Henry J. Kaiser on veteran employment and benefits

posted on December 16, 2014

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

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Henry J. Kaiser presenting Kaiser-Frazer car to veteran owned and operated G.I. Taxi company, promotion for Kaiser Community Homes, Panorama City, Calif., 1948

Over the past year, dedicated professionals across the Kaiser Permanente have taken steps to position the organization as a destination employer for veterans. Kaiser Permanente’s goal is to ensure it provides a supportive and inclusive environment for all individuals within its current and future workforce, including those with military backgrounds.

But for a health plan born in the crucible of the last world war, support for those who served is not a new idea.

On October 17, 1944 – less than a year before the war neared its end – Henry J. Kaiser addressed an audience at the Herald Tribune Forum in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York City. The topic? Jobs for all.

On this one fact, there is unanimous agreement: every man in the American Forces has the right to come home not only to a job, but to peace. Anything less would be a denial of the true American way of life. Peace means so much more than a cessation of hostilities! Peace is a state of mind. It is based on the sense of security. There can be no peace in the individual soul, unless there is peace in the souls of all with whom we must live and work. Jobs for all could well be the first slogan for a just and lasting peace.

…I have always believed that the future belongs to youth; it is theirs to build. Here is an opportunity to help youth see the pattern emerging out of a great surge of social forces. There must be purpose in the cause to which a whole generation of youth is giving their lives.

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Billboard for Highland Estates, a Kaiser postwar housing development connected to the Panorama City hospital; sign advertises discounts for veterans, circa 1950

Often I am classified as a dreamer, particularly when I talk about health insurance. To live abundantly and take part in a productive economy, our people must have health. This is not only a matter of medical science, but of facilities. Health service can be rendered on a self-sustaining insurance basis, at a price well within the reach of all. The cost of such medical care might be incorporated in the monthly payments on the home, freeing the American family from the fear of illness and the loss of income!

We can go further and insure the payments when illness overtakes the head of the family. If American industry builds and equips modern hospitals in one thousand American communities in the first year after the war, prepaid medical service could then be organized around these facilities. The five hundred million dollars so spent will generate employment for two hundred and fifty thousand workers. I am speaking from the experience of operating seven hospitals on this basis. It is encouraging to read recent announcements that public health authorities are now thinking along these lines. Organized medicine is beginning to see the wisdom of this sound principle…

Remember, youth will not be handicapped by the prejudices or blindness of an outmoded past. The men and women who have accomplished the impossible in defense, in war, and in sustaining a war effort throughout the world, are not apt to be afraid. Our nation was created by men of faith, against obstacles such as you and I have never known. Our country is sustained by men of faith today in the midst of battle. There will be jobs for all if the men of faith have their way.

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Henry J. Kaiser, geodesic dome pioneer

posted on December 11, 2014

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

 

Completed Hawaii dome, circa 1960

Kaiser Hawaii geodesic dome, circa 1960

Geodesic domes are self-supported spherical structures composed of rigid triangles. Everyone’s seen them, but may not know what they are called. Domes became very popular during the 1960s and 1970s as modernists and the counterculture embraced their (literally) “out of the box” features of openness and strength.

But as a matter of historical record, who built the first civilian geodesic dome in the United States?

It’s a double trick question – because Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corporation built two in 1957, one in Virginia and one in Hawaii – and the latter wouldn’t become a state until August 1959.

In 1942 Henry J. Kaiser entered the automotive field and commissioned noted industrial designer Richard Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller (1895-1983) to design a car. That venture didn’t work out, but the two collaborated again several years later to explore the commercial potential of geodesic structures as a project of Kaiser Aluminum. Kaiser dabbled in light metals during World War II, but it wasn’t until 1951 that he jumped into the industry by building an aluminum plant in Chalmette, Louisiana. Postwar demand for aluminum was huge, and new markets for the materials were sought. Buckminster Fuller’s domes offered an opportunity.

Fuller did not invent the concept of a dome– German engineers were exploring them in the early 1920s – but he thoughtfully engineered the combination of tension and compression elements into something that allowed scalable replication of these spaces in a variety of materials. The earliest large-scale application of Fuller’s design was a series of U.S. military “Distant Early Warning Line” radar domes built in Canada and Alaska in 1956.

