Levi Strauss (February 26, 1829 – September 26, 1902) was a German-Jewish immigrant to the United States who founded the first company to manufacture blue jeans. His firm, Levi Strauss & Co., began in 1853 in San Francisco, California.
Levi Strauss was born Löb Strauss in Buttenheim, in the Franconian region of Bavaria, Germany, to Hirsch Strauss and his wife Rebecca (Haass) Strauss. At the age of 18, Strauss, his mother and two sisters sailed for the United States to join his brothers Jonas and Louis, who had begun a wholesale dry goods business in New York City called J. Strauss Brother & Co. By 1850, Strauss was calling himself Levi.
The family decided to open a West Coast branch of the family dry goods business in San Francisco, which was the commercial hub of the California Gold Rush. Levi was chosen to represent the family, and after becoming an American citizen in January of 1853, he got on a California-bound steamship which left New York for the isthmus of Panama around February 5, 1853. He crossed the isthmus and then caught another steamship for San Francisco, arriving in early March 1853.
Strauss opened his dry goods wholesale business as Levi Strauss & Co. and imported fine dry goods - clothing, bedding, combs, purses, handkerchiefs - from his brothers in New York. He sold the goods to the small general stores and men's mercantiles of California and the West. Around 1856 Levi's sister Fanny, her husband David Stern and their infant son Jacob moved from New York to San Francisco to join the business.
In late 1870 Jacob Davis, a Reno, Nevada tailor, started making men's work pants with metal rivets at points of strain for greater strength. He wanted to patent the process but needed a business partner, so he turned to Levi Strauss, from whom he purchased some of his fabric. On May 20, 1873, Strauss and Davis received United States patent #139121 for using copper rivets to strengthen the pockets of denim work pants. Levi Strauss & Co. began manufacturing the famous Levi's brand of jeans, using fabric from the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company in Manchester, New Hampshire.
In his later years Levi expanded the tradition of philanthropy which he had begun soon after his arrival in San Francisco. For example, he was a Vice President of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and gave money to a number of disaster relief efforts, such as the great Chicago Fire. In 1897 he established scholarships for poor students at the University of California, Berkeley.
Levi Strauss died in 1902 at the age of 73. He never married, so he left the business to his four nephews, Jacob, Sigmund, Louis, and Abraham Stern, the sons of his sister Fanny and her husband David Stern. He also left bequests to a number of charities such as the Pacific Hebrew Orphan Asylum and the Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum. Levi's fortune was estimated to be around 6 million dollars. He was buried in Colma, California.
A Levi Strauss museum is maintained in Buttenheim, Germany, located in the 1687 house where Strauss was born. There is also a Visitors Center at Levi Strauss & Co. world headquarters in San Francisco, which features a number of historical exhibits.