The Start Of The Miner Gold Rush
In 1849, the Gold Rush era started in California, USA. The discovery of gold carried men from all over the world to California. From the East of America, but also from Germany, England, and other countries as well. The people who came to California in search of gold (and later also silver) are now known as the 49ers. A few years after the arrival of these men, around 120,000 miners were actively at work in California. The conditions of working in the mines were heavy and tough. In order to do their work the best they could, they needed strong and durable clothing. One of the most important was a strong pair of pants, better known as miner waist overalls.
The Rivet On Miner Waist Overalls
Around the early 1870s, searching for gold was huge and so was the question for pants that lasted long. As the miners were using their pockets to store their rocks of gold and silver, they tore out quite quickly. Most men, but also the women of these men, were complaining, but luckily tailor Jacob Davis had soon the answer. He got the brilliant idea to strengthen these miner waist overalls on points that needed extra strength. And so the story of the rivet kicked off. You can read more about the birth of the rivet here in the previous article.
The Demand For Workwear Brands Was Rising
Many workwear brands were rising as the demand for a solid pair of miner waist overalls grew day by day. Most of these brands didn’t survive or were bought out by major players. One of the most known brands is Levi’s of course, they made it to become an International brand. This year they celebrate their 150th anniversary with special items as limited-edition denim banner jeans. You can check this jeans out here. And the timeline of the evolution of the Levi’s 501 jeans here to get more into detail.
The Story Of J.C. Penny Brand
Next to denim brands, also retailers were developing workwear (miner waist overalls) styles and jeans. One of them is the American J.C. Penny chain store company which started with his in-house brand Foremost.
The company was founded by J.C. Penny who was born on the 16th of September in 1875. He was born on a farm outside of Hamilton, Missouri as the seventh of twelve children. Although his dream was to become a lawyer one day, his father had other plans. J.C. Penny was forced to work as a store clerk to help support his family.
Fast forward, to 1898, he began to work for a small chain of stores in the Western United States called the Golden Rule stores. After four years, the owners of the stores were very impressed with his skills and offered him a one-third partnership in a new store he would open. After investing around $2,000,- he soon opened this store. Soon, he had the chance to participate in opening more stores, and by 1912 there were 34 stores in the Rocky Mountain States.
A year later, the company was incorporated under the new name, J. C. Penney Company. By 1924, Penney reported income of more than $1 million annually and the number of stores reached 1,400 by 1929. Sadly, most of this work was halted when the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression left Penney in financial ruin. Nowadays, the J.C. Penny stores are luckily still up and running in America.
The J.C. Penny Foremost Miner Waist Overalls From The 1930s
The highlighted miner pair in this article is from Foremost by J.C. Penny. It is produced probably around the late 1920s or 1930s. Back then, jeans were called waist overalls as they were worn over their own pants. Most of the time, these waist overalls were given by the miner owners. At the end of each shift, miners had to leave their pants in the dressing room and their pants were hung to dry for the next day as it was very moist in the mines.
When the mines were out of order as there wasn’t any gold or silver anymore, they were closed. Most of the miners started a farmer’s life as part of the upcoming popular Western lifestyle. The mines were closed, but never expected that decades later true denim hunters would go into those abandoned places in search of old clothes. Old pairs of waist overalls. Better known as blue gold these days.
What Makes It Very Difficult To Go Into Old Closed Mines
People who think it’s quite easy to go into those mines and go on an adventure hoping to find something is totally wrong. First of all, a mine can collapse. Secondly, there can be the presence of toxic gases. Thirdly, you can stumble over unexploded dynamite. And lastly, you can meet unpleasant friends as snakes. So, there are many obstacles that make entering an abandoned mine very hard and difficult. And even when you do find something, it is mostly old wooden dynamite boxes or miner gear instead of perfect mint condition clothes.
Most of the time you will only find small pieces of an old waist overall due to the climate it is rotten over the years or eaten by animals. On top of that, they used many times an older pair to save another pair, so therefore you will see sometimes waistoveralls with a cut-off leg for example. And sometimes they used a leg to fasten a candlelight on their heads as this was their only light in the dark tunnels of a mine. They used old clothes also to close wooden doors against drafts in the hallways.
Details Of The J.C. Penny Foremost Miner Waist Overalls
This pair of Foremost waist overalls by J.C. Penny is unbranded, so that’s the reason why it isn’t 100% sure that it was made by the brand. Also, the leather patch isn’t readable anymore. But, as said and due to many resources it is most likely that this pair is a Foremost.
It was found in a closed abandoned mine in the Nevada area in The States a few years ago. It features a cinch back, like most pairs from this era, a crotch rivet, and selvedge with a yellow ID. If you look closely at the back pocket you will see arcuates that were registered by Levi’s in 1943, so afterwards all brands were forbidden to use this iconic branding detail. But, most workwear denim brands are showing the arcuate design on the back pockets. All the buttons and rivets aren’t readable anymore due to the rust, and crushed conditions. As you can see it is only the top of the pair, the rest was probably gone…
When you see this pair in real life it will give you the ultimate ‘mine experience‘ as it still has a moisty smell, and dust and sand are still coming off after a few years. It’s anyhow a good example of American denim history! The discovery of an original miner pants.