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Fascinating facts about Levi Strauss
co-inventor of Blue Jeans in 1873.

Levi Strauss
AT A GLANCE:
No item of clothing is more American than the blue jeans invented in 1873 by Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss. These two visionary immigrants, turned denim, thread and a little metal into the most popular clothing product in the world. Waist overalls, was the traditional name for work pants, which is what these first blue jeans were called.
THE STORY
RELATED INFO
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DID YOU KNOW?
Inventor: Levi Strauss (aka Loeb Strauss)
Levi Strauss photo courtesy www.levistrauss.com
Criteria: First to patent. First practical. Entrepreneur.
Birth: February 26, 1829 in Buttenheim, Germany
Death: September 27, 1902 in San Francisco, California
Nationality: American (of German decent)
Invention: blue jeans
Blue jeans image courtesy www.levistrauss.com
Definition: noun / waist overalls, jeans, Levi's®
Function: Clothes, especially pants, that are usually close-fitting and  created from the rugged cotton twill textile that is colored blue with indigo dye
Patent: 139,121 (US) issued May 20, 1873 for Fastening Pocket-Openings
Milestones:
1829 Loeb Strauss born February 26, 1829 in Buttenheim, Germany
1847 Strauss family moves to New York City where Levi joined his brothers dry-goods business
1853 Levi moves to San Francisco, California to establishing a dry-goods business Levi Strauss&Co.
1872 Jacob wrote a letter to Levi suggests that they hold the riveted pants patent rights together.
1872 on August 8, filed patent application for Improvements in Fastening Pocket-Openings
1873 patent 139,121 awarded to Jacob Davis and one half assigned to Levi Strauss & Co.
1873 Levi hires Jacob to oversee production of the riveted pants at the San Francisco plant
1875 Levi and two associates purchased the Mission and Pacific Woolen Mills
1890 the year that the lot number "501®" was first used to designate the denim waist overalls
1935 Levi's® jeans for women were first featured in Vogue magazine
1936 The red Tab Device was created to help identify Levi's® 501® jeans from a distance
1960 The word jeans became popular when the baby-boom generation used the term for the pants
CAPS: Levi Strauss, Jacob Davis, ARY, jeans, blue jeans, levi's, denim waist overalls, 501, dungaree,
 SIP, history, biography, invrntor, invention.
STORY:
Levi Strauss, the inventor of the quintessential American garment - the blue jean - was born in Buttenheim, Bavaria on February 26, 1829 to Hirsch Strauss and his second wife, Rebecca Haas Strauss. Hirsch, a dry goods peddler, already had five children with his first wife, who had died a few years earlier: Jacob, Jonas, Louis, Rosla and Mathilde. Levi - named "Loeb" at birth - and his older sister Fanny were the last of the Strauss children; Hirsch succumbed to tuberculosis in 1845.
 
Two years after his death, Rebecca, Loeb, Fanny and Mathilde emigrated to New York. There, they were met by Jonas and Louis, who had already made the journey and had started a dry-goods business, called “J. Strauss Brother & Co.” Young Loeb soon began to learn the trade himself, and by 1850 he was known among his family and customers as “Levi” .

When news of the California Gold Rush made its way east, Levi decided to emigrate to San Francisco to make his fortune: not by panning gold, but by selling supplies to the throngs of miners who arrived daily in the big city to outfit themselves before heading off to the gold fields. In January of 1853 he became an American citizen, and in March he arrived in bustling, noisy San Francisco, establishing a dry-goods business under his own name and also serving as the West Coast representative of the family’s New York firm. In 1863 the company was renamed “Levi Strauss & Co.”. Then in 1866 Levi moved the headquarters to larger quarters at 14-16 Battery Street, where it remained for the next forty years.

Levi installed gaslight chandeliers, a freight elevator and other amenities to the new location. It was the headquarters of the now-prosperous firm; the Eastern sales office remained with Jonas Strauss in New York. In his mid-thirties, Levi was already a well-known figure around the city. He was active in the business and cultural life of San Francisco, and actively supported the Jewish community. He belonged to Temple Emanu-El, the city's first synagogue, and was a contributor to the gold medal given annually to the best Sabbath School student. Despite his stature as an important business man, he insisted that his employees call him Levi, and not Mr. Strauss.

