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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,261

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This is the grave of Levi Strauss.

Born in 1829 in Buttenheim, Bavaria, Strauss grew up in a German Jewish family. Like many German Jews, the family was mobile and in 1847, Levi and his mother joined two older brothers over in the United States. Getting away from the overt anti-Semitism of Europe was high on their priority list, as was a place with good economic opportunities. Thus, the U.S. Moreover, his father had recently died of tuberculosis. The Strauss brothers ran a dry goods store in New York and the idea was that Levi would come join them in the business. They sent their younger brother on the road to sell the family goods as an itinerant peddler. The family did pretty well and developed the business. Various family members spread around the nation to sell the goods. Levi chose Louisville, a critical trade center in that region. That was in 1853.

But the next year, in 1854, the Strauss brothers decided to try their hand out west. This was the era of the Gold Rush, though the “Eureka!!” era of it was basically already over and the era of corporate domination of the diggings was beginning. But there was plenty of room for new merchants in California. People needed supplies and the Strauss brothers could provide them. Levi opened that San Francisco store and it did very well. Now, this was a successful store, Strauss did very well, all of this stuff. But if this was it, this would be just another large grave in a cemetery where you might wonder who this rich guy was. There are lots of graves like that in these old cemeteries.

The reason to remember Levi Strauss is of course obvious. Strauss ended up working with a guy named Jacob Davis, who was also a Jewish immigrant, this time from what is today Latvia. Davis was a guy who specialized in durable goods in Reno, Nevada. In 1870, someone asked him to make some super strong working pants for a woodcutter. This was the invention of the denim jeans. Strauss is who supplied Davis his fabric. The pants were a big hit and Davis couldn’t keep up. He needed help. He also needed money to fund the patent. So he turned to Strauss. Our friend in San Francisco opened a big factory in San Francisco to make the pants and hired Davis to run it. That worked pretty good. Strauss of course named the new brand of pants after himself. By 1873, the pants were popular in the West and soon to spread around the nation.

Strauss got super rich off all this. He became an elite in the San Francisco community and did that thing, especially in supporting charities. That also included funding a lot of scholarships to students to attend the University of California in Berkeley. He was also very active in the Jewish community in the city and helped found San Francisco’s first synagogue. He basically retired in 1886 and gave over the family business to his nephews as he didn’t have any children.

Strauss died in 1902. He was 73 years old.

Levi Strauss is buried in Home of Peace Cemetery, Colma, California.

If you would like this series to visit other fashion innovators, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Joseph Haggar, the Syrian immigrant to Texas who founded Haggar Pants and who was the recipient (or maybe it was his son) of a somewhat infamous phone call from LBJ, is in Dallas, and Henry Sands Brooks, co-founder of Brooks Brothers, is in Sands Point, New York. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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