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Thursday, May 20, 2010

What's in a name...

Chieri, in the Italy province of Liguria, was a textile manufacturing center in the 14th century. There a heavy cotton fabric was developed to make trousers for sailors out of the nearby port of Genoa. Dye from the gualdo plant produced a distinctive blue that the French, when they began to manufacture their own version of the sailor’s pants, called bleu de Genes or “Genoa blue.” The English adopted the garb, pronouncing them “blue jeans.”

Loeb Strauss was born near Munich in 1829. His father sold clothing, and his son entered the trade. When Loeb was 24 he heard about the California Gold Rush and decided to emigrate. He took along several bolts of canvas which he intended to use for tents and wagon covers, but when he reached San Francisco he discovered that the miners in the fields to the north and east needed pants that would hold up in the gritty business of digging and panning for gold. So he made his cloth into work clothing. Under the impression that it made him sound more American, he had begun using “Levi” instead of “Loeb,”. His customers liked the sturdy pants, which they called “Levis,” but complained that they chafed.

So Strauss began importing a softer canvas twill made in France, called serge de Nimes.” Another tailor from Reno named Jacob Davis had begun buying material from Levi Strauss to manufacture Levis. To solve the problem of ripping seams that miners reported, Davis experimented with rivets at the corners of the pockets. Unable to afford to the cost of a patent application, Davis wrote to Strauss, offering to share his invention. Strauss agreed. On May 20, 1873, U.S. Patent No. 139,121 was issued for “Improvement in Fastening Pocket-Openings.” By this time the phrase serge de Nimes had been Anglicized to “denims.”

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