He knew that demand would be great for these riveted "waist overalls" (the old name for jeans), so Levi brought Jacob Davis to San Francisco to oversee the first West Coast manufacturing facility. Initially, Davis supervised the cutting of the blue denim material and its delivery to individual seamstresses who worked out of their homes. But the demand for overalls made it impossible to maintain this system, and factories on Fremont and Market Streets were opened.

As the end of the 19th century approached, Levi stepped back from the day-to-day workings of the business, leaving it to his nephews. David Stern had died in 1874 and his four sons - Jacob, Sigmund, Louis and Abraham - came into the business over the next few years. In 1890 - the year that the lot number "501®" was first used to designate the denim waist overalls - Levi and his nephews officially incorporated the company, though by this time he had begun to concentrate on other business and philanthropic pursuits.

Levi had been a charter member and treasurer of the San Francisco Board of Trade since 1877. He was a director of the Nevada Bank, the Liverpool, London and Globe Insurance Company and the San Francisco Gas and Electric Company. In 1875 Levi and two associates purchased the Mission and Pacific Woolen Mills from the estate of former silver millionaire William Ralston. Much of the mill's fabric was used to make the Levi Strauss & Co. "blanket-lined" pants and coats. Levi was a contributor to the Pacific Hebrew Orphan Asylum and Home, the Eureka Benevolent Society and the Hebrew Board of Relief. In 1895 he and a number of other prominent San Franciscans provided funds to build a new railroad from San Francisco to the San Joaquin Valley (a project which unfortunately failed). And in 1897 Levi provided the funds for twenty-eight scholarships at the University of California, Berkeley.

During the week of September 22, 1902 Levi began to complain of ill health but by Friday evening the 26th, he felt well enough to attend the family dinner at the home on Leavenworth Street which he shared with Jacob Stern’s family. He awakened briefly in the night, and told the nurse in attendance that he felt "as comfortable as I can under the circumstances.” Then, peacefully, he died. His death was headline news in the Sunday, September 28 edition of the San Francisco Call. On Monday, the day of his funeral, local businesses were temporarily closed so that their proprietors could attend the services. The eulogy was read at Levi’s home by Rabbi Jacob Voorsanger of Temple Emanu-El; afterward, company employees escorted the casket to the Southern Pacific railway station, where it was transported to the Hills of Eternity Cemetery in Colma (now Home of Peace), south of San Francisco.

Levi's estate amounted to nearly $6 million, the bulk of which was left to his four nephews and other family members. Other bequests were made to the Pacific Hebrew Orphan Asylum, the Home for Aged Israelites, the Roman Catholic and Protestant Orphan Asylums, Eureka Benevolent Society and the Emanu-El Sisterhood.

In summing up Levi's life and the establishment of his business, the San Francisco Call stated: "Fairness and integrity in his dealings with his Eastern factors and his customers and liberality toward his employees soon gave the house a standing second to none on the coast." An even more fitting testimonial was pronounced by the San Francisco Board of Trade in a special resolution:

"...the great causes of education and charity have likewise suffered a signal loss in the death of Mr. Strauss, whose splendid endowments to the University of California will be an enduring testimonial of his worth as a liberal, public-minded citizen and whose numberless unostentatious acts of charity in which neither race nor creed were recognized, exemplified his broad and generous love for and sympathy with humanity."

TO LEARN MORE

RELATED INFORMATION:
The Entrepreneur    from The Great Idea Finder
Invention of Blue Jeans   from The Great Idea Finder
Jacob Davis Biography
   from The Great Idea Finder

ON THE BOOKSHELF:
The Kid Who Invented the Popsicle: And Other Surprising Stories About Inventions
by Don L. Wulffson / Paperback - 128 pages
(1999) / Puffin
Brief factual stories about how various familiar things were invented, many by accident, from animal crackers to the zipper.

