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The Levi Strauss History The making of the 501® Levi jeans—A Long Story in History To Remember for Johnny!

Tonight, Johnnie and Grandma will talk about jeans, Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis.  They talk every night before Johnnie’s bedtime.  Johnnie is only 10 years old but loves true stories.

Tonight, he was thinking about his dad.  Johnnie thought he was the greatest.  And his dad wore jeans.

I (grandma) was sitting on the sofa next to my Grandson.   We were going to talk about a story like we do every night.

He thought dad cleaned his jeans in the freezer too.



Now, my grandson, age 10, did not know that some men did not clean their 501® Levi® jeans in the freezer, but I thought that could be another story.

Mah:   “I will tell you the drama about how once the Levi 501® jeans® were made by a man by the name of Jacob Davis as well as Levi Strauss.”

     Johnny:  “Not just by Levi alone grandma?”

Now Johnnie was a precocious child and was always interested in my stories.  He liked stories about real people. 

And he loved talking about the 501® Levi® jeans his dad wore.

Johnnie:   “Mah, will I be able to wear the 501® Levi® original fit jeans for tall and big men like my dad?”

Mah:   “Do you want a story about the men who invented, or started making, blue jeans a long time ago?”

Johnnie:   Oh, that is great.  I promise not to imperrupt.   I mean, interrupt.  I just learned this new word, but I almost forgot how to say it.”

I could tell he wanted to always remember about the men who invented blue jeans.

His dad knew all about blue jeans.  He had heard his dad talk about Mr. Strauss and Mr. Davis before.   He was curious to learn more.

Johnnie:   “I heard about Levi Strauss, but there was another man who made the jeans too.  His name I think was Jacob Davis.”  Wikipedia contributors. “Jacob Davis.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 5 May.2018

Mah:   “Let me see.  I have a lot of books on my bookshelf.  I have a book here on maps.   So, you are right.   The other person, Jacob Youphes, was born in 1831 to a Jewish family.”  Source: Wikipedia 

“Let’s use the Wikipedia on Jacob Davis.”   Wikipedia contributors. “Jacob W. Davis.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 5 May. 2018. Web. 16 May. 2018.

(They spend some time looking at books but ended up choosing a couple of Wikipedias.  Mah opens the Wikipedia about Jacob W. Davis and shows Johnnie the first page.)

Mah:   “On the right, you will see a short history of Jacob Davis.   What does it tell us?”  (Source: Wikipedia-Davis)

Johnnie:   “It tells where he lived and died.”

Mah:   “That is correct.  I am going to read about Jacob Davis from this first page.  I will not go word for word unless it is a quote.  Johnnie, where does the information come from?”

 Johnnie:   “Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.”

Mah:   “Oh, you are so right.  The summary or a synopsis is the (Source.)  Let us look up Wikipedia again with the heading Livonian War, Johnnie.  Here it is.  Will you read what it says?”

Johnnie:   “Map showing Sweden in the Baltic, 1656 to 1721.  It is a nice map and easy to see the cities.”

Mah:   “Let’s go to the left side to find out how to cite this page.”

Wikipedia contributors. “Livonian War.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 9 May. 2018. Web. 16 May. 2018.


Riga in 1830's


Mah:   Can you point to the city of Riga?”

     Johnnie:   “There it is right there!”   (he had pointed his finger at Riga.)

Mah:     “This map shows Riga is now in Latina.   Most of the stories I will tell you about comes from lots of research with my books and on the internet.”

Mah continues:   “But most of my information on Levi Straus came out of the encyclopedias and the Wikipedia.   The other man responsible for the blue jeans was a man named Jacob Youphes.”   {Grandma Mah picked up the Wikipedia to shows Johnnie the particulars as she points to the sentences for Johnnie.}

“Jacob Youphes was born to an Ashkenazi Jewish family in Buttenheim on February 26, 1829″.   (Source Quote: Wikipedia-Davis)   

Maw continues,   “Now most of the time I will read over the paragraph and use a summary or synopsis of what was said in my own words.  I will cite a quote or the source material in the summery.

