Snap-button cowboy shirt maker dies at 107

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DENVER (Reuters) - Western wear maker Jack A. Weil, whose distinctive snap-button shirts became as popular with celebrities as with working cowboys, has died at the age of 107, his family said on Thursday.

Believed to be the oldest CEO in America, “Papa Jack” as he was known, created Rockmount shirts that featured metal snaps rather than buttons, a design that revolutionized the Western apparel industry and found a place in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution.

“It’s the longest running shirt design in America -- Western or otherwise,” his grandson Steve Weil said in a statement on Thursday.

Weil worked daily at his Denver-based company Rockmount Ranch Wear Manufacturing Co. until falling ill recently.

“Papa Jack died at home (Wednesday) surrounded by family,” Steve Weil said.

Born in Evansville, Indiana in 1901, Weil moved to Denver in 1928. In 1946, he started Rockmount in the city’s warehouse district, where it still operates.

Over the decades, his shirts with the diamond-shaped snaps and jagged saw-tooth pockets became popular among politicians, actors and musicians. “I guess I was just lucky that every kid wants to be a cowboy,” he told Reuters in a 2006 interview.

Among his customers were Ronald Reagan, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Nicholas Cage. More recently, Rockmount shirts were worn by the late Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in the 2005 Academy Award-nominated movie, “Brokeback Mountain.”

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter lauded Weil as a “legendary Coloradan and pioneering Denver businessman (whose) legacy will live on for at least another 107 years.”

Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Jill Serjeant and Bill Trott