Tag Archives: San Francisco

Jews of the Week: Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis

Inventors of Your Favourite Pants

Jacob Davis

Jakobs Jufess (1831-1908) was born in Riga, Latvia. He became a tailor before immigrating to the US at age 23. Upon arriving in New York, he changed his name to Jacob Davis and opened up a tailor shop. Over the next 15 years, he moved all across North America trying to make a living, spending time in Maine, California, Nevada, and British Columbia, working as a tobacco salesman, gold miner, and brewer. By 1869, Davis settled in Reno, Nevada and opened another tailor shop. His primary merchandise was originally tents, horse blankets, and wagon covers. To make his stuff stronger and more durable, he started using the toughest cotton denim he could find, which happened to come from a small dry goods store in San Francisco called Levi Strauss & Co.

Levi Strauss, the name behind Levi’s jeans.

Levi Strauss (1829-1902) was born in Buttenheim, Germany. When he was 18 years old, his family immigrated to the US, joining two older brothers that had settled in New York some years earlier. The brothers had set up a dry goods shop, and Levi went on to open a new store location in Louisville, Kentucky. During the California Gold Rush, the family saw opportunity in the West and opened another branch in San Francisco. Strauss headed that branch (together with his sister’s brother, David Stern), importing from his brothers in the East and selling high-quality merchandise at his Levi Strauss & Co. shop. He became very wealthy, and built San Francisco’s first synagogue, Temple Emanu-El. Strauss gave generously to many charities, too, and his Levi Strauss Foundation donated to multiple orphanages and universities (including UC Berkeley). In 1871, Strauss received an offer from Jacob Davis to go into business together. Davis had designed a new type of work pants using blue denim and copper rivets to make the material extra strong. The first set of such “jeans” was custom-tailored for a lumberjack. Before long, everyone wanted a pair, and Davis couldn’t keep up with demand. Strauss helped Davis get the proper patents, and the two partnered up. To make his jeans distinct, Davis soon started to sew the back pockets with the now-ubiquitous orange double-stitch. Meanwhile, Strauss built a large jeans factory in San Francisco and Davis moved there to run the plant. Davis worked at the plant for the rest of his life, outfitting every miner, railroad worker, and cowboy with “Levi’s jeans”, his special pants. The modern jeans that Davis and Strauss brought to the world grew rapidly in popularity, first in the workforce, then among teenagers and “greasers” in the 50s and 60s, and today being the most popular type of pants in the world.

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Words of the Week

Few are guilty; all are responsible.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Jew of the Week: Jan Koum

WhatsApp

Jan Koum, creator of WhatsApp

Jan Koum, creator of WhatsApp

Jan Koum (b. 1976) was born in Kiev, Ukraine. When he was 16 years old he moved to California with his mother, having experienced enough anti-Semitism and political turnovers. (His father intended to join them eventually, but passed away several years later before he could do so.) The two survived on food stamps and a subsidized two-bedroom apartment. Koum swept floors at a supermarket to make ends meet. At 18, he started learning programming by himself from a set of used books before enrolling at San Jose University. Soon, he got a job working with computers at Ernst & Young, one of the world’s Big Four auditing companies. By 21, Koum had dropped out of school and was hired by Yahoo to work in its infrastructure engineering. After nine years with the company, Koum quit to do some travelling with fellow employee Brian Acton. Upon returning from their trip, the two applied to work for Facebook, but were turned down. Instead, Koum started thinking about a new iPhone messaging app, inspired by how difficult and expensive it was for him to keep in touch with family in Russia and Ukraine (as well as memories of how his parents avoided using a phone in the Soviet Union for fear of being listened to). The following month, he incorporated WhatsApp Inc. Brian Acton later worked together with Koum to make his vision a reality, together with friend Alex Fishman. WhatsApp became hugely popular very quickly, and became the world’s most popular messaging app. In 2014, Koum’s friend Mark Zuckerberg bought out WhatsApp for $19 billion. This thrust Koum onto Forbes list of the world’s richest people. With his net worth now close to $9 billion, he is among the Top 10 richest US immigrants. Meanwhile, WhatsApp expanded to offer voice calls and document-sharing, became completely free (with no advertising), and now has over 1 billion users worldwide. Yesterday, they launched a new form of encryption, making WhatsApp among the most secure forms of communication available to the public. Koum continues to work on WhatsApp, and on the board of Facebook, and has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to charity. He is also a founding member of San Francisco’s JFE – Jews for Entrepreneurship – an organization that provides opportunities for young Jewish entrepreneurs in the high tech sector.

Words of the Week

From religion comes a man’s purpose; from science, his power to achieve it. Sometimes people ask if religion and science are not opposed to one another. They are: in the sense that the thumb and fingers of my hand are opposed to one another. It is an opposition by means of which anything can be grasped.
Sir William Bragg, Nobel Prize-winning physicist