” He was born with the name of Jacob Youphes as you see here on the right about the summary of Jacob Davis.   The date of birth was 1831 from Rigs, a Russian Empire and now is the Republic of Latvia.

Twenty-three later he left Riga and came to the United States.   While in the United States, he changed his name legally to “Jacob Davis”.

He worked in New York and Maine for two years working as a journeyman.  In 1856, he moved to San Franciso.  Then he left for Weatherville.”

     Johnnie:     “Why did he move around so much?”

Maw:   “I expect for the same reason a lot of people move around.  Sure enough, he needed more work.”

     Johnnie:   What is a journeyman?

Maw:  “Let’s read what it says here by clicking on the blue source.”

She reads: a journeyman is a skilled worker who has successfully completed an official apprenticeship qualification in a building trade or craft.

Journeymen are considered competent and authorized to work in that field as a fully qualified employee. They earn their license through education, supervised experience and examination.[1]

Although journeymen have completed a trade certificate and allowed to work as employees, they may not yet work as self-employed Master Craftsman.

     Johnnie:   “It is sort of like a Degree in something that makes you able to work and get paid for that kind of work.”

Mah:   “That is close enough.  In 1858, he left San Francisco to go to Western Canada.   Are you reading along with me?  I am not going by the exact words.  I am using my own words.”

     Johnnie:   “I follow along a little.  It is easy to read and look at the pictures at the same time.  But what is a tailor?

Mah:    “A tailor is a man who sews.  What do they call a woman who sews?”

     Johnnie:   “I think it is a steamstess.”   “No, I mean a seamstress, right?”

Mah:   “Right.   It was at this time, it was believed, he worked as a journeyman tailor.”

     Johnnie:    “I still don’t understand journeyman.”

Mah:    “Let’s look in the dictionary on the computer.  Here is the cite.”    “spell”. Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 16 May. 2018.

“It says that he is a person who has served as an apprenticeship at a trade.  He is certified to work at it assisting another person.  Now the show— ”

Johnnie:   “The show must go on!”

Mah:  “Now where were we?  In 1858, he was on the move again.  But this time he moved to Western Canada to find better work.”   (source: Wikipedia)

     Johnnie:   “This time he did not work as a Tailor.”

Mah:   “You are very observant.  But he must have done some socializing.”

“While there he met and married a German immigrant named Annie Parksher and had 6 children by her.

During his time in Canada, he tried his luck with panning gold and selling tobacco including selling wholesale pork.”

Johnnie:   “That sure is a lot of kids.”

Mah:   “Yes, in those days, people had a lot of kids.   Now, where were we?”

Mah:   “In 1867, he returned to San Francisco with his wife and family, then moved on, eventually to Reno Nevada.  He started his Tailor store once again.

In his tailor shop, he also sold tents, horse blankets, and the wagon covers.   They were for the railroad workers on the Central Pacific Railroad.

He worked his tailoring with heavy duty cotton cloth and a heavy duty cotton denim cloth.

These products he bought from the Levi Strauss & Company.


I have a picture on my wall over there that is an illustration of the Central Pacific Railroad.”

Illustration, “Across the Continent. The snow sheds on the Central Pacific Railroad in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. From a sketch by Joesph Becker.” Originally printed in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, Vol. 29, February 6, 1870, p. 346.

Johnnie:  “I knew he would do that.”

Mah:  “In the tailor shop, he sewed items that people really needed and used in their life.  He sold tents, horse blankets, and wagon covers.  The material he used was heavy duck cloth and also heavy cotton denim.

Mr. Davis bought his material from Levi Strauss & Company.”

 Johnnie:   “It says he bought the material from Levi Strauss and Company from San Francisco which sold dry goods.   What are dry goods?”

Mah:   “In those days, there were no refrigerators, so dry goods were dry foods.  But in a dry goods store such a Levi Strauss had, they also sold material such a duck cloth and strong denim.”

