Levi Strauss & Co. has produced over one billion pairs of sturdy blue jeans since 1850, when its Bavarian founder fashioned the first par from a medieval French fabric (Serge de Nimes, hence “denim”).
What you probably didn’t know was that back in the 1930s, advertising manager Dick Cronin gazed worriedly at the mounds of indigo bundles stacked in Levi’s warehouse. California’s latest gold rush had panned out and the prospectors, once Levi’s most faithful customers, were leaving in droves. Cronin needed a way to make the workaday 501 jeans appeal to a broader market segment.
Glancing at his scuffed cowboy boots, he was struck with an idea: Why not link the mundane workman’s garment with the romance of the Wild West?
Cronin designed a mechanical rodeo exhibit featuring six-foot tall figures of famous rodeo personalities. Clowns cavorted around the ring as the Levi-clad figures hurtled from chutes on bucking broncos. The exhibit was the hit of the 1939 International Exposition and soon was playing to crowds across the nation.
Swathed in an aura of rugged charm and romance, Levis became a national craze. In fact, in one year alone, Levi Strauss required 8.4 million miles of orange thread…enough to spin a line from the earth to the moon and back 18 times!