Levi Strauss, Blue Jeans, and the Sewing Machine

Blue jeans. Side by side with the bald eagle and apple pie, there are few indelible icons implanted upon the American cultural retina as recognizable and enduring as a well-worn pair of blue jeans. The man credited with innovating this heavy denim workhorse of apparel that has lasted for over a century is Levi Strauss. Born of Bavarian descent he came to the United States in 1847, where he went to work in his brother’s dry goods store. But it wasn’t until 1853 when Strauss headed West where his impact and his eventual empire would take hold. Strauss played a pivotal role in the California Gold Rush, supplying miners with his denim coveralls that became an instant hit.

But Strauss wasn’t always a great innovator. He too had to start from the beginning, learning how to use needle and thread just like anyone else. After all, the stitch itself is the very heart of the common garment. Without stitching, there can be no clothing. No clothing lines. No clothing icons that become part of the fabric of a nation like the denim jeans. So to those of you who sometimes feel intimidated by something as simple as a sewing machine, think of Mr. Strauss. It’s likely that he was just as unsure of himself as you might be at this very moment. But think of all that he was able to accomplish once he became more assured with sewing and, quite possibly, the sewing machine. These handy devices had already been invented and were in use around the time Strauss had started to dominate the landscape with his denim. Granted, the machines of his era were far different than the ones we have now. They have much more functionality and fancy bells and whistles that the folks of the 1860’s could never have dreamed available at their fingertips back then. There are plenty of good options at ‘Sewing Machine Today‘ if you’re looking for the best starter sewing machine on the market. Learning by doing is how you become better than good, you become great.

Just like Levi Strauss, whose initial offerings of covered wagon canvas and tents were largely ignored by the droves of Forty-Niners seeking riches in the hills of the west. But it was the Levi Strauss coveralls that turned into an essential item because they allowed the miners to get low to the ground in clothes that could stand up to the rugged punishment their work would entail. Yet it wasn’t until 1872 when Strauss would introduce rivets to the equation and the blue jean as we know it was born. The rivets added even greater durability and their appeal became widespread enough that before long this simple pair of denim pants became a symbol of the American West. They were comfortable, they were resilient, and they had personality. Even today, a good pair of blue jeans, well-worn and faded, tells the story of the owner who wears them. The aging of the fabric, the imperfections big and small that have come from the many moments of which they were a part. Strauss used his fortune to help others, building the first synagogue in San Francisco and giving generously to those in need by establishing scholarships at the University of California in 1897. His cultural impact is still seen and felt today as Levi’s are among the most widely popular brands currently on the market…and it all started with a simple needle and thread.

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