     Johnnie:   “Oh wow.  We can talk about Levi Strauss and the 501® Levi® original fit jeans!!”                                               

Mah:  Not quite yet.  We still have more story to tell first.  Levi Strauss sold dry goods and other heavy-duty material like we said.

But Davis who had creative ingenuity utilized copper rivets to reinforce the stitches to strengthen the stress points in whatever he was working on at the time.

If you take your pocket and pulled real hard, would your pocket tear a little?”  (Johnnie played with his pocket and nodded his head)

Johnnie:   “I think if I pulled real hard here, it would tear.”

Mah:   “In 1870, a customer walked in the door.  She told Mr. Davis how her husband was upset by his pants coming loose and the material lasting a short time.

She begged Mr. Davis to make suitable working pants.  Davis knew her husband who was a woodcutter, was so angry that his own wife was concerned about the pants too.

Mr. Davis looked to see how he could fasten the pockets better.  And sure enough, he found the idea to use rivets to reinforce the pockets and seams.

Later, the wife of the woodcutter told Davis that her husband was surprised and very happy with the duck cloth for the material and the reinforcement with the rivets.

Very soon, Davis had a lot of business selling his pants with the new reinforcements to the workers on the railroad.

And Levi Strauss was the supplier of the pants that later became an original 501® Levi® jeans.

In 1872, Davis wrote to Strauss asking partner with him to patent and sell clothing reinforced with rivets.   The copper rivets were to reinforce the points of stress, such as pocket corners and at the bottom of the button fly.

Levi accepted Davis’s offer, and the two men received US patent No. 139,121 for an “Improvement in Fastening Pocket-Openings” on May 20, 1873. 

Mah continues:  “That same year, Jacob Davis started the double orange stitch on the back pocket for a special design to distinguish them from jeans of other competitors.

The design became a registered trademark.  This was needed to distinguish them from jeans of other competitors.”   Let’s see a video with Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis and his patent”.

“By then Levi Strauss had a big tailor shop himself.  He produced Davis’s work pants.   Consequently, the Davis family moved back to San Francisco to take charge of the factory.

Later, he managed the manufacturing plant for Levi Strauss.  He was responsible for the work shirts and overalls.  He did this until he dies in 1906.”

Mah continues:  “Now, Johnnie it is time for bed and tomorrow night we will talk about Levi Strauss.

Tomorrow, you will be able to look at more reference books.”  (Johnnie obeys after thanking his Mah)  (Source: Wikipedia-Davis)


The next night before Johnnie’s bedtime, Johnnie again sat next to his Mah to be told the story about Levi Strauss.

He knew his dad already wore the 501® Levi® jeans and even wore them to work.

Johnnie thought dad looked cool in his jeans and wanted someday to be tall and wear the 501® Levi® jeans just like his dad.

Mah began telling the boy about the drama again.   First, she told Johnnie that she had the Wikipedia about Levi Strauss.  “Levi Strauss.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 9 May. 2018. Web. 17 May. 2018.

She also had many other books about Levi Strauss.  Some of them she would not use as a source but she used them for research.

Mah:   “Levi Strauss was born on February 26, 1829, in Buttenheim, Bavaria Germany.  His mom was Rebecca Strauss the second wife of Hirsch Strauss, Levi’s dad.   There were a total of 7 children.

His father died of tuberculosis in 1846.   At the age of 18, Strauss left with his mother and two sisters to America.

They met with their two brothers, Jonas, and Louis who already had a wholesale dry goods store in New York City call J. Strauss Brother & Co.

The Strauss family in Germany experienced religious discrimination because they were Jewish. There were restrictions on where they could live and special taxes placed on them because of their faith.”   (Source:  Levi Strauss-Fashion Designer-Biography) 

   Johnnie:  “Here are Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis pictures.”

