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Photo of Levi StraussLevi Strauss

(1829-1902)

One of the best-known beneficiaries of California's gold rush economic boom, Levi Strauss was born in Bavaria and came to San Francisco in 1850, one of the thousands hoping to stike it rich. Trained as a tailor, he planned to manufacture tents and wagon covers for the Forty-niners, but finding no market for these items, he instead used the stout canvas he had brought with him to make especially durable pants, which miners found perfect for their close-to-the-ground line of work. He quickly began selling these "wonderful pants of Levi's" as fast as he could make them.

Strauss opened a factory at 98 Battery Street in San Francisco, began adding copper rivets at the stress points in his pants and switched from canvas to a heavy blue denim material called genes in France, which became "jeans" in America. Following his quick success in the clothing business, he branched out to serve as a director of an insurance company, a utility company, several banks, and in a variety of charitable organizations.

The company Levi Strauss founded remains one of the nation's leading apparel manufacturers, but even more impressively, the garment he created, still known as "levis," has long since left the diggings to become not only an emblem of the American West but an emissary of the Western lifestyle -- egalitarian, utilitarian, independent -- around the world. Levi Strauss died in San Francisco in 1902.


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