Significance – Thanks to miners and their need for sturdy clothing we have Levi’s and the blue jean.

Inscription – “Your ruffle shirts, standing collars and all kinds of fine clothing had better be left in your wardrobe at home. Discard all cotton or linen clothing; adapt yourself at once to woolen and leather; provide yourself with woolen underclothes. …You may also leave your razor for you won’t use it.”

1859 Gold Rush Handbook

Location – 39.750304, -104.996208

Details – Mining as an industry was born in 1848, when James Marshall was building a sawmill in the American River in California and spotted a gold nugget shining in the water. When people found out that gold had been discovered, “All were off to the mines!” according to a local minister.

Mining was grueling work, which exhausted the body and soul. Miners spent 9 hours a day or searching through the mud and stones of freezing lakes or digging tunnels into the sides of mountains looking for gold, silver and precious minerals.

These men (and they were virtually all men) needed sturdy clothing. One day, the wife of a local laborer walked into the San Francisco tailor shop of Jacob Davis and asked him to make a pair of pants for her husband that wouldn’t fall apart. To strengthen the trousers, Davis put metal rivets at points of strain, like pocket corners and the base of the button fly. These riveted work pants were an instant success and Levi Strauss was born.

All miners wore practical and durable clothes. The business of Levi’s blue jeans thrived in San Francisco during the California Gold Rush and the company was in full production by the time Colorado mining was in vogue. All the American miners wore them…and those who came to prospect from other parts adapted blue jeans to their old world style.

During the mining era, clothing was a form of identity, often based on their ethnicity.  For European miners, they would wear loose fitting trousers or Levis jeans with a loose fitting shirt and strong mining boots. The clothing for Chinese miners would be a traditional working robe.

Mining attire included a broad-brimmed hat to keep the sun off and a neckerchief that served as a sweat-rag.    Some miners wore suspenders, but wealthier miners wore belts – it was a status thing, so most everyone tried to wear belts. If you wore suspenders some people thought you were poor.

When men got dressed for mining on brisk mornings, they would wear long sleeves to stay warm and protect their arms from bees or mosquitoes. But, when the heat from the sun became unbearable lots of miners worked with a sun hat and no shirts.

Most miners were not well-groomed, as bathing and washing of clothes was often deemed a rare luxury. It was only the guys. Women were very hard to find during the gold rush years.  “I’ve been here 10 years and I’ve only seen 2 women,” wrote a miner’s wife in 1849.

Quiz Questions

  1. How did mining become an industry?
  2. The needs of miners created which type of clothing?
  3. Why was it better that the existing product?
  4. What could you learn about the way a miner was dressed?
  5. Why were the so few female miners?