Jacob Davis                            Levi Strauss

Jacob Davis, inventor of the blue jean           picture of Levi Strauss



Mah:   “I am glad you remembered.  And here is the Levi Strauss story.”   Levi Strauss facts, information, pictures | articles about Levi Strauss

Mah continues:  “Again, I will tell the story.  You seem distracted.”

 Johnnie:   “Sorry Mah.  I will pay attention now.”

“As I said, Levi Strauss was born on February 26, 1829, in Bavaria, Germany–a long time ago Johnny.   He had a total of 7 brothers and sisters.

Levi’s mom was Rebecca Strauss.   She was the second wife of Hirsch Strauss, Levi’s dad.

Levi ‘s father and brothers sold dry goods in Germany.  And when Levi’s father died, his two sons did the same thing: sold dry goods.

They opened a shop in New York after leaving Germany.   The brothers had established a family business, J. Strauss Brother & Company.

The family was Jewish and America had more opportunities and greater freedom.”

They had a good support system in New York for Jewish immigrants.

Read why Levi Strauss felt about learning a trade to the best of his abilities.  Sometimes he would work into the night in his shop.

I quote Levi when he said,    “I am a bachelor, and I fancy on that account I need to work more, for my entire life is my business.”   (Source:

Levi Strauss facts, information, pictures | articles about Levi Strauss )

“Living in Bavaria, Germany, There were discriminations against the Jewish religion.  Being Jewish, Levi Strauss’s family suffered.

There were restrictions on where they could live and were heavily taxed.  All because of their faith.”    (Source:

“His father was a peddler who traveled around the country trying to make enough money for his family.   When the father died, they were much more poor, because the father had been the full support of the family.  When the two oldest bothers sailed to America, they opened their dry goods store.”

 Johnnie:   “What is a dry good’s store mean?”

Mah:   “A dry good store sells cloth, clothes, sewing needles and thread, flour, oats and things like that. But let’s continue with this drama.”

Mah continues:  ” Now Levi finally was able to go to New York where he worked for his brothers who already had their dry goods store.  He was 18 years old.  (Source: Strauss-fashion designer)   

“He learned how to buy and sell cloth and other goods.  “After his arrival in New York, Strauss went into business with his half-brothers Jonas and Louis, who had immigrated earlier.

As an employee at J. Strauss Brother & Company, Strauss learned how to buy and sell cloth and other dry goods.

In 1849, Strauss left for Kentucky to work as a peddler, selling an assortment of items out of a pack or trunk he carried on his back.” (Quote:    Levi Strauss facts, information, pictures | articles about Levi Strauss

In 1849, I see that Levi left for Kentucky to do Peddling work.  You wear a backpack for your books and Levi did the same thing except he had various dry good items.

In 1850, Löb changed his name to Levi.  In 1853 he became an American citizen.

When California Gold Rush began Levi’s sister and her husband David Stern left for San Francisco to open a dry goods store.

They opened a West Coast branch of the family dry goods business in San Francisco in early March 1853.

In 1853, Levi Strauss also headed out to San Francisco to sell goods to the thriving mining trade.  Some people thought he left for San Francisco to pan for gold.

Strauss first worked for Fanny and David but he also had his own store as well as acted as his brothers’ West Coast agent.

Levi sold clothing, fabric, and other items to small shops all over.   Levi opened his dry goods store and was successful.

He never panned for gold.  His interest was in helping the minors and later other workers wear Levi’s pants.

Levi talked with them, I would imagine.  He even told his employees to call him Levi.

Of course, that would have changed due to the increase of workers.”  (Source:  Levi Strauss-Fashion designer)

     Johnnie:  “That was the beginning of the development of the West.  Everyone wanted to go West to seek their fortune”

Here is the map that shows the two ways to go to California by ship.

San Francisco to New York options

                                                      The distance between San Francisco and New York with and without the Panama Canal.

