20 May 1875: Jacob Davis & Levi Strauss granted a patent for riveted jeans

On this day in 1875 Nevada tailor Jacob Davis was granted a patent for riveted jeans, along with his business partner and financial backer, Levi Strauss.

Think of a brand of denim jeans, and most people would probably think of Levi’s. But Levi Strauss didn't know one end of a sewing machine from another.

What Strauss was, however, was a very shrewd and successful businessman. He started out as a shopkeeper who made a fortune from the gold rush – not from gold, but from selling essential supplies to prospectors (AKA "picks and shovels",  theme we're still quite keen on here at MoneyWeek when it comes to mining).

One of Strauss's regular customers was Jacob Davis (born Jacob Youphes), a Latvian immigrant who worked as a tailor in Reno, Nevada. He bought cloth to make trousers for workers on the railways.

His jeans were very hard-wearing – whereas other brands’ pockets fell off with heavy use, Davis’s pockets were riveted on. It wasn't long before he was unable to supply enough to keep up with demand. He knew he was on to a winner, so he decided to patent his riveting reinforcement invention before other tailors copied his invention.

The trouble was he didn't have the time or the money. So he asked Strauss for financial backing, proposing that Strauss take out the patent in Davis's name. And on 20 May 1873, Davis was granted US patent number 139,121 for “Improvement in fastening pocket-openings”.

The two went into business together, with Strauss setting up a jeans factory bearing his name in San Francisco, which Davis managed. He would work there for the rest of his life, overseeing the production of the jeans that made his partner one of the most famous names in the world. Davis died in 1908, and was succeeded by his son. In 1935, Davis's grandson, Benjamin Davis, founded the Ben Davis Clothing Company, which is still around today, making workwear.

Oddly, the name Jacob Davis was never trademarked in relation to clothing.

Recommended

Kieran Heinemann: the history of shareholder capitalism
Investment strategy

Kieran Heinemann: the history of shareholder capitalism

Merryn talks to Kieran Heinemann, author of Playing the Market: Retail Investment and Speculation in Twentieth-Century Britain, about the history of t…
17 Sep 2021
Cryptocurrency roundup: litecoin blunder, cardano update and bitcoin mining in Laos
Bitcoin & crypto

Cryptocurrency roundup: litecoin blunder, cardano update and bitcoin mining in Laos

Saloni Sardana looks at the week’s biggest stories in the world of cryptocurrencies.
17 Sep 2021
Why it pays to face up to your investment mistakes
Investment strategy

Why it pays to face up to your investment mistakes

Buying stocks can be a complicated business. But selling stocks can be tricky, too – even if you sell for the right reasons. Max King explains how to …
17 Sep 2021
With the right political will, inflation can be defeated
Inflation

With the right political will, inflation can be defeated

Governments and central banks can easily control inflation, says Merryn Somerset Webb – they just need the will.
17 Sep 2021

Most Popular

The times may be changing, but don’t change how you invest
Small cap stocks

The times may be changing, but don’t change how you invest

We are living in strange times. But the basics of investing remain the same: buy fairly-priced stocks that can provide an income. And there are few be…
13 Sep 2021
Two shipping funds to buy for steady income
Investment trusts

Two shipping funds to buy for steady income

Returns from owning ships are volatile, but these two investment trusts are trying to make the sector less risky.
7 Sep 2021
Should investors be worried about stagflation?
US Economy

Should investors be worried about stagflation?

The latest US employment data has raised the ugly spectre of “stagflation” – weak growth and high inflation. John Stepek looks at what’s going on and …
6 Sep 2021