LEVI STRAUSS Biography - Bussiness people and enterpreneurs


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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. Levi -  named "Loeb" at birth  - and his     
older sister Fanny were the last  of the Strauss children; Hirsch and  his first     
wife  had  perhaps five  children,  but this  information  is hard  to  confirm.     
Hirsch succumbed  to tuberculosis  in 1845  and two  years later  Rebecca, Loeb,     
Fanny, and possibly another sister named Mathilde emigrated to New York.  There,     
they were met by Jonas  and Louis, two of the  older boys, who had already  made     
the journey and had  started a wholesale 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” (in the census of that  year,     
his              name              is              spelled            “Levy.”).     
When news of the California Gold Rush  made its way east, Levi emigrated to  San     
Francisco to make his fortune, though he knew he wouldn’t make it panning  gold.     
At the end  of January 1853  he became an  American citizen, and  in February he     
headed for the  West coast via  the Isthmus of  Panama. He arrived  in bustling,     
noisy San Francisco in early March, establishing a wholesale dry goods  business     
under his  own name  and also  serving as  the West  Coast representative of the     
family’s  New  York  firm.  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.  It was     
these stores that helped outfit the miners of the Gold Rush and, eventually, the     
new families that began to populate the Western regions. The first address where     
Levi conducted business (that we know  of) was at 90 Sacramento Street,  and the     
name of his firm was simply, “Levi Strauss.” In the 1850s this location was very     
close to the waterfront, handy for receiving and selling the goods that  arrived     
by ship from his brother Jonas in  New York. In 1856 Levi moved the  business to     
62 Sacramento Street and then to 63 & 65 Sacramento as its trade and  reputation     
expanded. By this  time David Stern  - who was  married to Levi’s  sister Fanny     
- was  associated with  the firm.  In 1861  the business  relocated to 317 & 317     
Sacramento Street, and in 1863 the company was renamed “Levi Strauss & Co.” Then     
in 1866 Levi moved the headquarters  again, to larger quarters at 14-16  Battery     
Street,    where    it    remained    for    the    next    forty    years.     
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 also  helped to  found Temple Emanu-El, the     
city's first  synagogue. Despite  his stature  as an  important business man, he     
insisted  that  his    employees  call  him    Levi,  not  Mr.    Strauss.     
In 1872, Levi received  a letter from Jacob  Davis, a Reno, Nev.,  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 didn't have the  money to patent his  process, so he     
suggested that  Levi pay  for the  paperwork and  that they  take out the patent     
together. 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. The first manufacture of the jeans  was     
undertaken by  individual seamstresses  who worked  out of  their homes.  By the     
1880s          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.     
Levi carried on other business pursuits during his career, as well. He became  a     
charter member and treasurer of the San Francisco Board of Trade in 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, and  the mill's  fabric was used to     
make  the  Levi  Strauss    &  Co.  "blanket-lined"  pants    and  coats.     
He was also one of the  city’s greatest philanthropists. 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,     
As the end of  the 19th century approached,  Levi was still involved  in the day     
-to-day workings of  the business, though  he had brought  his nephews into  the     
firm by  this time.  David Stern  had died  in 1874  and his  four sons – Jacob,     
Sigmund, Louis and Abraham  – were now working  with their uncle Levi.  In 1890     
- the year that the XX waist overall was given the lot number "501®" - Levi  and     
his      nephews        officially      incorporated        the      company.     
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." On April 18, 1906 San Francisco was  devastated     
by a  massive earthquake  and fire.  Counted among  the buildings  which did not     
survive the catastrophe was  the headquarters of Levi  Strauss & Co. on  Battery     
Street. The building survived the earthquake, but not the fire, which raged  for     
three long days: all dry goods, furnishings and business records were destroyed.     
The factory suffered the same fate. It  was a great loss, but it did  not signal     
the end to the company. As the ashes cooled, the Stern brothers made plans for a     
new facility and a  new factory, as their  uncle Levi would no  doubt have done.     
They also continued to pay employee salaries and extended credit to other,  less     
fortunate  merchants  until  they    could  get  back  on    their  feet.     
Although buildings  and factories  fell, the  company built  by Levi Strauss was     
bedrock  solid, due  to his  foresight, his  business sense  and his  unswerving     
devotion to quality.