Mistakes That Worked
by Charlotte Foltz Jones, John O'Brien (Illustrator) / Paperback - 48 pages (1994) / Doubleday
Recounting the fascinating stories behind the accidental inventions of forty familiar objects and products. 
Panati’s Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things
by Charles Panati / Paperback - 480 pages Reissue edition (September 1989) / HarperCollins
Discover the fascinating stories behind the origins of over 500 everyday items, expressions and customs. 
Mr. Blue Jeans : A Story About Levi Strauss
Maryann N. Weidt, Lydia M. Anderson (Illustrator) / Paperback - 64 pages / First Avenue Editions
Basic values shine stronger than the famous copper rivets in the sturdy denim pants as the story of the Strauss family and company unfolds.
The Blue Jean
by Alice Harris / Hardcover: 144 pages / PowerHouse Books (October, 2002)
The Blue Jean is a long-overdue appreciation of this iconic piece of clothing, sure to appeal to anyone who's ever worn a pair of jeans. That means young and old, male and female, famous and normal alike.

ON THE WEB:
Invention of Levi's Jeans
Sometime during 1873, the first riveted clothing was made and sold. (We're not sure of the exact date because we lost all our historic records in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire.)
(URL: www.levistrauss.com/Heritage/)
Levi Strauss Biography
The Gold Rush of 1848 attracted many adventurers to California. One of them was a twenty-year-old named Levi Strauss. When he died in 1902, Levi's estate amounted to nearly $6 million, the bulk of which was left to his four nephews and other family members.

(URL: www.levistrauss.com/Heritage/History.aspx)

Levi Strauss the Inventor of Trousers called Denim Jeans
Eventually in the 1950s people asked for denim jeans or just as often - Levi's jeans rather than waist overalls. Other manufacturers began to produce jeans such as Lee Coopers and Wranglers also became famous.
(URL: www.fashion-era.com/denim_jeans_and_casual_wear.htm)

Jacob Davis letter to Levi Strauss
Ben Davis Manufacturing, was founded in 1935. The Davis family has been involved in the US garment industry since the mid 1800s. Company Founder Ben Davis' grandfather Jacob Davis was instrumental in the creation of the original Levi's Jeans. This page displays a copy of the letter Jacob Davis sent to Levi Strauss in 1972 regarding a partnership in acquiring a U.S. patent.
(URL: www.bendavis.com/home/levi.html)
Levi's
The official Levi's Web site.
(URL: www.levi.com/)
Invention Dimension - Inventor of the Week
Celebrates inventor/innovator role models through outreach activities and annual awards to inspire a new generation of American scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs.Featured Levi Strauss for the invention of Blue Jeans.

(URL: web.mit.edu/invent/iow/strauss.html)

DID YOU KNOW?:

  • An original pair of Levi's jeans is part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
  • The word, 'jeans,' came from the cotton workpants worn by sailors from the port of Genoa, Italy, who were themselves known as Genes.
  • The  jeans market has grown to be a $14.6 billion industry
  • On May 20, 1873, Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss received patent #139,121 from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
  • Levi's® 501® jeans are the original Shrink-To-Fit®, button-fly blue jeans first created in the 1800s. 501® jeans are the oldest and best selling product of Levi Strauss & Co. The number 501 was assigned to the jeans around 1890.
  • In 1885 a pair of Levi waist overalls cost $1.25. Brand new. By the turn of the century, the company charged $8.50 for a pair of blue jeans.
  • In 1997, Levi Strauss & Co. paid $25,000 for a pair of 100 year old jeans (for their museum) found in an old Colorado mine, which is the oldest known pair of Levi jeans.
  • Seven out of 10 Americans say jeans are their first pick for casual wear.
  • Levi Strauss & Co. currently makes 501® jeans in approximately 108 sizes and 20 finishes/fabrics.
  • A typical pair of Levi's® 501® jeans takes about 1 3/4 yards of denim, 213 yards of thread, five buttons and six rivets.
Designated trademarks and brands are the property of their respective owners.
Reference Sources in BOLD Type. This page revised July 28, 2006.
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