Levi's Brown Duck Trousers

Levi's Brown Duck Trousers
The brown cotton trousers shown here were made by Levi Strauss & Co. of San Francisco, California sometime during the two decades after the company's founding in 1873. Levi Strauss was a 24-year old, newly minted American citizen from Bavaria when he set sail for San Francisco in 1853 to open a branch of his brother's New York City dry-goods business. He prospered by supplying blankets, handkerchiefs, and clothing to merchants in the West for the next two decades. In 1872, he received a business proposition from Jacob Davis, a Latvian-born tailor in Reno, Nevada. Davis had invented a way to strengthen trousers by reinforcing their pocket openings with copper rivets in order to help a customer who complained about his constantly torn pockets. He asked Levi Strauss to join him in patenting the process; then they would go into business together to sell their patented riveted pants.
Patent number 139,121 was granted on 20 May 1873, and production began immediately. The printed leather label at the center back waistband of these "waist overalls," as they were known in the late nineteenth century, suggests that the product was instantly popular with hard-working men who needed indestructible trousers. The label proclaims "Levi Strauss & Co." of "14 & 16 Battery Street SAN FRANCISCO, CAL. " to be the "Sole Proprietors and Manufacturers" of "PATENT RIVETED DUCK & DENIM CLOTHING. . . EVERY PAIR GUARANTEED. None Genuine Unless Bearing This Label. Any infringement on this Patent will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. LABEL COPYRIGHTED."
The company's patent expired in 1890, but the popularity of their riveted trousers became an American legend. Iron-clad cotton "duck" canvas (mentioned on the label, and seen in this pair of pants) was gradually phased out in favor of flexible cotton denim, a fabric that was much like the twilled cotton "jean" that had long been used for men's work clothes. By 1960, Levi's had come to be called "jeans" in both corporate advertising and the public's imagination.
Made of a heavy cotton canvas known as "duck," the pants feature a pair of short tapered belts with a buckle to cinch the back waist yoke, and white top-stitching everywhere except along the outside leg seams below the two front pockets. A small watch pocket is set inside the right front pocket, and a single back patch pocket with Levi's now-famous double arcuate stitching is placed on the right hip. A printed leather label is centered on the back waistband.
The patented copper rivets that reinforced the upper corners of each pocket and the base of the fly set these trousers apart from all other work clothing of their day. Each rivet is inscribed "L. S. & CO. S. F. PAT. MAY 1873." The pants were fastened and supported by four-hole metal buttons; the two buttons hidden in the concealed fly are unmarked, but the rims of the one at the front waist, and the six suspender buttons around the waistband, are marked "LEVI STRAUSS & CO. S. F. CAL."
Currently not on view
Object Name
Object Type
Main Dress
Lower Body
Date made
1873 - 1896
Levi Strauss and Company
Physical Description
cotton (overall material)
metal (part material)
waist circumference: 27 1/2 in; x 69.85 cm
overall length, side: 35 3/4 in; 90.805 cm
fly, top of waistband to rivet: 8 1/2 in; 21.59 cm
front pockets, curved opening (not including waistband): 3 in x 4 3/4 in; 7.62 cm x 12.065 cm
front pockets, depth to base of waistband: 8 in; 20.32 cm
patch watch pocket: 3 3/4 in x 3 1/4 in; 9.525 cm x 8.255 cm
patch pocket, right hip: 6 1/2 in x 6 1/8 in; 16.51 cm x 15.5575 cm
levi strauss label, back waist: 2 1/16 in x 3 1/4 in; 5.23875 cm x 8.255 cm
yoke, back waist, height: 3 in; 7.62 cm
belt, right back: 1 1/4 in x 4 3/8 in; 3.175 cm x 11.1125 cm
waistband, width: 1 1/4 in; 3.175 cm
buttons, center front and suspender: 5/8 in; x 1.5875 cm
buttons, fly: 1/2 in; x 1.27 cm
rivets: 3/8 in; x .9525 cm
seat (cb waist to crotch): 15 1/4 in; 38.735 cm
rise (cf waist to crotch to cb waist): 27 in; 68.58 cm
inseam: 26 in; 66.04 cm
ankle circumference: 16 in; x 40.64 cm
ankle, width of front leg: 6 1/2 in; x 16.51 cm
ankle, width of back leg: 9 1/2 in; x 24.13 cm
Place Made
United States: California, San Francisco
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Clothing & Accessories
Industry & Manufacturing
National Treasures exhibit
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Costume
National Treasures exhibit
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of Walter Haas, Jr.
Related Publication
Kendrick, Kathleen M. and Peter C. Liebhold. Smithsonian Treasures of American History
Publication title
Treasures of American History online exhibition
Publication author
National Museum of American History
Publication URL
Additional Media

Visitor Comments

7/19/2013 10:29:11 AM
Even back then Levi's were doing great things...I would love to have a pair like that, even the color.
Add a comment about this object

**Please read before submitting the form**

Have a comment or question about this object to share with the community? Please use the form below. Selected comments will appear on this page and may receive a museum response (but we can't promise). Please note that we generally cannot answer questions about the history, rarity, or value of your personal artifacts.

Have a question about anything else, or would you prefer a personal response? Please visit our FAQ or contact page.

Personal information will not be shared or result in unsolicited e-mail. See our privacy policy.

Enter the characters shown in the image.