LEVI’S 501 XX ~ California Denim • 1850-1971
When One Thinks of a Fashion Icon ~
Names Like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren or Yves St. Laurent Come to Mind.
However One Claim to Fashion & Function Fame is in a Class of Its Own…
…Made in California Of Course ~
The LEVI’S 501 XX Denim Jean
No Matter When you Grew Up, or Where You Live, in America or Japan or Australia or Europe, whether you are an Octogenarian, A Hippie, A Baby Boomer, Cowboy, Biker, Yuppie, or just Plain Old You, There’s a Pretty Good Chance you’ve got a Pair of Levi 501’s. Or You’ve had some – or You Want Some. You might even have some on right now ~ Like I Do. My Favorite Version, although not to Wear Personally, are Without Question the Daisy Duke Variety, but we’ll get to that later.. It all started ‘Way Back in the California Gold Rush Days ~
According to the Guinness Book of World Records the Most Valuable Denim Jeans are an original pair of Levi Strauss & Co 501 XX aged over 115 years old which were sold to a collector in Japan for $60,000 through eBay in 2005. The seller reports that the rather dusty jeans were found in a mine in the Rand Mining District, on the Mojave Desert in California. They are covered in candlewax from the candles the miner was using to light the tunnel he was working in and were found with a paper bag with the name of a mercantile store which operated between 1895 and 1898 in the town of Randsburg. The pants have a buckle back with suspender buttons and cloth label indicating they are size W34 x L33.
Send ‘em Over to Federico~ A Bit Big but Those Will Fit.
In 1853, the California Gold Rush was in full swing, and everyday items were in short supply. Levi Strauss, a 24-year-old German immigrant, left New York for San Francisco with a small supply of Dry Goods with the intention of opening a branch of his brother’s New York dry goods business. Shortly after his arrival, a Gold Prospector wanted to know what Mr. Strauss was selling. When Strauss told him he had rough canvas to use for tents and wagon covers, the prospector said, “You should have brought pants!,” saying he couldn’t find a pair of pants strong enough to last. San Francisco Was A Rough Town in 1850. Gold had been discovered all throughout the Hills to the North in Places like Sutters Mill & Vallecito. Prospectors Invaded John Sutter’s Land, leaving him Powerless to Fight them Off, as they came by the hundreds, tramping through his Fields and Streams. Fortune Hunters from Far & Wide showed up from Everywhere. Immigrant Miners thought they would simply Bend Over & Scoop Up the Nuggets. The work turned out to be a lot Harder Than That, Dirty, Wet & Exhausting ~ Day After $6. aDay. Tough Going & Hard on the Gear.
So Young Levi Strauss, being of an Enterprising and Sound Practical German Mind, was Selling Merchandise to the Miners. For Years he sold All Manner of Dry Goods he imported from the Family Business on the East Coast. In late 1870 Jacob Davis, a Reno, Nevada tailor, started making men’s work pants with metal points of strain for greater strength. He wanted to patent the process but needed a business helper, so he turned to Levi Strauss, from whom he had purchased some of his fabric. So Levi Strauss, knowing a Good Garmento Opportunity when he saw one, Partnered Up with Jacob Davis to form Levi-Strauss & Co. They began manufacturing LEVI‘S brand Overalls for the Populace of Miners, Muleskinners and Mercantile-Minders. People didn’t wear no Belts in Those Days, it was Suspenders or even Rope or Whatever to hold your Britches Up, so Levi put Big ‘Ol Buttons on the Front & Back to Strap Yerself In.
Levi had the stout, rough canvas made into Waist Overalls. Miners liked them, but complained that they tended to chafe. He substituted a Twilled Cotton Cloth from Nimes, France called “Serge de Nimes.” The fabric later became known as Denim and the pants were nicknamed ~
BLUE JEANS ~
The Rest is History
Levi was In The Apparel Business. Everybody for Miles Around wanted a Pair of His Britches. They Weren’t called 501’s yet, and they Weren’t really even Pants, but more of a Pull on Overall Style to wear with suspenders. The earliest pairs weren’t even Blue but more of a Potato Sack Brown color, with the Cut to Match. Fashion followed Function, but not for Some Time to Come.
In the California 1880’s ~ It was a Lot More about Git ‘Er Done than How Do I Look?
• On May 20, 1873, Levi-Strauss & Nevada Tailor David Jacobs received U.S.Patent No.139,121.
This date is now considered the official birthday of The ‘Blue Denim Jean’.
• Also in 1873, Levi Strauss & Company began using the Iconic Chevron pocket stitch design. Levi and Nevada tailor Jacobs co-patented the process of putting rivets in pants for strength.
• The ‘Two-Horse Brand’ Label showing a team of horses trying to pull apart a pair of pants, was first used in 1886.
• In 1890 the firm assigned its first lot numbers to its products, and the famous number “501” was assigned to the riveted pants. In that year as well, Levi Strauss & Co. was formally incorporated and issued 18,000 shares of stock in the company to family members and employees.
• A second back pocket was added in about 1901 and belt loops appeared in 1922—the pants would sport both loops and suspender buttons until 1937.
