Levi's jeans are one of, if not the most, iconic garments on the face of the planet. The brand is often credited with creating denim (it did not), making the first pair of blue jeans (it did) and has been a symbol of the American West ever since John Wayne wore a pair in the 1939 film Stagecoach. But, although Levi's has consistently emphasized its heritage through marketing, branding and even its former brand historian Lynn Downey, the company’s history is a little bit more complex: founded as a dry goods store by an immigrant, transformed into a jeans maker with the innovation of another immigrant, and disseminated into a worldwide phenomenon with the help of Hollywood and American G.I’s post-WWII, Levi's owes its 167-year existence to innovation, persistence and a little bit of luck.

Levi's founder Loeb Strauss was born on February 26, 1829 into a large Jewish family in Buttenheim, Bavaria. The son of Hirsch Strauss and his second wife, Rebecca, Strauss grew up with his sister, Fanny, and six older siblings from his father’s first marriage. In 1846, Hirsch died of tuberculosis; two years later, Rebecca emigrated with Strauss, Rebecca and their sister, Maila to New York where two of the older brothers, Jonas and Louis, had started a dry goods business under the name J. Strauss Brother & Co. By 1850 Strauss had entered the family business and changed his name to Levi (spelled as “Levy” in that year’s census).

In January of 1853, Strauss received his American citizenship and in March of the same year he moved to San Francisco in hopes of profiting off the California Gold Rush. Initially, the idea was for him to establish a West Coast branch of the family business, and Strauss soon opened a wholesale dry goods store under his own name, importing clothing, underwear, umbrellas, handkerchiefs and even bolts of fabric. Strauss’s shop was situated on the waterfront at 90 Sacramento Street, a perfect location for receiving and shipping goods. By 1856 he had moved three times (always to a new space on Sacramento Street) and brought Fanny’s husband, David Stern, on board to help the growing business. Strauss moved his shop three more times over the next ten years, eventually renaming the company Levi Strauss & Co. in 1863, and settling at 14-16 Battery Street in 1866, where the company stayed for the next forty years.

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