Happy Birthday, Levi!

Levi Strauss & Co.
February 26, 2014

Today, Levi Strauss would have turned 185. To help you get to know the birthday boy a little better, we’re sharing five facts you may not know about our founder.

But first, what’s a birthday without presents? In honor of Levi’s birthday, we announced our first annual grant in support of causes important to our founder: A $15,000 gift to the Edgewood Center for Children and Families.

Which brings us to fact No. 1: Levi’s first charitable donation (that we know of) was to The Orphan Asylum Society of the City of San Francisco, which is known today as — you guessed it! — Edgewood. Since Levi’s original contribution, we have continued to support Edgewood through grants and volunteer work on the company’s annual Community Day.

2. Levi was a political mover and shaker in San Francisco and helped plan a number of presidential visits to the city. In 1880, President Rutherford B. Hayes was honored at a banquet at the home of Senator William Sharon, and Levi was a guest. In 1892, he attended a banquet for President Benjamin Harrison. In 1901, President William McKinley was in San Francisco to break ground for the Dewey Monument, which still stands in Union Square. Levi not only attended the groundbreaking, he also gave $500 — about $14,000 in today’s currency — to help build the monument.

3. During the Civil War, Levi was on a committee to help keep California safe from the Confederates and their spies. Called the Union Committee of Thirty-four, it was formed “to aid the constituted authorities in the detection and suppression of any treasonable combinations or conspiracies against the Union and the public peace.”

4. Levi had a number of far-flung business interests. In 1875 he became a director of the San Fernando Sheep Company, whose main office was in San Francisco. Perhaps it was a way to invest in wool, which was used by both his dry goods company and for some of his riveted products — but we’ll never know because the records were lost in the 1906 fire.

5. Levi knew that San Francisco had been destroyed by fire more than once early in its history. So in 1890 he joined a number of businessmen who called on the presidents of the Chamber of Commerce, Board of Trade, Produce Exchange, Mechanics’ Institute and Manufacturers’ Association to convene a public meeting to alert citizens to the potential danger of fire and discuss ways to remedy the situation. The letter cited “this city’s peril, by reason of its being unprepared to cope with a conflagration, for the want of sufficient and proper fire apparatus and hose; from not having a fully paid Fire Department and its isolation from sources of supplies and assistance.” This passion for fire safety led him to leave $500 — equivalent to about $15,000 today — to the Fire Department upon his death in 1902.