Jacob Davis commemorative plaque in downtown Reno, Nevada.
Photo © Stan White
Jacob Youphes arrived in America in 1854, coming from Riga, Latvia. He changed his name to Davis and ran a tailor shop in New York City for a couple of years. His next stops were San Francisco and Weaverville in California. Neither of these seem to have worked out - he moved to British Columbia in 1858, and before returning to San Francisco in 1867, he married a German emigrant named Annie Parksher (or Packscher).
Davis then moved to Nevada, first landing in Virginia City, then on to Reno in 1868. By 1869, he was tailoring again, making tents and wagon covers from cotton duck cloth he bought from Levi Strauss & Co. He got into the clothing business when a woman asked him to make a pair of strong pants for her husband who, she said, wore them out quickly. With strength in mind, Davis hit on the idea of using copper rivets to attach the pockets to his new pants. Once word got out, the riveted pants became a big seller. He expanded his line and began making pants from denim as well as the original cotton duck.
Success began to breed imitators. To protect his invention, Davis wrote to Levi Strauss and asked if he would like to jointly patent the idea. Strauss agreed and also asked Davis to move to San Francisco and manage manufacturing riveted pants for his company. The patent was granted in 1873, and by 1874 Davis was supervisor of a new pants plant. Thus began the continuing saga of one of the world's most recognizable brands, Levi's® Jeans. Davis sold his interest in the patent to Strauss in 1907, but continued as factory supervisor until his death in 1908.
Reno Commemorates Jacob Davis's Tailor Shop
To mark the invention of riveted blue jeans right here in Reno, the Historical Resources Commission placed a plaque at the spot where Davis's tailor shop once stood. It's on the west side of Virginia Street in downtown Reno, across from Harrah's. Davis would never recognize the spot today, but I bet he'd be pleased to know that Reno remembers those pants, and be amazed to see people still wearing his riveted blue jeans.