February 26, celebrated as “Levi Strauss Day,” is the day, in 1829, that marked the birth of the blue jeans icon.

Born in Bavaria, Levi Strauss immigrated, along with his mother and two sisters, to the United States when he was 18 years old, reuniting with his brothers who had started a wholesale dry goods business in New York City called J. Strauss Brother & Co. When Levi’s sister and brother-in-law moved to St. Louis, Levi moved to Louisville, KY and began selling the supplies from his brothers’ store there. The family decided to open a franchise in San Francisco, which had become the center of the California Gold Rush. Levi took steamships via the Isthmus of Panama to reach San Francisco and arrived in March 1853, to join his sister and brother-in-law from St. Louis, who had relocated there. Levi helped establish Congregation Emanu-El, the first synagogue in San Francisco.

Levi Strauss & Co. imported merchandise from his brothers’ store in New York, offering products such as clothing, bedding, combs, purses and handkerchiefs.

The wife of a woodcutter mentioned to a local tailor, Jacob Davis, that the pants that the laborers and the “49ers” wore were not durable. The seams were bursting. Mr. Davis made a pair of jeans from denim purchased from Levi Strauss’ store and used copper rivets to reinforce the seams. The demand for these new jeans outpaced the supply, and Mr. Davis, a customer of Strauss, asked Mr. Strauss to financially back his venture, to patent his new tailoring invention and support the construction of a larger tailor shop. The two men became partners in Levi Strauss & Co. The new style of work pants was patented in 1873.

Levi Strauss died on September 26, 1902 and was buried in Colma, CA. He left his company to Jacob, Sigmund, Louis and Abraham Stern, his four nephews. At the time of his death, his estate was worth $6 million dollars, the equivalent of around $200 million today. He supported charities for orphans, and the Levi Strauss Foundation made a significant donation to Stanford University.

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