The great California gold rush began on January 24, 1848, when James W. Marshall discovered a gold nugget in the American River while constructing a sawmill for John Sutter, a Sacramento agriculturalist. News of Marshall’s discovery caused the large influx of “’49ers,” as the gold prospectors were known. California’s overall population growth was so swift that it was incorporated into the Union as the 31st state in 1850—just two years after the United States had acquired it from Mexico.
One of the migrations stimulated by the discovery of gold was the internal westward movement of Americans from the eastern states who hoped to make fortunes in California. At first, there were only two routes. The first entailed a six-month sea voyage from New York around the tip of South America to San Diego or San Francisco. Rampant seasickness, bug-infested food, boredom, and high expense made this route unattractive for many would-be prospectors. The second route brought travelers over the Oregon-California Trail in covered wagons—over rugged terrain and hostile territory. This journey also averaged six months’ duration. By 1850, the length and difficulty of both routes had inspired the construction of the Panama Railway, the world’s first transcontinental railroad. Built across the isthmus of Panama by private American companies to speed travel to California, the railroad helped to shave months off of the long voyage around South America.
In addition to massive emigration from the eastern US, the California gold rush triggered a global emigration of ambitious fortune-seekers from China, Germany, Chile, Mexico, Ireland, Turkey, and France. The number of Chinese gold-seekers was particularly large. The influx of Chinese and other foreign laborers led to ethnic tensions in California, especially as gold grew scarce. Despite the ethnic tensions it engendered, the Gold Rush forever changed the demographic face of California by making it one of the most ethnically diverse states in the Union by the middle of the 19th century.
It all started in 1847 when Loeb Strauss, an 18-year-old emigrant from Bavaria, Germany, came to New York with his mother and sisters. Strauss spent the first couple of years in New York where he worked for his two older brothers, who under the name J. Strauss Brother & Co. had opened a wholesale company that specialized in dry goods (textile products). Here, young Loeb quickly learned how to succeed in the industry and around 1850 he became known among family and customers as “Levi.” At the end of January 1853, Strauss received U.S. citizenship and in February 1853 he ravelled to San Francisco to seek his fortune in the wake of the Gold Rush. Originally conceived as a west coast branch of the family business, he started a company under his own name. He imported dry goods ranging from clothes, underwear, umbrellas to handkerchiefs and raw fabrics, and resold them to the many shops that had sprung up after gold miners’ arrival.
In 1863 the name was changed to “Levi Strauss & Co.” Not until the early 1870s did the company begin to produce the so-called “Riveted overalls”. Levi Strauss was approached by a tailor from Nevada named Jacob Davis, who got the idea to reinforce pockets and other exposed areas of the pants with copper rivets. They began manufacturing LEVI‘S brand overalls for the Populace of Miners, Muleskinners and Mercantile-Minders. People didn’t wear Belts in Those Days, it was Suspenders or even Rope or Whatever to hold your Britches Up, so Levi put Big ‘Ol Buttons on the Front & Back to Strap in. Levi had the stout, rough canvas made into Waist Overalls. Miners liked them, but complained that they tended to chafe. He substituted a Twilled Cotton Cloth from Nimes, France called “Serge de Nimes.” The fabric later became known as Denim and the pants were nicknamed BLUE JEANS.
Levi Strauss died in September 1902 and left no heirs. Earthquake in 1906 caused massive damage to Levi Straus & CO.’s headquarters and factories around the city Almost all archives, patent papers, factory equipment and photographs were lost.