Who is this guy? And how did he change our pants?
This is 24-year old Bavarian immigrant, Levi Strauss, who landed in San Francisco in 1853 and opened up a wholesale dry goods business. That business changed forever – and so did our wardrobes – when he partnered with tailor Jacob Davis in 1873 on a patent for riveted pockets on work pants for Western pioneers. Creating the original and first ever blue jean – the iconic Levi’s® 501® – he couldn’t have dreamed of its impact on modern culture.
The 501® jean was the original, made for the working men of the West, born in 1873. But Levi Strauss &Co. knew that there were many kinds of working men, and in the 1880s unveiled this style, made with a pocket on the thigh for a folding ruler.
On February 26, Levi Strauss would have turned 185 years old—and on the anniversary of his birthday I thought you might be interested in taking a little trip down memory lane through the Levis historic Archives. They span everything from the first store to world wars. When you think about it, surely this is one of the most iconic brands of our time?
By the early 1960s word of the famous Levi’s® jeans had trickled over to Europe, and the company began to show the product at trade fairs. This one, featuring Levi’s® jeans and advertising artfully displayed on what looks like a Citröen, was called the Zurich City Fair.
By 1900 Levi Strauss & Co. was printing and sending out catalogs to its retailers all over the West, which carried not only the company’s famed copper-riveted clothing, but also the fine dry goods still being wholesaled by the company. A catalog was a great place for innovative advertising, and this classic image appeared on the inside cover of a catalog from 1905.
Women loved denim in the 1930s West. These cowgirls, representing a California rodeo, proudly sport their Levi’s® jeans
Miners were among the first customers for the new, riveted workwear, which debuted in 1873. These hardy fellows are at the La Grange Mine in California, posing for a photo in their dirty Levi’s® duds.
Trade cards like this example were gifts with purchase back in the 1890s. Any company which made a consumer product also made trade cards, which were handed out to customers, who then pasted them into scrapbooks. In the 19th century, it wasn’t just about baseball cards.
During World War II clothing manufacturers – including Levi Strauss & Co. – had to cut back on their production to save raw materials for the war effort. Even when the war was over, it took time to get factories back up to speed. When a store got its quota of Levi’s® jeans and jackets onto its shelves, they were mobbed by denim-deprived locals. This store was in Berkeley, California.
The staff of Levi Strauss & Co. poses proudly in the 1880s, lined up in front of the multi-storied headquarters, home to the wholesale dry goods business and the ever-expanding trade in the famous jeans, jackets, and work shirts made just a few blocks away at the company’s factory. About twenty years later, this building would survive the earthquake of April 18, 1906, but not the firestorm which followed.
It may have been the Cold War, but Levi’s® jeans found their way to Moscow in 1959, as part of an international trade far. Local “cowboys” dressed up in the products and the jeans were one of the mostmobbed displays at the fair.
This in-store advertising card is a medley of wartime messages. The strapping cowboy is not a soldier, but is wearing his Levi’s® jeans to herd the cattle that will feed our boys overseas. And discreetly placed on the card is the simple but powerful phrase from the period: “Buy War Bonds.”
So happy 185th birthday Mr Strauss, though you may not be around today you continue to live in all of our wardrobes old chap.
Ok. Stay fancy.