Most people own at least one pair of jeans, if not several. The original, and most widely known, brand of jeans are the Levi 501 Blues, named after the company founded by Levi Strauss.

Most people, however, also believe that Strauss was the inventor of jeans. Actually, they were the creation of Jacob Davis (1831 – 1908), another Jewish pioneer. Davis, who was born Jacob Youphes in Riga, Latvia, arrived in the United States five years after the start of the California Gold Rush. And while his now famous invention would always be associated with those heady days of gold fever, the original pair of what would become Levi’s jeans was not created until 1870. In the interim, Jacob Davis tried his hand at various enterprises (cigar store, brewery). When each effort failed, he returned to his original profession– tailoring. In addition to changing professions, he also changed locations.

In 1870, Davis was once again working as a tailor in Reno, Nevada, and was approached by the woman of a well-proportioned husband who was continually destroying his pants. She asked Davis, who also made wagon covers and tents, to make an extra-strong pair of pants. Davis used copper rivets (just like the ones on the wagon covers) to strengthen the pockets, and within weeks others began ordering these extra-strong pants. When Davis noticed that other tailors were imitating his pants, he decided to file for a patent. As patents cost money, Davis approached the man from whom he had been buying duck cloth and denim – Levi Strauss of San Francisco. While they filed for the patent together, only Strauss’ name appeared on the new company, and so Strauss often has been incorrectly credited with inventing blue jeans.

Strauss, a savvy business man, created Levi Strauss & Co. to manufacture the new riveted jeans. It was Davis, however, who ran the factory, and when Strauss died, Davis’ son Simon took over the company.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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