The Long History Of Levi’s

Levi’s, the American denim brand has a very long history. Almost everyone has a pair in their closet or has worn a pair of their blue jeans in their life. The brand became synonymous with jeans and denim since its launch in 1873. One of the key factors of their success is the fact that they invented many unique design elements for jeans. These elements are still part of most jeans after 150 years. On pairs of Levi’s of course, but also on other denim brands.

For those who ever wondered how a brand came that far and recognized all over the world, here are 10 key years that you need to know! This is a good starting point for those who want to discover more about the denim brand that shook the world.

levi's facts

10 Key Years And Facts

Learn how a pair of worker pants becomes such a strong fashion icon. Here are 10 key years and facts;

1829: Levi Strauss, founder of the Levi’s brand, was born in Buttenheim, (Bavaria) in Germany.

1853: Levi Strauss emigrated to San Francisco, USA. He started a dry goods business to serve the small general stores of the American West. This area became popular because of the ‘Gold Rush’ period. Many people moved to San Francisco to find gold and silver in the mines.

1873: This was the year Levi Strauss received the patent for the rivet together with tailor Jacob Davis. Jacob Davis from Reno, Nevada came up with this brilliant idea. He used to strength horse blankets on workwear pants after a woman complained that her husband ripped his jeans constantly while carrying (heavy) rocks in his pockets. Weak points on work pants were strength using small copper nails so they would last longer.

Together they got the patent on the 20th of May in 1873. The patent is known as No. 139,121: ‘Fastening Pocket-Openings’.

Tip: Learn more about the birth of the rivet in a previous article here!

1890: Levi’s used for the very first time the product code 501 for their jeans. As the 501 was produced with the highest standards and materials, Levi’s came up with the idea to create a less expensive version too. To launch this cheaper jeans style was born the fact that the exclusive patent for the brand would end in 1890. The fit and style of both jeans are the same, but the denim of the 201 is not the XX (extra strong) denim of the 501. Next to this, the jeans have a cloth back patch instead of leather.

Tip: Learn more about the Levi’s 201 jeans here!

1901: Before 1901, workwear pants were made with four pockets. It was Levi’s that added the left back pocket, making pants a fifth-pocket pair. The small coin/watch pocket was part of the design already since day one, but the left back pocket was added so miners and labors in general could carry more with them during their shifts.

1922: The introduction of belt loops started in 1922 by Levi’s. Before this time, each pair had suspender buttons and a cinch back to keep your jeans up. With the addition of belt loops, wearers could choose how they would put up their pair. Belt loops won over time as after World War 2, the suspender buttons and cinch back were removed and didn’t come back anymore.

1934: Levi’s introduced the first ever women’s jeans. This was their model fit 701. Before this time women were wearing men’s 501s, so you can say that this was the frontrunner of the boyfriend’s fit. In the 1930s, Western wear became so popular, also for women, as the demand grew rapidly for ranch life. And so the 701 was born.

1936: The Red Tab was introduced by Levi’s on the right back pocket of their jeans. A smart branding element that made people recognize from a far distance that they’re wearing an original pair of the brand. First, the Red Tab was written in capitals, but in 1971 they switched to a lower-case written ‘e’ on the tab due to rebranding.

1944: During World War 2 each producer of clothing had to save material for wartime. All unnecessary elements were removed. This was the end of the cinch-back and suspender era. But also the rivets on the coin/watch pocket were removed. Also, the inner pockets were made with all kinds of different fabrics that were easily available.

1947: The ‘mother of all jeans’ was shaped in 1947. The 501 model from this specific year can be seen as the blueprint of most jeans. The shape is copied by many brands and used as the base for denim designers.

The 1950s and beyond: After the second war in the 1950s, experienced a surge in popularity as blue jeans became synonymous with youth culture and rebellion. The 1950s saw the introduction of the 501Z, a zip-fly version of the classic 501 jeans. Many actors and musicians were dressed in Levi’s.

The 1960s and 1970s were dominated by hippies and anti-establishment movements. Levi’s expands its product line to include a variety of fits and styles to cater to changing fashion trends.

During the 1980s, the brand became a global brand, with jeans worn by people of all ages and walks of life around the world. This decade sees the introduction of stone-washed denim and other fashion-forward finishes.

Tip: Dive more into the long history of the Levi’s brand in previous articles such as;


Written by Wouter Munnichs
I'm the founder of Long John. Next to running this daily magazine, I'm working as a freelance denim specialist for the industry. Titled as 'Denim Influencer 2020' by Rivet 50. Celebrated my 10th anniversary with Long John in 2021.