Levi Strauss – His Biography

The life of Levi Strauss, the “Father of Blue Jeans”, is a true personification of the American dream.

Loeb, which was Levi’s birth name, was born on February 26th, 1829 to Hirsch Strauss and his second wife, Rebecca (neé Haas), in the Franconian town of Buttenheim in northern Bavaria. At the time of his marriage to Rebecca, Hirsch Strauss was already a father of five children from his first marriage: Jakob, Roesla, Jonathan, Lippmann und Mathilde. Loeb and his sister Voegela, later called Fanny, were the youngest of the Strauss children. Like many other Jews in rural Franconia, Loeb’s father was a peddler of fabrics and dry goods and earned just enough to provide the absolute necessities for his large family.

After a long battle with tuberculosis, Hirsch Strauss passed away in 1846, leaving Loeb and the rest of the Strauss family in financial distress. Left with no other options, Rebecca decided it was best for her and Loeb, Voegela and Maila to immigrate to the United States and join the older Strauss siblings Jonathan and Lippmann, who had now Americanized their names to Jonas and Louis. Jonathan and Lippmann had left Buttenheim several years earlier and had begun a wholesale business of their own in New York.

Loeb – who by 1850 took on the Americanized name Levi – learned the trade from his brothers, while working in their business. By now, Levi had spent a few years in America and had decided that his future was here in the United States. He decided that he wanted to apply for citizenship and begin to build his life in America. In February of 1853, Levi Strauss became an American citizen.

By thelate 1840’s, news about the Gold Rush in California had reached the East Coast.

The possibility of a fortune out west tantalized Levi, as well as other thousands of gold hungry Americans. His brothers sent him to California to represent J. Strauss Brother & Co. on the West Coast. He arrived in the pulsating city of San Francisco in March of 1853. There, he founded a wholesale business, selling fabrics and dry goods. His enterprise supplied shops with the life necessities of a miner or other pioneer in the still-wild West, from toothbrushes to suspenders, buttons, or fine ready-to-wear clothing. The young business flourished and the firm “Levi Strauss” soon had retail customers throughout the West.

Levi’s sister Fanny married a man named David Stern back in New York and in the mid 1850’s, after Levi’s success, they followed Levi out west with their son Jacob to San Francisco. Levi’s half-brother Louis followed one year later. After relocating several times, due to expansion, the business settled at No. 14 & 16 Battery Street in 1867. Already in 1863 the corporate name was “Levi Strauss & Co.”

Research indicates that Levi received a message from Jacob Davis, a tailor in Reno, Nevada, sometime around 1872. Davis was a customer of Levi Strauss & Co., from whom he purchased bolts of fabric. Davis had developed a method to make particularly durable pants for his customers, by using metal rivets to reinforce the strenuous points of the pants, such as the corners of the pockets and the base of the fly. He was looking for a business partner to help him mass market his new invention and he contacted Levi Strauss. Together, Davis and Strauss took out a patent, which was granted jointly to the two men on May 20th, 1873 – the birth date of the blue jean.

There was great demand for the riveted “overalls,” as jeans were originally called, so Levi Strauss & Co. opened a factory in San Francisco by the 1880’s. Jacob Davis was the factory’s supervisor, whereas Levi continued the work he had begun with his wholesale trading company.

Towards the end of the 19th century, Levi incorporated the company and brought in his four nephews, the sons of his elder sister Fanny, as shareholders. While leading his company to great success, Levi decided to dedicate his interests to additional business and philanthropic purposes and was a fixture among the businessmen of San Francisco. Levi was a charter member of the San Francisco Board of Trade and became its treasurer in 1877. He was director of the Nevada Bank, the Liverpool, London and Globe Insurance Company, and the San Francisco Gas and Electric Company. He was a financial supporter of the Pacific Hebrew Orphan Asylum and Home, as well as the non-profit Eureka Benevolent Society and the Hebrew Board of Relief. In 1897, he donated the funds for 28 scholarships at the University of California at Berkeley. Strauss achieved all of this, while maintaining his position as Chairman of the Board of Levi Strauss & Co.

Levi Strauss died at the home of his nephew, Jacob Stern, in San Francisco on September 26th, 1902. His death was national news and the Sunday edition of the San Francisco Call (09/28/1902) praised Levi as an eminent local citizen, whose standing had been established through his fairness and integrity in business dealings as well as his liberality towards his employees. On the day of his funeral, many San Francisco businesses remained temporarily closed because their proprietors wanted to be present at the services. Levi Strauss was buried in the Home of Peace Cemetery in Colma, south of San Francisco. He left his company to his four nephews, while funds were set aside in his will for numerous endowments and charities.

