horse brand design was first used in 1886. The red tab attached to the left rear pocket was created in 1936 as a means of identifying Levi’s jeans at a distance. All are registered trademarks that are still in use.

Levis History, Family Crest & Coats of Arms

Noble surnames, such as Levis, evoke images of the ancient homeland of the French people. The original bearer of the name Levis, which is a local surname, once lived, held land, or was born in the beautiful île-de-France region. In France, hereditary surnames were adopted according to fairly general rules and during the late Middle Ages, names that were derived from localities became increasingly widespread. Local names originally denoted the proprietorship of the village or estate. The Levis family originally derived its surname from the name of the place in Levy Saint Nom in île-de-France.

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Early Origins of the Levis family

The surname Levis was first found in île-de-France, where this remarkable family has been traced since the 12th century.

The family branched into several other regions throughout France, and held lands and estates. One such branch extended to Bourgogne from Lugny in the 1400's, by Eustache de Lévis. He was the second son of Philippe, who was the Lord of Florensac and of Alix de Quélus. After his marriage to Alix, Dame of Cousan and daughter of Hugues Damas, Lord of Cousan and Alix of Beaujeu, Philippe became the owner of lands in Lugny in Charollais, which was one of the four largest baronies in the county and one that his descendants still hold.

This family also held fiefs in la Perrierre, le Plessis, Bragny, Ecuelle, Châtelet, la Barre, Saint-Germain-du-Plain, Ouroux, Limon, Thorey, Servigny, and Talant in Chalonnais, as well as the baronies of Bernon, Servoisy, and Lignière. François Gaston, Duke of Lévis, (1720-1787), born in Ajac (Aude), was a Marshal of France and tried in vain to save Canada. His son, Pierre Marie Gaston, was a member of the French National Assembly. The family held the hereditary titles of Duc de Venetadour, Duc de Damville, and the Duc de Fernando-Luis.

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Early History of the Levis family

This web page shows only a small excerpt of our Levis research. Another 36 words (3 lines of text) covering the years 1230, 1647, 1717, 1719, 1787, 1785 and 1760 are included under the topic Early Levis History in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

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Levis Spelling Variations

Spelling variations of this family name include: Lévis, Lévi, Lévie, Le Vie, de Lévis, de Lévie, de Lévis, Lévy, Levison, Levisonne, Levisonnes, Levisson, Levissonne, Levissonnes, Levisons, Levissons, Levisont, Levisonts, Levisond, Levisonds, Levey, Lévee, Levis and many more.

Early Notables of the Levis family (pre 1700)

Notable amongst the family was Louis Charles de Lévis (1647-1717), a French nobleman and Duke of Ventadour. François-Gaston de Lévis, Duc de Lévis (1719-1787), styled as the Chevalier de Lévis until 1785, was a nobleman and a.
Another 35 words (2 lines of text) are included under the topic Early Levis Notables in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

Levis migration +

Some of the first settlers of this family name were:

Levis Settlers in United States in the 18th Century
Levis Settlers in United States in the 19th Century
  • Elizabeth Levis, aged 24, settled in Philadelphia in 1820
  • William Levis, who settled in Philadelphia, in 1868
  • Catherine Levis, aged 21, who immigrated to the United States, in 1895
Levis Settlers in United States in the 20th Century
  • Angela Levis, aged 41, who landed in America, in 1902
  • Charles Parker Levis, who immigrated to the United States, in 1906
  • Edgar Levis, aged 20, who immigrated to the United States, in 1906
  • Edgar S. Levis, aged 37, who landed in America, in 1907
  • Edward Levis, aged 24, who landed in America, in 1907
  • . (More are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)

Contemporary Notables of the name Levis (post 1700) +

  • Brett Levis (b. 1993), Canadian soccer player who plays for Valour FC as a midfielder
  • Adolph "Al" Levis (1913-2001), American businessman and philanthropist known as the inventor of the Slim Jim jerky snack food
  • Joseph Levis (1905-2005), American silver and bronze Olympic foil fencer, inducted into The Roll of Honor at the US Fencing Hall of Fame (USFA)
  • Albert J. Levis (b. 1937), American psychiatrist, founder and director of the Museum of the Creative Process in Manchester, Vermont
  • Charles H. Levis (1860-1926), American Major League Baseball first baseman in the late 1800s
  • Chris Levis (b. 1976), Canadian National Lacrosse League goaltender for the Colorado Mammoth
  • George Levis (1894-1980), American college basketball player and coach during the 1910s and 1920s
  • Patrick Cannon Levis (b. 1982), American actor from Silver Spring, Maryland
  • Carroll Richard Levis (1910-1968), Canadian-born talent scout, impresario and television and radio personality from Toronto, but moved to England in 1935 where he hosted a talent competition for young people called The Carroll Levis Discovery Show
  • Larry Patrick Levis (1946-1996), American poet

Related Stories +

The Levis Motto +

The motto was originally a war cry or slogan. Mottoes first began to be shown with arms in the 14th and 15th centuries, but were not in general use until the 17th century. Thus the oldest coats of arms generally do not include a motto. Mottoes seldom form part of the grant of arms: Under most heraldic authorities, a motto is an optional component of the coat of arms, and can be added to or changed at will many families have chosen not to display a motto.

Motto: Aide dieu au second Chretien Levis
Motto Translation: God help the second Chretien Levis

What TIME Got Wrong About the Invention of Blue Jeans

A s origin stories go, TIME’s account of how Levi Strauss came up with the idea for his trademark denim pants is hard to beat. Here’s how the magazine told it in a 1950 story on Levi Strauss & Co.’s 100th anniversary:

When 20-year-old Levi Strauss sailed from Manhattan round Cape Horn to San Francisco in 1850 to seek a fortune in the gold fields, he carried a roll of canvas in his baggage. He intended to sell it to a tentmaker to get enough cash for a grubstake. But when he got ashore, the complaint of a friendly miner gave him a better idea. “Pants don’t wear worth a hoot up in the diggins,” said the miner. “Can’t get a pair strong enough to last no time.”

Levi promptly went into the clothing business. He had a tailor cut a pair of trousers from his canvas roll, and soon the miner was strolling all over town, boasting how strong were these “pants of Levi’s.” With one satisfied customer, Strauss found he had a steady stream of men who wanted “Levis.” In a shop on San Francisco’s California Street, he began making dozens of pairs of the waist-high overalls which defied the wear & tear of bronc-riding, gold-mining and plain ordinary living.

Years later, the article continued, a miner known only as “Alkali” annoyed his tailor by regularly carrying rocks around that broke his pocket seams. The tailor got the idea to use rivets on the corners of the pockets for stabilization those rivets were the source of the idea for Strauss’ signature rivets.

Alas, the real story doesn’t quite measure up. As the company tells it, Strauss went West to open a dry-goods store for gold miners dry goods were the family business, established by his brothers before Levi even got to the United States. To be fair, he did sell cloth&mdashbut as a businessman, not an ingenious fortune-seeker. Furthermore, the crucial tailor tip-off about the rivets came from a customer of the San Francisco Levi Strauss & Co. store, who was looking for a business partner to back the idea. On this day, May 20, in 1873, Strauss and his partner, Jacob Davis, were given a patent for work pants strengthened with rivets&mdashthe first example of what we now know as blue jeans.

By 1950, per TIME’s count, Levi’s had made 95 million pairs. (The going rate in 1950 was $3.50 a pop.) As for Strauss, he died in 1902.

Read the full 1950 story, here in the TIME Vault:Iron Bottoms

Watch the video: Levis commercial compilation 1980s u0026 1990s