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Levi Rivets

Picture a scene from the Old West, sometime in the 1870s. Weary cowboys in dusty Levi’s gather around a blazing campfire after a day on the open range. The lonely howl of a coyote counterpoints the notes of a guitar as the moon floats serenely overhead.

Suddenly a bellow of pain shatters the night, as a cowpoke leaps away from the fire, dancing in agony. Hot-Rivet Syndrome has claimed another victim. In those days, Levi’s were made, as they had been from the first days of Levi Strauss, with copper rivets at stress points to provide extra strength. On these original Levi’s—model 501—the crotch rivet was the critical one: when cowboys crouched too long beside the campfire, the rivet grew uncomfortably hot. For years the brave men of the West suffered this curious occupational hazard.

Then, in 1933, Walter Haas, Sr., president of Levi Strauss, went camping in his Levi 501’s. He was crouched by a crackling campfire in the High Sierras, drinking in the pure mountain air, when he fell prey to Hot-Rivet Syndrome. He consulted with professional wranglers in his party. Had they suffered the same mishap? An impassioned YES was the reply. Haas vowed that the offending rivet must go, and at their next meeting the board of directors voted it into extinction.

Everybody’s Business, ed. my M. Moskowitz, M. Katz, R. Levering