Kaiser Hawaii dome construction photo - "By lunch time the dome was two-thirds complete."

Kaiser Hawaii dome construction photo, 1957 – “By lunch time the dome was two-thirds complete.”

The next year Henry J. Kaiser installed a geodesic dome at the entrance to his Hawaiian Village Hotel on Kalia Road in Waikiki. It was built in a remarkable 20 hours, starting at 7 a.m. Saturday, January 12, 1957. The dome’s construction efficiency was predicated on the benefits of prefabrication – a process perfected by Kaiser and his workers in the World War II shipyards. The unconventional assembly process worked smoothly beyond expectations. Although five days were allocated, the crew took advantage of low winds (unmoored, the dome could become a giant frisbee) and began ahead of schedule. They finished before Henry Kaiser was able to fly out from California to see it being built. Despite missing the action, he was proud of the workers and commented, “Why those dirty pups, they did it without me.”

Hawaii dome construction photo

Hawaii dome construction photo

A Kaiser Aluminum publication described the project in the glowing 1950s futuristic sales-speak:

All of the information to date is based on our experience with the first Kaiser Aluminum Dome. Bear in mind that it was designed as an auditorium. It might have been a supermarket, a sports arena, or any one of many other applications. Size and design were dictated by ultimate use. Variations of this first Dome are not only practical …they are immediately possible.

This Dome could be duplicated for approximately $4 per square foot of area covered. This is substantially lower than conventional buildings which might be constructed for the same purpose.

The Hawaiian Village Dome has 16, 500 square feet of covered area. It is 45 feet in diameter and is 49 1/2 feet high.

"Kaiser dome application - school gymnasium"

“Kaiser dome application – school gymnasium”

The April, 1957 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine hailed the remarkable construction process:

Made of diamond-shaped aluminum panels, geometrically arranged and bolted together at their edges, a revolutionary domed auditorium looks like a silver patchwork quilt tossed over a giant mushroom…The panels were fabricated at the Kaiser plant in Permanente, Calif. [unlikely; this is the site of the Kaiser cement plant], shipped to Hawaii and preassembled at the site. The dome was erected around a 96-foot-high portable mast equipped with rigging. The top ring of aluminum panels was assembled around the mast and then lifted a sufficient height off the concrete floor to allow another perimeter of panels to be installed. This process was repeated until the entire dome was completed. The panels are held together by special aluminum bolts.

The completed dome was christened with a showing of Michael Todd’s Around the World in Eighty Days in early November 1957. Todd appeared with his wife, Elizabeth Taylor, and other celebrities. The dome was demolished in 1999 to make way for the Kalia Tower, which opened in 2001.

 

A geodesic structure can be fabricated with panels (as in Hawaii) or with struts (as were the DEW Line radar domes). After building the Hawaii dome, Fuller and Kaiser put together a prototype strut dome that still remains in use today, less than a mile from Kaiser’s headquarters. The Oakland Tribune reported the story May 31, 1957:

A geodesic dome, used as a flight cage for birds and wildfowl visiting Lake Merritt, will be erected Wednesday at the duck feeding area in Lakeside Park by the Oakland Park Department. The dome will be the first on the Pacific Coast. It will be put together starting at 8:30 a.m. and expected to be completed by 4 p.m.

Gordon Tully, one of the five University of California architectural students who prepared plans for the cage last summer, will be present to help supervise its erection. The dome will be 36 feet in diameter, 29 feet high, and weigh 3,000 pounds.

 

Kaiser Dome, Virginia Beach, VA, 1957

Kaiser Dome and model, Virginia Beach, 1957

In late 1957 a second Kaiser Aluminum dome was built in Virginia Beach. Architect and Engineer magazine described the innovative project:

The first stressed-skin aluminum dome auditorium in the United States is scheduled for construction in Virginia Beach, Virginia, according to Henry J. Kaiser, Chairman of the Board and President of Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Corporation. The dome shell, designed by Kaiser Aluminum engineers, will top a new civic center auditorium being designed by the Norfolk architectural firm of Oliver and Smith.

The 15,500 square-foot dome was the centerpiece of the Virginia Beach Convention Center, which was renamed the Alan B. Shepard Convention Center in 1961 after the beloved hometown astronaut. It was razed in 1994 for redevelopment.