This Pair of ‘Dead-Stock’ Buckle-Back LEVI’S 501’s from 1917 have never been worn & are worth Many Thousands of Dollars ~Iconic Chevron Single-Needle Stitching and ‘Fold-Over’ Label
Levi-Strauss & Co. entered a New Era in a New Century…
Levi-Strauss had already Been in Business for 30-Plus Years at the Turn of the Century ~ He had Built His Company Up from a small Dry Goods store into a Company with virtually No Competition and he had Worked Hard. Levi died on September 26, 1902 at the age of 73. He never married, so he left the business to his four nephews, Jacob, Sigmund, Louis, and Abraham Stern, the sons of his sister Fanny and her husband David Stern. He also left bequests to a number of charities such as the Pacific Hebrew Orphan Asylum and the Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum. Levi’s fortune in 1902 money was estimated to be around 6 million dollars. He was buried in Colma, California.
The ‘Blue-Collar Worker’ & The Dungaree ~
Levi had Created an Incomparable Product without Equal, so who should decide to Follow Farmers, Cowboys and Workers All Over America wearing LEVI’S Work Wear to produce the Absolutely BulletProof Wearable Durability of LEVI’S Denim ? The U.S. Military. The U.S. Army & Navy adopted Denim in Varying Weights, calling their gear Dungarees. Blue Denim work clothing was adopted as Standard by the Army on 11 June 1919, replacing brown work clothing used before. The top was a jumper style pullover, the trousers had five pockets — two front, two hip, and a watch pocket. In 1933 a one-piece work suit (coveralls) was adopted in blue denim for use by mechanics, drivers, machinists, and others in similar roles. This was in addition to and did not replace the two piece work uniform. These blue denim coveralls were used until replaced by herringbone twill (HBT) one piece coverall in 1938.
A Burgeoning Business Taking Hold Further South in California would Make Levi-Strauss a Household Name ~
1930’s Hollywood Cowboys Like Gary Cooper, Tom Mix & John Wayne Put LEVI’S on the Map ~
The Big E • 1936
The Red BIG E Label Showed Up to Help Identify the LEVI’S Brand from Further Away ~
LEVI’S got on The Style BandWagon with Some Fine Western Duds to Complement the Jeans. Amazingly, Levi-Strauss Products were only Available West of the Mississippi Before the 1950’s.
Ladies & Kids got in on The Act with their Brand of Koveralls, or essentially Overalls. While These were Fine for Work, Some Ladies preferred a More Stylish Look, And LEVI’S Delivered~ In the Late ‘Thirties Cowboy Couture was All the Rage in California.
As The Forties Approached, The Depression & Dark Clouds of War Over Europe meant Soon it would be Time to Stop Singin’, Roll Up Your Sleeves and Get Back to Work…
Bib Overalls, which came into prominence during the Great Depression. Farmers, Carpenters, Railroad and Factory workers adopted Bib Overalls as their Uniform during this period, which became a Symbol of America’s Fighting Spirit as the country struggled to rebuild itself afer the devastating Stock Market Crash of 1929. During World War II, American Fighting Men took their favorite pairs of denim pants overseas, While the Ladies Went to Work on America’s War Machine ~
Levi’s Carried On through the Wartime 1940’s ~ But it Was really in the 1950’s the Brand would Hit Its Stride ~ as now LEVI’S would be Available Nationwide for the First Time…Just as Brando, James Dean and a Host of Other Rebels Without a Cause Dawned on America…
In 1947, Rusetta Coupe Club members Bob and Dick Pierson of Inglewood, California ran their Now Utterly Priceless ’34 Ford 3-Window Coupe at the Dry Lakes. It was their daily transportation—their mother thought it would be a safe car for them to drive—eventually, over the ensuing years they sneaked it up to 140.40. It was no longer their daily driver.
For the 1950 Dry Lakes Season at El Mirage, they stood the Hot Rod World on its ear when they figured out how to chop the top, lay back the windshield and yet still meet the SCTA’s 7-inch windshield height regulation. Powered by a Bobby Meeks-built, Edelbrock equipped Flathead Merc, The Pierson Bros. 2D coupe consistently ran 150 mph. The car ran at the Dry Lakes, the Drags and at Bonneville ~ Standard Racing Uniform ~ LEVI’S BIG E 501 XX
The Most Iconic, Poignant And Touching Film ever Starring the Legendary
LEVI’S 501 XX Denim ~
The Misfits, 1960
Hollywood Images such as these are what give the LEVI 501 its Classic Legendary American Status Today ~
Starring Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift and Clark Gable with a Screenplay by Arthur Miller & Directed by John Huston ~
The Misfits is A Touching Film, Painfully Desperate & Obvious each is Near their End in the Film & In Life…The Photographs by the Incredible German Photographer Ernst Haas need no Further Dialogue ~
The LEVI’S ‘BIG E’ 501 XX Denim Jean & Jacket Would Go on for Another 10 Years, until 1971 ~
California Couture Biker Gear de Rigueur ~ LEVI 501 XX Jacket & Jeans, cutoff the Sleeves, Add Hells Angels Colors & Biker
501’s Starred in Thousands of Told & Untold Episodes Across America, with Rock N’Roll, Romance, HotRodders, Tragedy, War, The Hell’s Angels, Hunter S. Thompson and Cowboys, Farmers, Families, and Kids Growing Up Everywhere… Maybe Just Like You.
For My Friends Always, Wallace & Jill ~ Federico
This entry was posted on July 7, 2010 by federicodecalifornia. It was filed under California Icons ~ and was tagged with 501 XX, Levi's 501, Levi's Big E, Levi-Strauss, Marilyn Monroe, Misfits Movie, Vintage Denim.