Shipyards, newsletters, and kittens

posted on August 14, 2014

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

With the advent of social media, it’s become a joke with some truth that any video featuring a dancing kitten will go viral. Media savant Ben Huh of the Cheezburger Network described the universal appeal of cats and kittens in a recent interview: “We have created weapons of mass cuteness…”

But these critters were used as media bling long before the Internet was invented. Back when “viral” meant measles, the World War II Kaiser Richmond shipyards produced the vibrant weekly magazine Fore ‘n’ Aft. As you can see from these clippings, kitties held their own along with welding production tips and ship launching news.

Kaiser Permanente – creating cutting-edge media since 1941.

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"No 'struggle' for existence." Fore 'n' Aft 6/18/1942

“No ‘struggle’ for existence.” Fore ‘n’ Aft 6/18/1942

"Kitten on the keys," Fore 'n' Aft 6/29/1945

“Kitten on the keys,” Fore ‘n’ Aft 6/29/1945

"Kittens on the keys," Fore 'n' Aft, 7/30/1942

“Kittens on the keys,” Fore ‘n’ Aft, 7/30/1942

How to catch an alligator

posted on July 31, 2014

KP physician and wife hazard a hunt in dangerous waters of the Amazon

Editor’s note: Kaiser Permanente physician and educator Martin Shearn and his wife Lori traveled to Brazil in 1973 where Dr. Shearn served as chief of staff for the SS Hope hospital ship docked in Maceio, a poor coastal community in Northeast Brazil. The couple took a few days off from their health care duties to venture into the Amazon River region in September of 1973.

Last in a series
By Lori Shearn
Heritage writer


This photo shows an igapó, a flooded jungle channel in Brazilian Amazon country. The Shearns took a canoe ride through an igapo with their guides to catch a caiman jacaré they named Jose Dos Santos. Wikipedia Commons photo

We’d learned to trust our new young guide on the strenuous and magical jungle hike he’d led earlier in the day. An Indian, Manoel had lived on the Amazon all his life so he knew the rivulets and the inlets as well as the paths where there was terra firma to walk upon.

That night after dinner we embarked in earnest on our highly anticipated alligator hunt. Manoel had caught a jacaré¹ once before, he reported, and he had seen another one near where we’d docked our houseboat. We were extremely excited, bundled up in our canoe, aware of the dangers of the hunt. The mystifying sounds of the myriad of the Amazon’s night creatures made for an eerie scenario.

Just as we got ready to depart, a tremendous upheaval almost tipped the canoe as our cook Milton lowered his huge body into the back of the craft. He insisted his presence was essential to record the event on his brand-new tape recorder. Aliomar, our main guide for the Amazon trip, also came along. We were all in a gay mood, all giggles, as Milton planned (in jest) how he would fix the jacare for breakfast.

We could see Aliomar’s eyes shining with anticipation, for as our guide he wanted us to have a good time. Of course he also was a joyous young man on the hunt for a lark. Manoel, on the other hand, burdened with his responsibility and aware of the dangers, was solemn and quiet, acutely attuned to the sounds of the night. He sat in the front, paddling; Aliomar, Marty and I sat in the middle, and Milton weighted down the back. Manoel carried our weapon: a lengthy stick with a nail-like protrusion at its tip, and we each had a flashlight.

My mind was racing: How big was he?

We were gliding silently over the dark mirror of the river. We soon entered a nearby flooded riverbed (igapó).² We were told to shine our flashlights in slow circles over the surface – on for only a minute, then darkness again – on for a minute, followed by darkness. We could hear whispered conversation between Manoel and Aliomar, then scary sounds presaging all kinds of danger. There were lots of nervous giggles and jokes from each of us and then more silence. Suddenly – shhshhshh – Aliomar seriously hushing us: “I see one!”

Both of the young men became very intent, concentrating on the darkness ahead. Manoel directed their actions. Slowly we crept along the watery thicket, flashlights continually scanning the surface. “Look ahead there,” Manoel whispered. And then I saw two distinct red spots, obviously eyes paralyzed by the light and blinking in terror. It really was an alligator, he was clearly frightened and so were we! My mind was racing: How big was he? What if he lashed out with his tail and overturned the canoe and his family came along to capture us for a meal?

Marty still had not seen the eyes. He had to see them! We shined the flashlights again. Oh yes, there they were. Oh, how exciting! Gingerly, Aliomar maneuvered the canoe closer and closer to the spot. Hardly a sound. Then there was just a small tree between us and the shining red eyes.

