Tuesday, May 22, 2007

LOB (Umlaut over the O)



Sh. Listen. Your hear that? Close your eyes. It's the shouts and rumblings of the Gold Rush days coming to you from a distant past. The placer mines, the bars, the hub-bub, the fights, the killings, the fandango houses...and out of all this...a giant arose...whose name is known by everyone...and I mean everyone...in the world today.

Our hero has nothing to do with jewelry...but it was America's headlong pursuit of gold that was the very basis of his fortune and the bedrock of his empire. And since gold is part of what Tidbits is all about...I figure he fits in. Now, of course, for those of you who might feel inclined to speak to me of rationalization ...all I can say is who?...moi?

Lob was born in a small village at the foot of the Bavarian Alps, near the German/Austrian border. He was a peddlar...selling dry goods. He sold shovels and hoes and buttons and lace. He was eighteen years old, and rumors were filling the air. Go to America. The streets are lined with gold, and it's all there for the taking. Well, why not? Two of his stepbrothers were there, and they beckoned to him. Besides, Lob was Jewish, and was not allowed to vote in Bavaria. In America, he had heard, everyone could vote.

He landed in New York after forty two days at sea in cramped quarters. And he began to work. He knew what he knew, and that was peddling...so he peddled again. He traveled out of the city limits, often carrying a one hundred pound pack on his back and an eighty pound pack strapped to his chest. And he hawked his wares. Pins and ribbons and pots and pans...pretty much the same stuff he had sold back home. He slept in sheds and in the woods, and, occasionally, when invited, in the warm barn of a friendly farmer.

Eventually, Lob moved to Kentucky, where the pickin's were better. He had, by this time, changed his name. But I won't tell you what he changed it to till the end. During these peddling days, Lob heard of a place called San Francisco, where there was gold to be actually found on the ground. So he did what you or I would do. He picked up and went. On a clipper ship. Four months at sea. Down to South America and around the horn and back up. The Panama Canal was not yet even a dream.

And then...one day...that wondrous yell..."Land Ho!" Port of San Fransisco. Miners surrounded him. They paid him two dollars in gold for needles. Nuggets were pressed into his hand for canvas with which the miners could fix their tents. Barely before he was off the boat, he had sold most of his goods. Some of his shipmates were selling their shoes right off their feet for gold. Lob knew he had struck pay dirt.

He sent for more goods. He sold everything...and opened a store. San Francisco was a bustling place. Rowdy songs emanated from the gambling houses...wagons trounced on muddy roads. Lob was in love. His store was thriving. But Lob was restless. So he packed a wagon and bought a mule and went out peddling again. It ain't easy to leave our roots folks...let me tell you. Lob packed hats and shirts and canvas onto the wagon. Them miners needed clothes. And off he went...down to the banks of the Sacramento River...where a miner came up to him and said something like, hey dude, whatcha got there? Well my friends, it was here, at this moment, on the banks of the Sacramento River, that history was made. Lob offered the miner some canvas to make a new tent with. Nah, said the miner. What I be needing is a good pair of pants. So what does Lob do? He cuts the tent canvas up, measures the miner, and sews him a pair of tailor- made pants made of the tent material. The miner was delighted and paid Lob in gold dust.

There immediately followed a commercial explosion. Lob sent for more material with which to make his pants. But better than canvas, there was a fabric that came from a town in France called Nimes (silent "s" to rhyme with seem). The word "from", in french, is "de". So...from Nimes was "de Nimes". Shorten that up my friends, and de Nimes quickly becomes Denim. Lob sold his pants as fast as his newly hired tailors could make them. These denim pants became the rage with sailors from the Italian city of Genoa. These Genoese sailors nicknamed the denim pants Genoese...or...as the Americans shorten it to...jeans.

And our friend...Lob...who emigrated to this country because he heard the streets were paved with gold...well...he had long changed his name...Americanized it in fact...to Levi. Levi Strauss was his name. And I'd venture to say each and every person who reads this article, from whatever part of the world they're from, has heard of this tycoon, whose fortune was built during the heat of America's Gold Rush Days.



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