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Levi Strauss (/ˌliːvaɪ ˈstraʊs/, born Löb Strauß, German: [løːp ˈʃtʁaʊs]; February 26, 1829 – September 26, 1902) was a German–American businessman of German Jewish descent 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 in Buttenheim, Germany, on February 26, 1829, in the Franconian region of Bavaria, Germany, to an Ashkenazi Jewish family. He was the son of Hirsch Strauss and his second wife Rebecca Strauss. At the age of 18, Strauss, his mother and two sisters traveled to 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.
Levi’s sister and her husband David Stern moved to St. Louis, Missouri, while Levi went to live in Louisville, Kentucky, and sold his brothers’ supplies in Kentucky. In January 1853, Levi Strauss became an American citizen.
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 he took a steamship for San Francisco, arriving in early March 1853, where he joined his sister’s family.
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, but right before he made jeans, he made tents. Levi lived with Fanny’s growing family.
Jacob Davis, one of Strauss’s customers and one of the inventors of the first pair of riveted denim pants in 1871, went into business with Strauss to produce blue jeans. The two men patented the new style of work pants in 1873.
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. There is a Levi Strauss Foundation starting with an 1897 donation to the University of California, Berkeley.