The West (and the world) would never be the same again!
On this date in 1829, Levi Strauss was born in Bavaria, Germany. (His first name was Löb back then.) At age 18, this German-Jewish fellow came to America with his mother and sisters. They arrived in New York, where his brothers had earlier immigrated and opened a successful wholesale dry goods store. (Dry goods are fabric and clothing and other non-perishable items such as combs, purses, and bedding.)
A couple of years later, gold was discovered in California, so Strauss went by steamship to the isthmus of Panama, crossed the jungle to the Pacific side, and caught another steamship to San Francisco. There he opened a west coast branch of the dry goods store.
According to Mary Bellis's “The History of Blue Jeans,” a miner asked Strauss what he had to sell. One thing Strauss offered was canvas for tents and wagon covers. The prospector said, “You should have brought pants!” He told Strauss that he couldn't find any work pants that held up to rough conditions.
So Strauss began to make the canvas into pants. They held up great, but they rubbed and chafed. So Strauss imported some fabric from Nimes, France, to make more comfortable—but still sturdy—pants.
A Reno, Nevada, tailor named Jacob Davis (born Jacob Youphes, an immigrant from Latvia) did a lot of repairs on work pants. He did so many repairs in the same spots on the work pants, he got the idea of using copper rivets to strengthen pockets and other easily-torn places. He asked Levi Strauss to help him take out a patent and manufacture the riveted pants—and soon double-stitched, riveted denim work pants were being manufactured by Levi Strauss & Co.
Of course, those pants were Levi's blue jeans!
Why are they called “jeans”?
Jeans are made out denim, as we just mentioned. This sturdy fabric was invented in two different places in the world (independently of each other). The first place was the French town of Nimes; we probably got the word denim from the name of the cloth: serge de Nimes. The second place was in India, where the sailors of Dhunga wore them; we get the word dungarees from that.
A similar sturdy cloth was called jean. This cloth was made in what is now Italy and was sold through the harbor of Genoa. The French referred to the fabric as bleu de Genes (“blue of Genoa”). So the word jeans comes from the French name (Genes) for Genoa, Italy! Who knew?
(Actually, Levi Strauss & Co. didn't originally call their denim pants jeans. Instead, they called them waist overalls. It wasn't until the 1960s and the baby-boomer generation that these popular pants were commonly called jeans.)
- Jeans are traditionally dyed blue using indigo dye. About 20 million tons of indigo are produced each year just to dye jeans—even though only a few grams of dye are needed for each pair of pants.
- In 1885, blue jeans could be purchased for $1.50 U.S.
- In the U.S. alone, in just one year (2004), more than $14 billion was spent on jeans.
1800s to early 1900s – jeans used for workAlso on this date...
1930s – cowboys in movies wore jeans, which became popular with movie goers 1940s – U.S. soldiers introduced jeans to the world
1950s – jeans popular with teens and a symbol of rebellion
1960s to 1970s – different styles such as embroidered or painted jeans, bell bottoms...
hard to get in Soviet Union, but very sought after
1980s – designer jeans and high fashion
1990s – a downturn for denim and jeans among youth and fashion
2000s – upturn again – but lots and lots of variation...
slashed and distressed, acid-washed, feathered, beaded, stretch, skinny, etc.
In 1846, William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody was born in Iowa. He joined the Pony Express, riding horses cross-country to carry the mail to far-away settlements, when he was just 14 years old. During the Civil War he acted as a scout and a soldier on the Union side, and later he continued to scout for the army. “Bill” is a common nickname for “William,” but this particular Bill hunted so many buffalo (really, American bison), that he was nicknamed “Buffalo Bill.”
Cody began his famous Wild West Show in 1882. His outdoor show featured various acts, including sharpshooter Annie Oakley, hunts, racing, historical reenactments, roping, riding “broncos” (unbroken horses) and so forth. The three- to four-hour show was meant to teach people as well as entertain them. There were hundreds of people in the cast (at times more than a thousand performers at once!), but there were also live animals, including buffalo, elk, horses, deer, bears, cattle, and a moose.
Buffalo Bill's show glamorized the Old West and got a hyper-adventurous picture of the frontier deep into the psyche of people who didn't live in the West.
Did you know...?
- The Wild West Show used to begin with a parade on horseback, and some of the performers were “the Congress of Rough Riders,” which included the then-future President Teddy Roosevelt.
- Buffalo Bill's show toured every year for 30 years! It even went to Europe for Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee in 1887. It took several ships to carry 297 passengers, 18 buffalo, 181 horses, 10 elk, 4 donkeys, 5 longhorns (cattle), 2 deer, 10 mules, and a stagecoach. It toured Europe until 1892, visiting England, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands.
- In 1893 the show performed at the Chicago World's Fair. There were 18,000 people in the crowd watching!
- The legacy of the Wild West Show includes the Westerns of TV and movies, modern rodeos, and even modern circuses.
- Even though Buffalo Bill had to declare bankruptcy and close the show in 1913, the show still exists today! Since 1971, Montie Montana, Jr., has been holding auditions and staging the show in 26 countries on 5 continents.
Wear blue jeans.
Watch an old-fashioned Western.
Recycle your old jeans with a sewing project.
There are lots of ideas on the Artists Helping Children website (scroll down).
Color a “wild west” picture.
Hold a “wild west” party.
The Coolest Kid Birthday Parties site has some good ideas.