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THE NATION

1879-Vintage Jeans Help Salute Tailor

The $125,000 pants are featured as Reno honors Levi Strauss business partner Jacob Davis.

May 21, 2006|From the Associated Press

RENO — The world's oldest pair of jeans -- made in about 1879 and now valued at $125,000 -- were displayed Saturday outside the birthplace of the modern blue jean.

The jeans were part of a tribute to Reno tailor Jacob Davis, whose 1871 idea of using rivets to strengthen pants led to one of the world's best known brands: Levi's blue jeans.

The city of Reno honored Davis by placing a historical marker on Virginia Street, where his tiny shop once stood.

The ceremony was held 133 years to the day that the Latvian immigrant and San Francisco merchant Levi Strauss were granted a patent for the copper-riveted work pants.

Strauss' company branched out to making jeans in 1873 after Davis approached him about the patent. Davis became head of its new jean manufacturing division, while Strauss, a Bavarian immigrant, continued as company owner.

"This is about as close as you can get to Jacob Davis' original jeans," Lynn Downey, historian for Levi Strauss & Co., said as she held up the old jeans.

"It took two cities and two immigrants to produce the most American garment," Downey said.

Despite appearing well worn with a rip in the back, the denim pants look much the same as today's jeans -- which still use rivets.

The pants, which rarely make it out of the archives of the San Francisco company, were in a small collection purchased by Levi Strauss in 2003.

Nevada State Archivist Guy Rocha said recognition of Davis was long overdue.

"He has literally touched our lives and people everywhere with his invention," Rocha said.

"May the people of the world find their way here to pay homage to the man and the town where it all began."

Before Davis' innovation, the pockets of work pants would rip open, and the trousers would not last long. Davis' decision to use 11 copper rivets at pocket corners and other stress points was credited with making work pants last longer and laborers more efficient.

The site of Davis' tailor shop is now covered by the shuttered Rocky's Sports Casino.

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