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Levi’s Started A Revolution

The patent of the Levi’s rivet represents maybe one of the most important parts of denim history. At least, it started a revolution! These two original Levi Strauss & Co. rivets are from the mid-1870s. To be precise, they were made between 1874 and 1880. No one could imagine that this little copper rivet with a diameter of 9.6mm would make such an impact.

levi's rivet 1880

levi's rivet 1880

The Levi’s Rivet Patent Story

The idea of the rivet patent started when Reno, Nevada-based tailor Jacob Davis came up with the idea in 1871-2 to use the same rivets as he used to strengthen horse blankets on workwear pants after a women complaint that her husband ripped his jeans constantly while carrying (heavy) rocks in his pockets. So, on weak points, he decided to use these small copper nails to make them stronger, so they will last longer. As Jacob Davis didn’t have the roughly $68,- to pay for the patent he reached out to his fabric supplier Levi Strauss, at this point he didn’t make jeans yet. Levi Strauss had been a dry goods wholesaler in San Francisco for 20 years when Davis approached him about his great new system for making sturdy men’s work pants with metal rivets.

Together they got the patent on the 20th of May in 1873. This patent is known as No. 139,121: ‘Fastening Pocket-Openings’. Nowadays each, or almost all, pairs of jeans feature rivets.

The first pair of Levi’s jeans with rivets had one back pocket, two pockets plus the watch pocket in front, a strap and buckle on the back of the waistband to cinch the pants in, and buttons for suspenders to hold the pants up.

patent rivet

The original rivet patent on paper with the Cyanotype technique by retailer CKX Studio from Amsterdam (more about the store here). Cyanotype is a 19th century photographic technique. A slow-reacting, economical photographic printing formulation sensitive to a limited near ultraviolet and blue light spectrum. The handmade recycled cotton paper is made by the last paper windmill in the world, located near Amsterdam.

The Details Of The Levi’s Rivets

These featured rivets were only used from 1873 until 1880. They were the first Levi’s rivets which were stamped with info on the burr. The burr is the decorative component and is typically on the outside of the garment. The rivet is the fastener and pierces the fabric from the inside. The first rivets made by Levi’s were made in the first year of their patent, so from 1873 to 1874, were plain without any info on them stamped. So, the featured rivets can also be named the seconds as they were the follow-up and if you look closely you will see the patent date ‘May – 1873’ on them. To be precise, ‘Pat. May 1873 LS & Co SF’.

From 1880 until 1890, they used the same rivets but with bigger written info. And, when their rivet patent expired after 1890, they used ‘LS & Co SF’ on their rivets as everyone was allowed to copy them and make their own versions. And so they did, soon brands such as Stronghold, Boss of the Road, and Can’t Bust ‘Em to name a few developed their own rivets as the market was open for everyone.

levi's rivet 1880

levi's rivet 1880

levi's rivet 1880

The Cornerstone In The History Of Denim

As said, the rivet might be the cornerstone in the history of denim. No one could imagine that such a small copper-nail should make such a big impact in an industry. These original rivets were found in an old mine in California and are almost 150-years old now. On one of the rivets is still a piece of denim fabric attached. It’s a small part of a back pocket of an original Levi’s miner waist overall. These rivets are such an important piece of denim history in my archive.

Read also the full story about an original Levi’s 501 miner pair here.

levi's rivet 1880

levi's rivet 1880


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.