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U.S. Originals

Levi Strauss History

In 1847, two years after the death of her husband Hirsch Strauss, Rebecca Strauss emigrated due to the worse economical situation from Franken, which is a region in Bavaria, Germany, to New York. Son Loeb Strauss (Levi's real birth name) was 18 years old at this time, he was born on February 26, 1829 in the small town of Buttenheim near Bamberg, Germany. He adopted the name Levi not until he lived in the New World.

He started working in the dry goods shop of his half brothers Jonas and Louis who both were sons from the first marriage of his father. Being new to a country and lacking the language he had not a promising start but was hard working and open-minded when he heard the new about the gold that was found in California. Levi decided to follow the call of the precious metal and left for San Francisco. It was the same year that he became U.S. citizen: 1853.

He didn't intend to dig for the metal but thought he could made a buck or two more with starting out his own dry goods business. He took as much material as possible with him from the New York business and learned real quick that it didn't make much more profit in San Francisco as it did back at the East coast. But it didn't took long that he learned something else: the mine workers had a strong need for more robust, sturdy pants as the ones they had. So Levi experimented with tent canvas he had in stock but he couldn't please the workers with that idea. He tried something else, what made him breaking through and becoming a legend.
He still had a cotton fabric from France left which was known in the textile industry as 'serge', a robust twilled fabric. This one he used was named after the French town of Nimes and so its name was 'serge de Nimes' (serge from Nimes). But it was anyway widely known, also in England were it was probably present since the late 17th/ early 18th century. That means the name has be considered more as a name for a certain type of fabric and not necessarily as the place where Levi had it from. "Serge de Nimes" might explain the derivation of the American language expression that was used from there on for the fabric type that is used for jeans: denim.

These pants were a success, they were considered a quality product and Levi was in business. He called them "Waist Overall". First he got his supplies from a weaving mill in New Hampshire, later from 1915 on from one in North Carolina.

The only weak point were the seams that couldn't withstand the requirements of the miners. Fortunately he got in contact with a tailor from Reno who suggested to let Levi participate in his idea of affixing metal rivets at the seams to reinforce them if Levi would pay the application fee for his patent. Levi agreed and soon after began to utilize this helpful idea. From there on his pants were almost indestructible and Levi and Jakob Davis worked together.

1890 is the official founding year of 'Levi Strauss & Company' in San Francisco. His waist overalls were assigned the product number 501, which resulted in the name of the famous 501® Jeans. The leather label shows two orses that try to tear off a pair of denim. It was only one distinctive mark Levi added. The 'red tab' which shows the company logo helped to identify a pair of Levi denim from farther away. The name Blue Jeans wasn't heard before the 1920's and it still took years for the belt to replace the suspenders.

Levi Strauss died on September 26, 1902, in San Francisco. At this time his company has an estimated value of 6 billions, he has around 17,000 employees, and sells products in more than 60 countries around the world in more than 30,000 stores.

Levi Strauss was known as a philanthropist and generous business man who treated employees better than it was common at a given time. After his death his company was led in this spirit. In 1906 the big San Francisco earthquake destroyed the headquarter building completely and much of the historical material got lost but it definitely couldn't stop the triumphal success of the jeans.

Levi Strauss Museum in Buttenheim, Germany
Levi Strauss Museum in Buttenheim, Germany



Document Information
Source: magazineUSA.com; Levi Strauss; Museum Levi Strauss in Buttenheim
Last modified: 20041229
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