Following the success of these projects, Kaiser and Fuller secured contracts for a few domes, and KACC even set up a dome sales office in Chicago in 1958. However, sales — and the personal chemistry between the two — fell flat, and eventually Henry Kaiser moved on to other projects. But his role in turning dreams into reality remains part of the long legacy of Kaiser Permanente.

 

A personal note – I met Bucky Fuller as an 11-year-old child. My father was the Public Affairs Officer with the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela, and in 1964-1965 he hosted a U.S.-Venezuelan trade fair for which a giant geodesic dome was built (this preceded the 1974 Poliedro dome, still the world’s largest). At a formal reception at our home for Mr. Fuller my parents were perplexed as to where their guest of honor had disappeared. They were surprised to find that he was with me in my room, asking questions about my physics experiments. He was a truly an open-minded and inquisitive human being. Years later my friend Robert Reining and I would build our first dome.


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Sabotage at the Kaiser Richmond shipyard!

posted on December 4, 2014

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

Rondon in Trib-det

Wanted photo of William Heinrich Rondon [Roedel], Oakland Tribune, July 29, 1942

Sunday, December 7, marks the 73rd anniversary of the Japanese Empire’s attack on the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor. Domestic resistance to U.S. involvement in the global war vanished, and Henry J. Kaiser’s early entry into the transport ship industry for the British blossomed into a massive effort to create the ships needed to win the war.

The war came home in many ways. Aside from a couple of remote Alaskan islands, our country was never invaded, and never suffered the devastation of military combat. However, it was certainly targeted. German U-boats roamed the East Coast, sinking freighters. On May 5, 1945, six civilians were killed in Oregon by a balloon bomb that rode the jet stream all the way from Japan. West Coast civilians of Japanese descent were sent to “relocation centers,” and German citizens perceived as enemy aliens on the East Coast were interned.

Between January 1940 and February 1943 the FBI received more than 7,000 reports of sabotage; investigations reduced that number to 558 actual instances of technical sabotage to industrial facilities.[i] Yet there were only two confirmed acts of sabotage on U.S. soil involving Axis sympathizers. One was at the Kaiser Richmond shipyards in California: Heinrich Roedel was convicted of “attempted sabotage in time of war” on December 19, 1942, after a jury trial.

This case first reached the public in “Escaped German Sought by F.B.I.” in the July 29, 1942 Oakland Tribune:

William Heinrich Rondon, 32, German enemy alien, who escaped from a Sharp’s Park detention station guard in San Francisco, is being sought for questioning as a “potentially danger [sic] alien” the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced today.

No mention was made of the shipyard sabotage, but the accompanying photo led to an anonymous tip and he was arrested the next day.

By December 12, 1942 the full story began to emerge in the pages of the Tribune:

Heinrich Roedel, alias Rondon, 33, German enemy alien, went on jury before Federal Judge A. F. St. Sure on charges of sabotage. He was

WWII sabotage poster, Consolidated Edison Co., 1943; Library of Congress

WWII sabotage poster, Consolidated Edison Co., 1943; Library of Congress

indicted by a Federal Grand Jury in San Francisco last month after pleading not guilty as the saboteur who attempted to burn a Richmond shipyard warehouse containing fittings valued at $500,000.

Roedel, a San Quentin parolee, escaped from Richmond Shipyard No. 3 last July 28 after William H. King, a guard, discovered him touching a match to two packages of oakum in the warehouse, it is alleged. According to the F.B.I., King, unarmed himself, grappled with Roedel and knocked pistol from his hand, but was unable to prevent his escape, arrested in Oakland the next day when an unidentified woman tipped the police as to his whereabouts after seeing his picture in the Tribune.

Previously, Roedel had been paroled from San Quentin April 23, after serving part of a “receiving stolen goods” sentence. He then worked for two months as a shipfitter’s helper in the shipyards, but on May 23 the Government ordered him interned at Sharp’s Park [now known as Sharp Park in Pacifica, Calif.] as an “enemy alien.” The next day, during a trip into San Francisco, Roedel duped a camp guard and escaped.

Four days later he returned to the shipyards during the early morning, where King detected him as he attempted, according to the charges, to destroy the warehouse by fire.

