Levi Strauss, the inventor of the quintessential American garment - the blue jean - was born in Buttenheim, Bavaria on February 26, 1829 to Hirsch Strauss and his second wife, Rebecca Haas Strauss. Hirsch, a dry goods peddler, already had five children with his first wife, who had died a few years earlier: Jacob, Jonas, Louis, Rosla and Mathilde. Levi - named "Loeb" at birth - and his older sister Fanny were the last of the Strauss children; Hirsch succumbed to tuberculosis in 1845.
Two years after his death, Rebecca, Loeb, Fanny and Mathilde immigrated to New York. There, they were met by Jonas and Louis, who had already made the journey and had started a dry goods business, called "J. Strauss Brother & Co." Young Loeb soon began to learn the trade himself, and by 1850 he was known among his family and customers as "Levi" (in the census of that year, his name is spelled "Levy").
When news of the California Gold Rush made its way east, Levi decided to emigrate to San Francisco to make his fortune: not by panning gold, but by selling supplies to the throngs of miners who arrived daily in the big city to outfit themselves before heading off to the gold fields. In January of 1853 he became an American citizen, and in March he arrived in bustling, noisy San Francisco, establishing a dry-goods business under his own name and also serving as the West Coast representative of the family's New York firm.
The first address where Levi conducted business in wholesale dry goods was at 90 Sacramento Street, and the name of his firm was simply, "Levi Strauss." In the 1850s this location was very close to the waterfront, handy for receiving and selling the goods that arrived by ship from...