The Jeans Are Dominant

If Reno, Nevada, tailor Jacob Davis had the $68 to file a patent application, we all might be wearing Jacob’s instead of Levi’s.

Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD 100 issue 11/01/2010

High points in the storied making and marketing of denim.


1853–1873: Levi Strauss, an immigrant from Buttenheim, Bavaria, moves to San Francisco and opens a dry goods business, mostly wholesaling men’s clothes to general stores in the West. In 1873, he and Jacob Davis, a tailor from Reno, receive patent number 139,121 for riveted men’s pants, and they begin selling “waist overalls,” the first blue jeans. Davis partnered with Strauss because he needed $68 to file the patent application. Levi’s begins stitching the “batwing” symbol on its rear pockets. It’s the oldest U.S. apparel trademark still in use today.


1889: The Lee Mercantile Company is founded by Henry David Lee, who opens his first garment factory in Salina, Kan., producing dungarees and jackets.


1890: Levi’s assigns the style number 501 to its men’s waist overalls, which is used to this day and is now practically synonymous with classic jeans.


1891: Brothers Moses and Caesar Cone found the Cone Export and Commission Co. and establish a mill in Greensboro, N.C. In 1896, the company’s first denim production facility starts up. In 1948, the company’s name is changed to Cone Mills Corp.


1904: The Hudson Overall Co., a precursor to Wrangler, is founded. In 1919, the company changes its name to Blue Bell Overall Company. In 1943, Blue Bell acquires Casey Jones Work-Clothes Company and, with it, rights to the Wrangler name. It launches Wrangler jeans in 1947.


1908: The denim firm that would become Lee Cooper, first founded as Morris Cooper, is established in England. The brand would become commonplace during World War II, when clothing was rationed and jeans cost just a single ration coupon, compared to 26 coupons for a suit and 16 for a dress.


1913: Inspired by his chauffeur, H.D. Lee creates the Union-All, which combines a dungaree and jacket in one garment. The design helps turn Lee into a household name.


1926: Lee introduces the zipper fly on its “cowboy pants.” Babe Ruth endorses the garments, called “Whizits” after the sound made by the zipper.


1934: In the midst of the Great Depression, Levi’s creates its first women’s denim pants under the “Lady Levi’s” name and, a year later, introduces its iconic Red Tab to the back pockets of jeans.


1942: The crotch rivet is removed from Levi’s jeans, due to its tendency to heat up when the wearer is seated in front of a campfire.


1944: Lee introduces its “Lazy S” stitched logo on its back pockets, meant to evoke a pair of longhorns when the two pockets are viewed together.


1947: Yonehachi Tsunemi founds the company that will become Edwin in Japan, initially importing jeans from the U.S. In 1961, the first Edwin-branded jeans are sold.

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