The Jeans

History of the Levi’s® 501 ®Jeans

1853

Levi Strauss arrives in San Francisco and opens a wholesale business.

1872

Jacob Davis invents a process for riveting pocket corners and other points of strain on workpants. He and Levi Strauss decide to patent the process together.

1873

The patent for reinforcing pants with rivets is issued on May 20th. The demand is so great that soon a factory in San Francisco is needed to manufacture the copper-riveted “waist overalls.”

The first jeans are marked by the following signature Levi Strauss characteristics:

  1. They are stitched with orange or yellow thread. The specific color did not become standardized until the 1960s.
  2. Levi’s were known for their signature arched back pocket stitching.
  3. Their famous coin pocket.
  4. On the back, there is a strap and loop for adjusting the width of the waist.
  5. The pants have buttons for suspenders.
  6. A further trademark is the buttoned fly. The buttons are stamped with inscription “Levi Strauss & Co.”
  7. Rivets with the company inscription are attached at the spots listed in the patent
  8. The first jeans were called “XX”

 

1886

The Two Horse Brand, a leather patch depicting two horses trying in vain to rip a pair of jeans apart, was introduced as a sign of quality. The Two Horse Brand was a symbol, which people remembered and was introduced to make sure that people understood that these quality jeans came from Levi Strauss & Co.

1890

Levi Strauss & Co introduces the use of design numbers for retailers. The copper-riveted “overalls” are given the number “501.”  It remains unknown why this number was chosen, but any of Levi’s riveted products whose lot number began with the number “5” was considered of the highest quality.

1901

A second back pocket is added.

1902

Levi Strauss dies at the age of 73.

1906

Earthquake and fire destroy the Levi Strauss & Co. factory. New production facilities are built at a Valencia Street address.

1922

The pants receive their first belt loops, but retain suspender buttons and back cinch for customers who prefer to keep their old ways.

1928

Levi’s® becomes a registered trademark.

1934

Lady Levi’s lot 701, the first jean designed specifically for women, is introduced.

1936

The Red Tab is introduced as an additional trademark on the right back pocket of the pants to help distinguish Levi’s from other jeans. The red tab is still a feature on all of Levi’s 501® jeans as well as other products.

1937

The rivets on the back pockets are covered, as customers complained that the back rivets scratched saddles, school benches, and seating furniture. Due to changes in fashion, suspender buttons are discontinued. Customers who don’t want to do without suspenders are provided with attachable buttons.

1942

The fly rivet is discontinued.

WW II

The pants are modified to adapt to War Production Board regulations. Due to the rationing of raw materials, such as thread, all non-essential details, including pocket flaps on jackets, cinch-backs (back strap and loop for adjusting the width of the waist), and the signature Levi’s arches were discontinued. In order to maintain the arch design in some form, production workers painted the trademark individually onto the pants pockets.

1954

Levi’s jeans with a zip-fly are launched on the market. The Shrink-to-Fit product has the lot number 501Z..

1950er Jahre

A change in the cut of the waist overalls: the pant-leg becomes narrower towards the ankle.

1958

Mustang produces the first German jeans.

1960

In line with developments in the language, the word “overalls” is replaced by the word "jeans” in advertising. The first pre-shrunk jeans are produced with the number 551Z.

1966

Rivets disappear from the back pockets, to be replaced with bar tacking.

1967

The word “LEVI’S®” on the red tab is written with the “L” still capitalized (Levi’s); the “E” is replaced with an “e”.

1981

501 Jeans “for women” are introduced to the market.

1984

The 501® Blues- marketing campaign (in Europe it was called “back to basics,”) including now-famous 501® ads, such as Nick Kamen in the launderette ad in 1986, trigger a new jeans boom.

1996

Levi’s Vintage Clothing wird auf den Markt gebracht. Hierbei handelt es sich um limitierte Auflagen originalgetreuer Nachbildungen von Modellen aus den Firmenarchiven in San Francisco.

1999

Levi’s Vintage Clothing is introduced. This is a special limited-edition collection of true-to-original reproductions of historic jeans models.

1999

Engineered Jeans - “The Next Blueprint in Denim” introduce the next millennium. They aim to connect the traditional style with the modern style.

2003

In honor of the 130th birthday of blue jeans, the Type 1 Jeans are developed. All the characteristic trademarks are optically enlarged by 30 %. Also, Levi’s Signature products are launched. They are designed to be made in quantity and sold at affordable prices in supermarket chains and department stores.

2006

The Levi’s Redwire DLX, called “IPod-Jeans,” is developed together with Apple Computers.