When you hear the name “Levi Strauss,” chances are that jeans come to mind. The company name is now synonymous with the product that made it famous.
Savvy marketing over generations helped produce this happy result, and one fascinating example of this advertising acumen was recently acquired by Hagley Library.
The item shown here is an advertisement made of a single sheet of stiff paper, printed on both sides, then die-cut and creased to fold into the shape of blue jeans.
Levi Strauss & Co. created this advertisement for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, held in San Francisco to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal and the rebirth of the city after the earthquake and fire of 1906. The company had a working factory line in the Palace of Manufactures and handed out this advertisement as a giveaway to visitors.
Three panels of the unfolded advertisement depict young children wearing Koveralls or other denim clothing in various situations, i.e., at home playing with toys, at the beach, playing baseball, etc.
The fourth panel depicts adult men in overalls performing various tasks of manual labor. The middle section displays several Levi trademarks and logos, and proclaims: “Levi Strauss & Co., San Francisco, Cal., Manufacturers of Two Horse Brand Overalls - Koveralls and Koverall Nighties. 75 cents the suit, Everywhere a new suit free if they rip.”
Originally known as overalls, the first pair of patent-riveted clothing was made by Levi Strauss & Co. in 1873. The product proved to be exceptionally rugged and well-suited for laborers. The Koverall, designed in 1912 for children (“Koveralls keep kids klean!”), was the first product that Levi Strauss sold nationally.
The factory line in the Palace of Manufactures at the Panama Pacific International Exposition made Koveralls, and this new product features prominently on this remarkable giveaway advertisement.
Cray, Ed. Levi’s. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1978. [IMPRINTS HD9940.U54 S9]
[Levi Strauss & Co. Colored lithographed advertisement in shape of blue jeans]. [IMPRINTS RPAM 2012.0091]
Lynn Downey, Levi Strauss & Co. Archives: http://www.levistrauss.com/about/heritage/archives
Max Moeller is the Curator of the Imprints Department at Hagley Museum and Library.