An immigrant from Buttenheim, Bavaria, named Levi Strauss moves to San Francisco, where he opens a dry-goods business, wholesaling primarily men’s clothing to the small general stores of the American...
An immigrant from Buttenheim, Bavaria, named Levi Strauss moves to San Francisco, where he opens a dry-goods business, wholesaling primarily men’s clothing to the small general stores of the American West.
Levi Strauss & Co. moves from California Street to Battery Street, which is its home for the next 40 years.
Strauss and Jacob Davis, a tailor from Reno, Nev., received a patent for a process Davis invented to rivet the pocket corners on men’s pants. (Davis turned to Strauss because he didn’t have the $68 necessary to file the patent application.) They begin making and selling "waist overalls."
A Stitch in Time
Levi’s begins to use the batwing stitched pocket arcuate on the rear pockets of its jeans. That symbol is the oldest U.S. apparel trademark still in use today.
Levi’s assigns the style number 501 to its men’s waist overalls. That style goes on to become a style icon that for many defines the concept of blue jeans.
Strauss dies at the age of 73, passing the company down to his nephews. Jacob Strauss, one of them, is named president.
An enormous earthquake and ensuing fire rage through San Francisco, destroying Levi’s headquarters and two factories. The company extends credit to local wholesale customers and continues to pay its employees’ salaries. It operates out of a temporary headquarters while it rebuilds its facilities. All of Levi’s records are destroyed and to this day there is some information about early styles and sales that has never been recovered.
Simon Davis, Jacob’s son, invents Koveralls, a one-piece child’s playsuit, while serving as superintendent of the company’s Valencia Street factory.
Hitting the Numbers
Levi’s sales hit the $3 million mark. Revenues include both the sale of Levi’s branded product, as well as other wholesale business.1924
A Stern Leader
Sigmund Stern, another of Strauss’ nephews, is named president, succeeding Jacob Strauss.
The company registers the Levi’s name as a trademark. The same year Stern dies and his son-in-law, Walter A. Haas Sr., is named president.
For the Ladies
The company introduces "Lady Levi’s," its first denim pants designed for women, during the Great Depression. To attach a little romance to the company’s image during hard times, Levi’s begins to use cowboys in its advertising and promotional materials.
Levi’s introduces the Red Tab to help identify its denim pants from a distance. That symbol becomes a persistent part of the brand’s image.
The company starts covering the rivets on the back pockets of its 501 style, after complaints that the metal tended to scratch chairs at schools, as well as saddles.
The Power of Illusion
The U.S. enters World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbor. During the war, rationing affects almost all consumer products, including Levi’s jeans — the company is ordered to remove some rivets from the design of its jeans and also has to eliminate decorative stitching. To keep the distinctive look, Levi’s designers start drawing the bat-wing pocket arcuate on the hip pockets, to mimic the look of stitching, which returned after V-J Day.
Levi’s drops the crotch rivet from its jeans after Haas personally experiences the adverse effects when one wears the jeans while sitting too close to a campfire.
Levi’s sales reach $11.8 million, helped by postwar demand. Revenue figures still include the company’s wholesale division.
The Kids Are Alright
Levi’s launches its "Right for School" advertising campaign, intended to convince parents and educators that there is nothing inappropriate about denim in the classroom. Around this time, the word "jeans" slips into the lexicon, though Levi’s still calls its denim pants "overalls." This year the company discontinues its wholesale distribution business, focusing just on its branded product.1952
The company forms the Levi Strauss Foundation to oversee its donations to charity.
Haas steps down as president and is succeeded by his cousin, Daniel Koshland.
Walter Haas Jr. succeeds Koshland as president.
Levi’s starts its first export program, focusing on Europe. Europeans had been introduced to the product by American G.I.’s who arrived in Europe during World War II and those who remained stationed there during the Cold War.
Keeping up with the times and the tastes of its young customers, Levi’s starts calling its products jeans in advertising and promotion materials.
A pair of Levi’s jeans are made a permanent part of the Smithsonian Institution’s collection in Washington. Also this year, Levi’s sales reach $99.7 million.
On the Tube
Levi’s broadcasts its first TV commercial, in which a grizzled cowboy buries a worn-out pair of 501s. The tag line is: "It’s better to have had Levi’s and lost them than never to have had Levi’s at all."
Levi’s removes the rear pocket rivets from the 501 jeans, reflecting their increasing use as a leisure garment, rather than one that had to stand up to heavy manual labor.
Haas to the Top
Peter Haas is named president, succeeding his brother, Walter Jr.
Levi Strauss & Co. goes public on March 3. It is listed on the New York Stock Exchange and Pacific Stock Exchange.
Half a Billion
Levi’s sales reach $504.1 million.
Levi’s headquarters moves to a larger space at San Francisco’s Embarcadero Center.
Revenue almost doubles in just three years, reaching the $1 billion mark.1981
The First Outsider
Robert Grohman, the head of the company’s international division, is named president and chief executive officer, succeeding Haas. He is the first person from outside the Strauss family to be named to the top spot.
In a shift, Levi’s starts selling to J.C. Penney Co. and Sears, Roebuck & Co. This move angers many department store buyers and prompts Macy’s to drop the brand for the next 11 years.1984
Haas at the Helm
Robert D. Haas, Walter Jr.’s son and Levi Strauss’ great-great-grand nephew, is named president and ceo, succeeding Grohman.
In a $1.45 billion leveraged buyout, one of the largest to date, the descendants of Levi Strauss take the company private again.
On the Docks
Levi’s introduces Dockers. While the company has made nondenim pants for years, this marks its first major effort to create a new brand.
Rules of the Game
Levi’s adopts a code of conduct regulating how the outside contractors, primarily overseas, who produce its clothing can treat their workers. The code sets standards for wages, hours, working conditions and ethics, and becomes a model for other companies, as working conditions in domestic and foreign factories come under greater scrutiny. This year, Levi’s sales reach $5.5 billion.
Levi’s merges onto the burgeoning information superhighway, unveiling its levi.com Web site.
The Avalanche Begins
Levi’s begins its sales slip, reporting revenues of $6.86 billion, down 3.9 percent from a peak of $7.14 billion in 1996. Sales continue to slide for the next six years.
Levi’s names Phil Marineau, a Pepsi executive, its president and ceo. Haas gives up the ceo post, but stays on as chairman. Peter Jacobi steps down as president and chief operating officer after 28 years with the firm.
Levi’s introduces Engineered Jeans, with ergonomically angled pockets and twisted seams that are intended to make jeans even more comfortable. They catch on in Europe and Asia, but fail to make much headway with U.S. consumers.
Levi’s reports sales of $4.14 billion, off $3 billion from the 1996 peak.
Levi’s prepares to enter the mass market. In June, it will begin shipping Levi Strauss Signature jeans to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Market observers have suggested this move could bring in billions of dollars in sales for Levi’s, but might impact the core department and chain store business.
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