Sunday, July 24, 2011

Levi Strauss & Co.

I am sure many have heard the story about Levi Strauss going to California with the Gold rush of 1849 and making jeans for the miners.

At birth in Germany, Levi was named Loeb Strauss. He emigrated to New York in 1847 and joined two older bros in a dry goods business. By 1850 he was known as "Levi" by family and customers.

Levi did not travel to California until the year 1853, arriving in San Francisco in March of that year where he established a wholesale dry goods business under the name Levi Stauss. His new company imported dry goods – clothing, underwear, umbrellas, handkerchiefs, bolts of fabric – and sold them to the small stores that were springing up all over California and the West.

In 1872, Levi received a letter from Jacob Davis, a Reno, Nevada tailor. Davis was one of Levi Strauss’ regular customers; he purchased bolts of cloth from the company to use for his own business. In his letter, he told the prosperous merchant about the interesting way he made pants for his customers: he placed metal rivets at the points of strain - pocket corners, and at the base of the button fly. He did this in order to make the pants stronger for the laboring men who were his customers. He wanted to patent this new idea but needed a business partner to get the idea off the ground. So he suggested that the two men take out the patent together (sharing the costs, as well). Levi was enthusiastic about the idea and the patent was granted to both men on May 20, 1873. The blue jean was born.

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. By the 1880's, Levi had leased factory space and then opened his own factory south of Market Street (though the dates and information are a bit vague here, thanks to the loss of the company’s historical records in the 1906 earthquake and fire). The famous 501® jean – known at the time simply as “XX” – was soon a best seller, as were the other riveted products Levi and Jacob added to their new manufactured lines.

So, as you can see, the Levi jeans did not come into being until the 1880's at the earliest. If anyone was making jeans for miners during the gold rush, it would have been Jacob Davis.

Levi Strauss died peacefully on the night of September 26, 1902.

And so it goes...

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