Tag Archives: UC Berkeley

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.

Coronavirus and the Coming of Mashiach

Words of the Week

Few are guilty; all are responsible.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Jews of the Week: Waksman and Schatz

Selman Waksman

Selman Waksman

Selman Abraham Waksman (1888-1973) was born near Kiev to Jewish-Russian parents. At 22, he immigrated to the U.S. and began his studies at Rutgers University, where he got a Masters in Science before getting his Ph.D. in biology at UC Berkeley. He then headed back to Rutgers to take over the soil microbiology lab, focusing on the study of soil organisms and decomposition. Building on the work of previous scientists, Waksman soon found that bacterial substances could be used to fight bacterial infections. He shifted his lab’s focus towards finding “antibiotics” – a term which he coined. Over the next couple of decades, his lab discovered a dozen antibiotic compounds.

Albert Schatz

Most important of these was streptomycin, discovered by Waksman’s student Albert Israel Schatz (1920-2005). Schatz also came from Jewish-Russian lineage and originally wanted to be a farmer. He studied soil microbiology, and after serving in a military hospital during World War II, decided to research treatments for tuberculosis. Working in Waksman’s lab, Schatz discovered and named “streptomycin”, which would become one of the most important antibiotics in history, and is still found on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines. Schatz made no profit from his discovery, giving up his rights to the drug so that it could be distributed as widely and cheaply to as many people as possible. Unfortunately, he was never given the credit he deserved, with the Nobel prize going only to Waksman in 1952. Both biologists continued their contributions to science, and were decorated with many awards. Waksman also developed microbe-resistant paint for ships, enzyme-enhanced detergents, and a compound to prevent fungal infections of vineyards. He wrote over 400 papers and published 28 books. Meanwhile, Schatz campaigned against the fluoridation of water, proposed new theories for tooth decay and the extinction of dinosaurs, and published over 700 papers and 3 textbooks. Both were ultimately credited for streptomycin, which The New York Times ranked among the Top 10 discoveries of the 20th century.

Words of the Week

“Let there be light” means that all the world – even darkness – should become a source of light and wisdom. It is our job to reveal the hidden light – especially the light that you yourself hold.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe

Jews of the Week: Doris and Donald Fisher

The Gap

Doris and Donald Fisher (Courtesy of californiamuseum.org)

Doris and Donald Fisher

Donald George Fisher (1928-2009) was born in San Francisco to a middle-class Jewish family. Soon after graduating with a business degree from UC Berkeley, he married Stanford graduate Doris Feigenbaum (b. 1932), one of the first women to be granted a degree in economics. In 1969, Donald had a hard time finding a good pair of jeans, and decided to open up his own clothing store where shopping would be both easy and cool. His idea was to sell jeans and music, and he wanted to call his store ‘Pants and Discs’. His wife suggested to call it ‘the Gap’ (short for “generation gap”). The couple raised $63,000 and opened their first store in San Francisco, selling Levi’s jeans and music records. An instant hit with young people, they made $2 million in their first year alone. By 1973, they had expanded their merchandise, opened up 25 stores, and went public. In the 80’s, the company bought out other brands like Banana Republic, and started a new value store, Old Navy. The Fishers are credited with inventing the “specialty retail” store concept, and Gap remains the largest specialty retailer in the US. It now has nearly 3700 stores in 90 countries, with over 150,000 employees. Donald and Doris maintained tight control of the company for four decades. In 2009, Donald sadly passed away after a battle with cancer. That same year, Doris stepped down as director of the company. She has since served as a director of Stanford University, is still the major shareholder in Gap, and has a net worth of over $3 billion. She has been ranked third in Forbes’ list of America’s Self-Made Women. More importantly, the Fishers are noted philanthropists, with their foundation donating over $20 million each year to educational organizations like Teach for America and KIPP (‘Knowledge is Power Program’), which directly benefits over 32,000 low-income children. The Fisher family are members of Congregation Emanu-El, one of California’s oldest synagogues.

Words of the Week

Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.
– Mark Twain