When our trepidation subsided, I carefully drew close enough to admire the jacaré and even rub his smooth belly.

We were real hunters now, and while we caught our breath, Manoel kicked off his sandals, stealthily stepped into the water and with his bare hands reached out for our prey. There was a lot of splashing in the brief scuffle, and then, he had him! He held the alligator by the neck, the creature continued to flail his tail and his jaws attempted to snap. Manoel handed the jacaré to Aliomar and they allowed him to snap onto the wooden side of the canoe where he struggled for a while and then began to relax.

When our excitement and trepidation subsided, I carefully drew close enough to admire the jacaré and even rub his smooth belly. His eyes were on alert, but the perfect fingers on his front and back legs were now relaxed. He was resigned to his fate, whatever it was to be. We named him Jose dos Santos and jubilantly brought him back to the big boat.

This is what the alligator the Shearns caught in the Amazon looks like. Wikipedia Commons photo

This is the type of alligator the Shearns caught (and released) in the Amazon. Wikipedia Commons photo

Overnight, our nervous sleep was punctuated by a dozen giant toads that seemed to croak their disapproval. We were all up early the next morning. The river sparkled like a jewel and Jose was still in the washroom where we’d tied him up before we retired.

While I enjoyed my early morning swim, Milton the cook decided Jose would like a swim also. He made Jose a halter out of rope and dangled him into the water near me. Horrified, I thought Jose was free, and I was not convinced that it was safe to swim in the Amazon with a live alligator.

All through breakfast we bragged like successful hunters of old, recounting our tales of courage. And Milton had it all on audio tape! We played the great adventure over and over. At last the sun was high enough for us to get our photographs – triumphant hunters posing with our vigorously kicking prey, holding him this way and that for better angles.

Finally, we gave him his freedom back. He hesitated when he hit the water, but soon he carefully tested first one arm, then the other, and then with a powerful swish of his tail, he was gone. None of us will ever forget him. Quietly we all hoped he’d swim far enough away that we wouldn’t encounter him, bent on revenge, in our next dip in the mighty Amazon.

Martin summed up our adventure on the Amazon succinctly and excitedly in a September 1973 letter to friends back home:

“Lori and I just returned from an incredible journey on the Amazon replete with piranhas (Lori caught and ate one), lizards, alligators (caught one of those also) and various exotic birds.” (Martin had skipped the piranha experience because he was allergic to fish.)

“The submerged jungle called igapó was the most beautiful (sight we’ve seen). Ever changing and unchallenged. A remarkable experience and all the more so with not a single beer can or other evidence of garbage.”


¹Caiman yacare, jacaré in Portuguese

²Igapó (Portuguese pronunciation: [iɣɐˈpɔ]) is a word used in Brazil for blackwater-flooded Amazonian forests.

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Poster celebrates 100 years of occupational health

posted on July 30, 2014

“Protecting workers for a century 1914-2014″

The Occupational Health and Safety Section of the American Public Health Association is celebrating its 100th birthday this year, and the progressive role of that branch of medicine will be highlighted at APHA’s annual conference in New Orleans November 15-19.

Among the media being generated to explore and learn from that history is a full-color poster. “Protecting Workers for a Century,” designed by Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources archivist Lincoln Cushing, features 12 images covering a range of occupations and dates.

Six illustrations and six photographs offer visual evidence that work can be dangerous and that workplace safety is a constant battle. Two of the images are by Kaiser Permanente Labor Management Partnership photographer Robert Gumpert.

The poster image will also be featured as the first-ever color cover of the peer-reviewed independent journal New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy.

Donations for the poster benefit APHA’s James P. Keogh Scholarship Fund. Contact Katherine Kirkland <> for information about how to get a copy.

For more on Kaiser Permanente’s long commitment to the field of occupational health and safety, see our earlier Heritage article here.

Happy birthday, OHS!

Image credits, upper left to lower right; all are cropped from original format.
Lewis Hine, “Breaker boys working in Ewen Breaker of Pennsylvania Coal Company,” 1911; Lincoln Cushing, “Mujeres embarazadas! Pregnant women!” 1979; Earl Dotter, Cable Inspectors on Verrazano Narrows Bridge, NY, 2000; Luther D. Bradley, “$acred Motherhood,” 1907; Earl Dotter, Brooklyn hospital laundry workers with needles found in linens, 1997; Richard V. Correll, “An injury to all,” 1980; Robert Gumpert, fiberglass insulation manufacturing, Willows, Calif., 2003; Marilyn Anderson, “100 years of solidarity,” 1989; Lewis Hine, “Bibb Mill No. 1, Macon, Georgia,” 1909; Simon Ng, Our Times magazine (Canada), 1985; Robert Gumpert, garment presser, NY, 1983; Domingo Ulloa, “Short-handled hoe,” 1969.

