Today, you all wear blue jeans. But did you know that their story started with the North American gold rushes in the 1880s?
In 1848, gold was discovered in California. People came from all over North America. They hoped o make their fortunes. Unfortunately, not many of the miners became very rich. But a lot of people came to sell them the things that they needed: they made a lot of money!
One young man who was there to sell was called Oscar Levi Strauss. He had come to America in 1847, with many immigrants from Europe. In 1850, he arrived in San Francisco to work in a shop.
One day, the door opened, and a miner came in. His clothes were terrible, particularly his pants! “Look at these,” he said. “I bought them six months ago and now they’re full of holes!” Levi Strauss asked why. The miner explained: “We work on our knees for a lot of time.” Levi Strauss thought for a moment. “What you need is some really strong material. Now we have some canvas in stock. It’s used to make tents. If we make your pants out of canvas, I’m sure they won’t get any holes!” The miner did not hesitate. Levi Strauss took him to a tailor who made the pants.
Gold mining in the mountains
The miner came back to his camp in the mountains where he was looking for gold. His friends looked at his new pants and all laughed. “Ha!” said the miner. “You won’t laugh when you see how strong my pants are!” And of course, as the months passed, his friends saw that his pants were impeccable! The next time the miner’s friends went to San Francisco, where did they go? To Levi Strauss’s shop, of course, to buy some of the new canvas trousers…And they told their friends, and their friends told their friends… you can imagine the result!
They all wanted jeans
So many people wanted to buy Levi Strauss’s canvas trousers that he had to start a workshop to make them. They were called ‘jeans’, because the canvas that they were made from was known as ‘lona de Génova’. Génova is the Portuguese for Genoa,in Italy, where the canvas was manufactured. Soon Levi Strauss needed more canvas than his agents could send him! They asked him to try something new. It was called ‘sarja de Nimes’. “This is great!” said Levi Strauss. “It’s as strong as canvas, but finer. Our customers are going to love this!” And they did. And from ‘sarja de Nimes’ came the word … denim!
The final touches
Cowboys as well as miners began to ask for Levi’s jeans. His workshop was soon too small. He had to build factories. The thousands of rolls of material he received were not all the same colour. He decided to dye them all blue. That’s why they are called ‘blue jeans’!
Then, one day, a tailor called Jacob Davis came to see Levi Strauss. “My customers say that the pockets are not as strong as the rest of the pants.” He said. “They often comeoff!” He suggested attaching them with copper rivets. Levi made him a partner – and decided to use orange thread, the same colour as the rivets.
A success story
Now, Levi’s jeans are a major multinational company. We do not hear of many miners who ended their lives as rich men. But when Oscar Levi Strauss, the poor immigrant from Europe, died in 1902, he had certainly made his fortune. He left $6 million, enormous donations to good causes, and money for poor students at the University of California. Today, poor students still get money from his fortune.