I’ve read some historical fiction lately which referred to cowboys wearing jeans. Well, maybe but probably not. So just when, where and who is responsible for the blue jean clad legs of today – the must have apparel of any modern day cowboy? Let’s find out.
As we all know, jeans is the term we use for pants made from denim, also called dungaree cloth. (Hence the rather outdated name of dungarees.) They were invented by two people actually, though we usually only think of one of them, Levi (Loeb) Strauss.
Mr Strauss and some of his sisters came to America from Germany in 1851 to join their brothers who owned a dry goods store in New York. Levi dealt in several business pursuits once coming to America as well as earning a reputation as a great philanthropist. He contributed to orphanages, relief societies, college scholarships and many other benevolent groups. Like many others, Levi went west to profit from the California Gold Rush. In San Francisco he established a dry goods business where one of the things he sold was cotton cloth.
They opened a factory, named their product jeans after the city of Genoa Italy where the cotton corduroy much like what they used was manufactured. The first jeans, sometimes called waist-overalls back then, were working garments, not fashion items or cowboy attire, though some cowboys undoubtedly wore them for hard ranch work. They were colored blue with indigo dye, the easiest method of coloring cloth at that time. The indigo faded quickly and was expensive to import, so cheaper substitutes were quickly found and used. One thing I found interesting was that In 1890 the XX waist overall was given the lot number “501®” That was the year Levi and his nephews officially incorporated their company Levi Strauss.
Henry David Lee founded the HD Lee Mercantile Co. in 1889 at a place very near my hometown, Salina Kansas. In 1904 C.C. Hudson founded the Hudson Overall Co., later to become Wrangler. And the rest, as they say, is history.
By the 1950s movie icons like James Dean had made blue jeans not only fashionable but “cool” and everyone was wearing them. And we still do, so there you have it. That’s how your jeans came to be. Pretty fascinating stuff, huh?
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