Jacob W. Davis Biography

Jacob W. Davis

Jacob W. Davis was a tailor who invented pants reinforcement with copper rivets. He was born in 1831 in Riga, Latvia where he trained and worked as a tailor. In 1854 he immigrated to the United States and opened a tailor shop in New York. He changed name there, moved to Main and in 1954 to San Francisco. Trying to find more profitable work Davis left California in 1858 and moved to Western Canada where he paned for gold, sold tobacco and wholesale pork. There he met his future wife, Annie Parksher from Germany with whom he had six children. He returns to San Francisco in 1968 with whole family and then to to Virginia City, Nevada where he opens a tobacco store in the start only to returns to his original trade - tailoring. In 1868, they moved to Reno, Nevada where Jacob opens tailor shop in 1869 where he made tents, horse blankets and wagon covers that were usually been bought by railway workers on the Central Pacific Railroad. He used heavy duty cotton “duck” and heavy duty cotton “denim” fabric for these products. He bought them from Levi Strauss & co from San Francisco. In January 1871, one costumer, a wife of a local woodworker, appeared with ordered of pair of pants for her husband who was too large for ready-made clothes. Her special request was for pants to be made as strong as possible. Jacob had copper rivets that he used on horse blankets and he used them to fasten the pockets so they don’t tear.

This kind of pants, made from duck and reinforced with rivets, became very popular among people in need of heavy work clothing. Orders began to flow in and Jacob made 200 pairs in the next 18 months some of them made from duck and some from denim. He began to fear that someone will steal his idea so he decided to patent it. Because he didn’t have enough money (some $68) for patent application he asked Levi Strauss to help him. On May 20, 1873 the full US Patent No. 139121 was granted in the name of Jacob W. Davis and Levi Strauss and Company. May 20, 1873 is considered to be the official “birthday” of blue jeans. After that Jacob Davis was named production manager at the shop of Levi Strauss & co. One more characteristic thing Jacobs used on his denim pants was double orange threaded stitch to distinguish them from those made by his competitors. This became Registered US Trade Mark No.1339254. Demand continued to grow so Strauss decides to make manufacturing plant which Davis continued to manage for Strauss. Beside denim pants - jeans, Levi Strauss & co also manufactured other lines including work shirts and overalls. Jacob W. Davis worked there until the end of his life overseeing the production. He died in San Francisco in 1908.

At the historic location of Jacob Davis' tailor shop: 211 N. Virginia Street in Reno, the Reno Historic Resources Commission placed a historic marker on May 20, 2006.