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Levi Strauss American History Entrepreneur Success Story # 501

Updated on November 23, 2015

Levi Strauss American Success


Levi Strauss History

Levis Blue Jeans founder and creator, Levi Strauss was born on February 26, 1829. From Wrangler to Lee and from Calvin Klein to Diesel or True Religion, it all got started with Levis 501 blue denim jeans.

Levi Strauss was a German-Jewish immigrant to the United States. In case you've been living under a rock, Levi Strauss founded the first company to manufacture denim blue jeans. Levi Strauss & Co., got started in 1853 in San Francisco, California.

I want to take a look at the history of Mr. Strauss and get a little deeper into his life.

Levis jeans are as American as mom and apple pie, baseball and hot dogs. What's even more important now is to understand exactly what Levi Strauss did. His story is a lesson to be learned by many and should be something to stimulate the entrepreneurial spirit in us all.

Levis Logo
Levis Logo

The Story

Levi Strauss immigrated to the United States from Bavaria, Germany in 1847. He was 18 years old.

By 1853, the Strauss family had a dry goods business in New York ran by Levi's brothers. With the California Gold Rush in full swing, it made since to send Levi west to San Francisco to develop a West Coast branch of J. Strauss Brother & Co. This was Levi's brother Jonas.

Levi set sail for San Francisco in January 1853. I'm sure he could have gone by wagon train, but ironically, it looks like it was actually safer to sail around South America then cross the U.S. by wagon.

By March of 1853, Levi Strauss & Co. was importing fine dry goods like clothing, bedding, combs, purses, and handkerchiefs from his brothers Jonas and Louis in New York. Let's not forget canvas for wagon covers and tents either. Levi would then sell the goods to the small general stores and mercantiles of California and the West.

This is where I must give credit to Levi and his brothers. How the jeans fall into place is something of a happy accident which I'll get to shortly, but what's important here is that Levi Strauss had enough business since to not play the lottery that was the California Gold Rush, but instead chose to supply all of those who were. This one move put Levi Strauss in the right place and the right time to strike it rich in a way most, if not all, failed 49ers dreamed of every night. Looking for the easy way out and the get rich quick fix is never a substitute for hard work and spirit. When you play these odds, the house almost surely wins.

So, as the story goes, Levi was told by a miner that he should sell pants because it was hard to find durable pants, so he started making pants out of canvas. It worked well except it caused chaffing, so Levi decided to substitute a twilled cotton cloth from France that was then called "serge de Nimes." The fabric later became known as, that's right, "denim" and the pants were eventually nicknamed "blue jeans."

And there begins an American Success story. The rest as you know is history... but I'll tell it anyway!

By late 1872 the business was in full swing. In Reno, Nevada a tailor named Jacob Davis was making work pants for men that had metal points of strain for a stronger pair of waist overalls. That was what they were called back in the day before they were known as "jeans." Davis wanted to get a patent for the process but needed a the help of a business partner. Enter Levi Strauss. Levi was the man Davis purchased fabric from. So in May of 1873, Strauss and Davis got themselves a United States patent for using of all things, copper rivets to strengthen the pockets of denim work pants.

The actual date of the patent and subsequent birthday of blue jeans is May 20, 1873.

In 1886 Levi started to use The Two Horse brand leather patch on the waist overalls. The main purpose of this patch was to show the world and more importantly the consumer, just how strong these pants are and then to reinforce the Levi status as the originator of patent riveted clothing. Levi knew that the patent was set to go into the public domain sometime around 1890 so he wanted to drive how the message that Levis are the original jean and the strongest jean to boot.

As foreseen, the patent enters the public domain in 1890 and now Levi Strauss & Co is no longer the only guy on the block to manufacture jeans with rivets. A lot number was assigned to the jeans and lo and behold the birth of the 501.

And behold the birth of the working man's pants and of cool, comfortable, durable waist overalls. Now honestly, would James Dean be James Dean without a worn pair of Levis? I doubt it.

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Levi Strauss died in 1902. September 22, 1902 marked the end of one era and the beginning of another. Levi Strauss & Co. now has an obligation to assure a long and fruitful legacy for the man who developed and build his own gold mine.

If alchemy exists, it is from the hard work and entrepreneurial spirits of men like Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis who paned their fortunes in the streams of men looking to strike it rich during the California Gold Rush.


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