Levi's Brown Duck Trousers

Description:

Levi's Brown Duck Trousers

1873-1896

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."

Date Made: 1873 - 1896

Maker: Levi Strauss and Company

Location: Currently not on view

Place Made: United States: California, San Francisco

See more items in: Home and Community Life: Costume, Clothing & Accessories, Industry & Manufacturing, National Treasures exhibit

Exhibition:

Exhibition Location:

Related Web Publication: http://americanhistory.si.edu/treasures

Related Publication: Kendrick, Kathleen M. and Peter C. Liebhold. Smithsonian Treasures of American History, National Museum of American History. Treasures of American History online exhibition

Credit Line: Gift of Walter Haas, Jr.

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: CS.256979.002Catalog Number: 256979.002Accession Number: 256979

Object Name: trousersObject Type: Main DressManTrousersLower BodyOther Terms: trousers; Lower Body; Main Dress; Male

Physical Description: cotton (overall material)metal (part material)Measurements: waist circumference: 27 1/2 in; x 69.85 cmoverall length, side: 35 3/4 in; 90.805 cmfly, top of waistband to rivet: 8 1/2 in; 21.59 cmfront pockets, curved opening (not including waistband): 3 in x 4 3/4 in; 7.62 cm x 12.065 cmfront pockets, depth to base of waistband: 8 in; 20.32 cmpatch watch pocket: 3 3/4 in x 3 1/4 in; 9.525 cm x 8.255 cmpatch pocket, right hip: 6 1/2 in x 6 1/8 in; 16.51 cm x 15.5575 cmlevi strauss label, back waist: 2 1/16 in x 3 1/4 in; 5.23875 cm x 8.255 cmyoke, back waist, height: 3 in; 7.62 cmbelt, right back: 1 1/4 in x 4 3/8 in; 3.175 cm x 11.1125 cmwaistband, width: 1 1/4 in; 3.175 cmbuttons, center front and suspender: 5/8 in; x 1.5875 cmbuttons, fly: 1/2 in; x 1.27 cmrivets: 3/8 in; x .9525 cmseat (cb waist to crotch): 15 1/4 in; 38.735 cmrise (cf waist to crotch to cb waist): 27 in; 68.58 cminseam: 26 in; 66.04 cmankle circumference: 16 in; x 40.64 cmankle, width of front leg: 6 1/2 in; x 16.51 cmankle, width of back leg: 9 1/2 in; x 24.13 cm

Guid: http://n2t.net/ark:/65665/ng49ca746ab-7a2d-704b-e053-15f76fa0b4fa

Record Id: nmah_371609

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.