“After becoming a U.S. citizen, Levi sailed to California.  His brothers had given him dry goods to sell in California.”  (source: Levi Strauss facts)

Going all the way to California was a difficult journey even though the ship sailed to the Panama Canal.  The people on the ship rode on a train part of the way, then had to travel by foot part-way through infested jungles to get to San Franciso by ship.

On his way to San Francisco, he sold all the material his older brother had given him to sell on his trip, except for the canvas as one makes for tents.”

Johnnie:   “I remember my tent is made of canvas! Sorry grandma, what happened next?”

“When he got to San Francisco, he opened up a dry goods store working for his brother. who sent the dry goods to San Francisco from New York. Later on. Levi opened up his own dry goods’ store.

How exciting it must have been to see the fairly modern San Francisco for the first time.”


Waterfront of San Francisco

     Visionary San Francisco Page by

Probably no area of San Francisco has changed as much over time as the eastern waterfront — the original entrance to the city of San Francisco. This is what it looked like just before the Gold Rush:

During the Gold Rush years, the real estate closest to the center of town (Portsmouth Plaza) was the most desirable; and one way to secure such a location was to put new buildings on piers that extended farther and farther out into the bay.

In later years, this waterfront was the focal point of fishing and shipping industry, as well as the embarkation site for new immigrants coming from all parts of the world to San Francisco. This wooden structure was the first ferry building constructed on the present site:

Mah continues:

“One day, a local miner came into the store and asked Levi if he sold pants. Now, Levi was a smart businessman. There were a lot of miners working in the mines looking for gold.”

“That is when Levi’s were born!!”

Johnnie opened his mouth wide and nodded in agreement!!

“When he ran out of canvas, his brothers in New York sent him a new fabric, or material–a cloth called denim. Denim was a soft, durable which means strong.

They were a lot more comfortable and easier to wear than the canvas material we make for tents today.  Denim is made of 100% cotton.”

“In 1872, Levi got a letter from Jacob W, Davis.”

“You do remember that Davis had his own business as a tailor in Weatherville and was a regular customer of Levi Strauss because he needed material for his small business in Reno.”

“In this letter, he told Levi how he made pants for his customers using metal rivets which Levi found interesting and different.”

“The metal rivets, as you know, were situated on the points of strain on the pants. I will show you a picture.

“Here are the rivets from your dad’s jeans.”rivets on jeans

 Johnnie:  “I can’t wait until he gets home!”

Maw:  “I know.  Well! Davis did not have any money for a patient process, so he suggested that Levi to pay for the paperwork—it took a lot of money for a patient process and there was a lot of paperwork too.

Just like today. Levi was enthusiastic about the idea and on May 20, 1870, what happened Johnny?”

 Johnnie  “That’s when both Davis and Levi got the patient. I don’t remember the number.”

“Yes, it was granted to both men. And the number was 139, 121.  Here is a picture of the patent.”  It shows where the rivets were located.”

Levi and Davis Patient

“This is an interesting video describing this event.  It brings us closer to the memory of Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis”.

Levi Strauss knew there would be a great demand for his new waist overalls, which was the old name for jeans.

So the factory on Fremont and Market Street was opened with Jacob Davis, after moving from Reno to San Francisco, as manager.

At the end of the 19th century, he left his business to his nephews to run. Levi had his other business and philanthropic interest to keep him occupied.

He was active in many things. He was also on the board of several companies.  He provided scholarships, gave money to Jewish Temples and provided money for orphans.

He left his thriving manufacturing and dry goods business to his four nephews—JacobLouisAbraham, and Sigmund Stern—who helped rebuild the company after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. The following year, Jacob Davis sold back his share of the company

On September 26, 1902, Levi Strauss died peacefully in his bed.”


Now it’s time for bed Johnny. We will look at some more pictures of this story, and off he went pleased to know all about the background of his dad’s 501 Levi jeans-for tall and big men.


Judy's play in this theater in the round







A little theatre at West Texas State University in Canyon, Texas (1967-1969)

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My title is again, 501® Levi® original and tall & big original fit jeans.


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