February 10, 2007

Levi's

And the man behind the brand is...
Levi Strauss

In 1877 two pairs of overalls arrived in the offices of Levi Strauss & Company in San Francisco. A letter was attached that read: "The secratt of them Pents is the Rivets that I put in those Pockets and I found the demand so large that I cannot make them fast enough. My nabors are getting yealouse of these success and unless I secure it by Patent Papers it will soon become a general thing.
Everybody will make them up and thare will be no money in it.

"Therefore Gentleman, I wish to make you a proposition that you should take out the Latters Patent in my name as I am the inventor of it, the expense of it will be about $68, all complit..." The letter was from Jacob Davis, a Latvian immigrant from Reno, Nevada.

Levi Strauss paid for Jacob Davis' patent for "Improvement in Fastening Pocket Openings." The patent would be the most illegally imitated patent in United States history.

Levis Strauss was already successful when he learned about Jacob Davis, had been for nearly 30 years. Strauss was born in 1829 in Bavaria, the youngest of six children. After his father died in 1846 he emigrated to New York to join his brothers Jonas and Louis in the dry goods trade.

In 1848 Strauss struck out on his own to sell dry goods in Kentucky.
Peddling on the streets Strauss often lugged 100-pound loads to his customers.
In 1849 Strauss sailed to San Francisco to join the Gold Rush. He went to work in his brother-in-law's store, in the midst of the greatest population explosion in American history.

At first Strauss served the miners, peddling goods in lawless boomtowns.
The population grew so fast that every cargo ship that arrived in port was immediately under siege from eager merchants needing to replenish their shelves. Strauss made sturdy canvas work pants, often using sails and tents when material from his brothers in New York did not arrive in time.

The company grew steadily as Strauss established himself as boss of the enterprise. He took over completely in 1861 an set up Levi Strauss & Co.
By this time Strauss was importing a French denim from which he made "waist high overalls." "Jeans" was a derogatory phrase referring to cheap-type work pants from Genoa, Italy. "Jeans" is from the French word for Genoa, "genes." Strauss dyed his denim blue to mask soil stains.

In 1865 Strauss built a new headquarters in downtown San Francisco.
Wary of the numerous fires that flashed through town he built his new offices out of brick and stone. Three months later an earthquake cracked its foundation.

Strauss was one of San Francisco's leading merchants when he bought Jacob Davis' patent. His name appeared on a list of men who were worth at least $4,000,000 in a local newspaper. He owned a large chunk of downtown San Francisco real estate.

Now his business exploded. Davis came to San Francisco to be head tailor and Strauss expanded into factory production. He sold 21,600 pairs of riveted pants and coats the first year of production. So buyers could recognize the Levi Strauss brand a special stitching was added to the pockets, shaped in a crossed, double V in orange thread.

In the 1880s a new label made of leather was created. Levi's "Two Horse Brand" work clothes were even known in Paris. Strauss promised a "new pair free" if his riveted pants pockets ever ripped. In 1890 his patent was gone. Strauss kept his high quality work pants, known as 501s, in his catalog but offered a cheaper version as well.

By this time Strauss had turned much of the business over to this nephews. Partly due to the paucity of pioneer women in his younger days Strauss never married. He traveled extensively and donated great sums for Jewish charities and education. He died in 1902 at age 73 when jeans were still a workman's pants.

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