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STRAUSS, Levi (1829-1902)

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STRAUSS, Levi (1829-1902). Levi Strauss, the man who gave the world blue jeans, was born in 1829 in Bavaria. Orphaned at 16 years of age, Levi Strauss decided to join his five brothers and sisters in the United States. In 1843, young Levi sailed from Bremerhaven to New York where his two older brothers, Jonas and Louis, had already established a successful wholesale textile and tailoring business. After a stay of two days in New York, he continued on to the ranch of his oncle, Daniel Goldman in Louisville Kentucky. There he spent the next five years learning the language and the ways of his new homeland in order that he might someday take over his uncle's ranch. But Levi had dreams of becomming an independent businessman, and for several years he walked the roads of Kentucky, selling cloth and notions from the pack on his back. In 1853 he returned to New York upon hearing reports of gold being discovered in California. He persuaded his two brothers to provide himwith a supply of silk, cloth, and a few luxury items which he planned to sell in San Francisco. In addition he took a supply of canvas intened for the Conestoga Wagons made by German wheelwrights in Pennsylvania and used by many gold prospectors to cross the continent. In 1850 he took a ship for San Francisco. By the time he reached California he had sold everything to fellow passengers, except for the canvas.

Two gold prospectors in front of their mine --
wearing the predecessor of todays jeans.

A gruff old prospector chided young Strauss for not having brought along a supply of pants, because prospecting for gold was rough on pants. Strauss cut his canvas and stitched it into trousers that were an instant success and were known as "Levis". The success of his durable trousers was so overwhelming that he soon opened his own company, Levi Strauss & Co. on Battery Street in San Francisco. Since that time, nothing essential has changed in this "piece of national heritage", except that the Strauss Brothers switched from canvas to serge de Nimes--denim--dyed with indigo.

Levi Strauss disliked the name "jeans" and
always referred to them as "overalls".

Another prospector, Alkali Ike, was to play a role in the evolution of jeans. Each time he returned to the saloon of Virginia City, he complained to his tailor, Jacob W. Davis, of pockets torn from his habit of carrying nuggets in them, and asked why Davis couldn't nake his pockets as strong as those in Strass' Levis. Davis, tired of his customer's constant complaining, riveted the pockets together with copper wire. When Alkali Ike returned a few weeks later, the entire boom town expected to witness the usual drunken spectacle, but this time the gruff miner, instead of getting drunk immediately and going around through the tents cursing, went to his tailor to show him that his pockets had held together. Davis reported the incident to Strauss, who applied with Davis for a patent on July 5, 1872. The patent, number 139,121, was granted on May 20, 1873, the date regarded as the birthday of the firm. At that time the jeans were sold for 22 each. Some of the early Levis are now in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.

Strauss made money with one hand and gave it away with the other, endowing 28 scholarships at the University of California and contributing to several San Francisco orphanages. A lifelong bachelor, he left the company to four nephews, whose descendants still control it. Today Levi's are sold around the world, with about $5 billion in annual sales.

Mass production in the sewing-hall of Levi Strauss's
factory on Valencia Street, San Francisco.

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