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Kaiser shipyards pioneered use of wonder drug penicillin

posted on July 23, 2014

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

During World War II, Permanente Health Plan physician Morris Collen experimented with the treatment of pneumonia as he managed a large number of cases in the Kaiser Richmond shipyards. Many of the workers were in poor health to begin with, and the round-the-clock ship production in all sorts of weather exacerbated the situation. Dr. Collen reflected on that challenging period:[i]

When we first started there was no treatment for lobar pneumonia, pneumococcal type, except horse serum, and the people almost always got sick with serum sickness. It was a terrible treatment, but was all we had. Then… came sulfanilamide, and then sulfathiazole and sulfadiazine, and a series of sulfa drugs, and we began to treat pneumonias with them. That’s where we began, I would say, our first clinical research, evaluating different treatments for pneumonia.

Among those experimental treatments was a new drug, penicillin.

Vial of new "wonder drug" penicillin, published in Richmond Shipyard newsletter Fore 'n' Aft, 5/19/1944; copy courtesy Richmond Museul of History

Vial of new “wonder drug” penicillin, published in Richmond Shipyard newsletter Fore ‘n’ Aft, 5/19/1944

But this was wartime, and supplies were limited. Ninety percent went to servicemen fighting overseas, and only the remainder was allocated for distribution in the United States. Collen:

We had so many pneumonias and we had reported already in a journal that we were treating large series of pneumonias. So we got the first dose of penicillin in California, and treated a young man with a very severe lobar pneumonia, type 7. They all died from that, and this poor fellow was going to die. So we gave him this one shot of 15,000 units, and to this day I keep saying it was a miracle. He recovered.

The Richmond shipyard newsletter Fore ‘n’ Aft proudly announced the availability of this “wonder drug” in its May 19, 1944, issue:

Early this year a young shipyard worker developed a growth of pneumonia germs on his heart valves. At the Permanente Foundation Hospital he was given all the standard modern treatments that are regularly dispensed there to members of the shipyards’ Health Plan. Even with sulfa drugs he showed no improvement. The rare new drug, penicillin, was finally used. He recovered quickly.

Later a 15-year-old boy developed a blood clot on his brain, following a case of severe sinusitis. Death results in nearly 100 per cent of such cases. This time penicillin was used. The hospital record reads, “Patient completely recovered. Discharged from hospital.”

Until few months ago, the Army and Navy took the whole production of penicillin. When military stockpiles had been built, the National Research Council began to release penicillin for civilian needs. It is still difficult to obtain. Only three hospitals in this area are allowed a supply. They are the three hospitals in the area which treat the largest number of patients. The Permanente Foundation is one of the institutions which is allowed to buy it.

The use of penicillin is made possible here by the financial support of the members of the Health Plan. Science’s new wonder-cure is now at the service of shipyard employees.

While the war raged on two fronts, Collen published the seminal article on his civilian treatment experiences. His summary showed remarkable results:[ii] “A series of 646 consecutive patients with pneumococcic pneumonia were treated with combined sulfadiazine and penicillin therapy with a resulting mortality rate of 1.1 percent.”

A subsequent Fore ‘n’ Aft article on the benefits of medical research boasted: “By using the facilities provided for doctors under prepaid, group medical practice – to wit, the Health Plan -they evolved a complex treatment involving a combination of sulfa drugs and penicillin that is making medical history. Payoff: Human lives.”[iii]

Dr. Collen’s wartime use of penicillin not only saved lives, it provided sound medical evidence for future treatment methods.


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Also see: “The History of WWII Medicine

[i]“Morris Collen, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Oral History Project II, Year 1 Theme: Evidence-Based Medicine,” conducted by Martin Meeker in 2005, Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 2007.

[ii] Morris F. Collen, M.D. and Alvin L. Sellers, M.D. “Penicillin Therapy of Pneumococcic Pneumonia – A Preliminary Report.” Permanente Foundation Medical Bulletin, April 1945.

[iii] “Research is Good Doctoring,” Fore ‘n’ Aft 10/19/1045.



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