 

Fore'n'Aft 1942-12-31

Roedel story in Fore ‘n’ Aft, 12/31/1942

Roedel lived in Germany from 1930 to 1934, Federal officers said. He was deported from the United States once before 1930 for illegal entry, but came back again in 1936—this time by “jumping” a ship in San Diego.

The weekly Kaiser Richmond shipyard magazine Fore ‘n’ Aft carried this version of the story in their December 31, 1942 issue, revealing more details:

World War II will long be over before Heinrich Roedel tastes freedom once more. He is the Nazi who learned that American justice is as fundamental as American liberty.

Known as Henry Rondon, a steamfitter helper at Richmond Shipyard Number Two, the acknowledged saboteur tried to set fire to a yard warehouse last July, was caught, escaped, was brought in once more, and last week sentenced to 30 years in a federal penitentiary.

Testimony was given at the trial by John Wibberley, chief investigator for Yard Two, who made a tireless investigation into the case, and by William Green [the earlier Tribune article named him William King], who fought with the enemy alien as he attempted to destroy the warehouse. Green, at the time a guard, is now an electrician helper on graveyard shift.

Robert H. Moran, FBI agent, with the cooperation of the special investigators of the plant police, uncovered a criminal background which left no loophole for the saboteur. Originally sentenced to a 30-year term in Germany for destruction of public property, Roedel was set free to become a storm trooper.

Sent to the United States for the express purpose of sabotage, he jumped ship at San Diego. He was first arrested by Wibberley at the request

Roedel's failed appeal, 1950.

Roedel’s failed appeal, 1950.

of immigration officials for illegal entry into the country.

 

Because of wartime press restrictions and other security cautions, these cases received very little publicity. Besides Roedel, the other case involved a German national named Eitzel in Baltimore who damaged 37 Martin bombers.

In 1950 Roedel appealed the United States District Court for the Northern District of California (Southern Division), blaming his lawyer, James B.

O’Connor, for giving him bad advice. However, the court determined that he’d received “diligent and effective representation” and denied his appeal.

Roedel’s fate after his failed appeal remains a mystery. No further mention of him appears in the public record.

 

[i] The Dunkirk [New York] Observer, March 18, 1943.

Story updated 12/10/2014. Short link to this article: http://bit.ly/1yqYDfF 

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Henry J. Kaiser through the eyes of critics

posted on November 24, 2014

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

Portrait of Henry J. Kaiser

Henry J. Kaiser, circa 1955

Henry J. Kaiser’s impact on the American industrial landscape of the 1930s through the 1950s was huge, and it’s not surprising that critics from the left and the right scrutinized his operations to draw their own provocative conclusions.

In 1945, French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) visited the United States with a delegation of other writers and filed more than 30 stories for Combat, a major independent left newspaper. His June 6 article “American Workers Are Not Yet Proletarians” looked at the then-evolving Permanente Health Plan:[i]

In America, there is no generalized system of socialized medicine. Everything depends on the states and private initiative. …At the beginning of the war, when Kaiser established his enormous shipyards, which employed more than 100,000 workers, he was confronted with a very practical problem: in order to obtain the highest productivity from this enormous crowd of workers, he had to take care of their health. Therefore he created, with Dr. Garfield’s help, the famous Kaiser hospital, whose reputation has spread throughout the United States.

Jean-Paul Sartre, circa 1953.

Jean-Paul Sartre, circa 1953

Sartre then drilled down into the difference in class consciousness between American and European workers, pointing out that even though it was worker’s fees that paid for the health plan and hospitals they felt no sense of entitlement to ownership.

An unnamed Permanente physician, sympathetic to Sartre’s critique, still defended the institution:

Look at the tremendous advantages it provides to our workers: last week a woman came in for a consultation; there was blood in her urine. A private doctor would have charged her $10 for this examination. Diagnosis: tuberculosis in her right kidney. It will require a $500 operation: here everything is free. Don’t forget also that when a worker is hired, there never is a medical examination. Therefore it often happens that we look after workers whose diseases were contracted well before they were hired by Kaiser. And on top of that, it represents a terrible blow to private medicine. As you know, in America health is “big business;” doctors are very expensive, and we have encountered terrible resistance from the American Medical Association.

 

Ayn Rand, circa 1953

Ayn Rand, circa 1953

Russian-born author Ayn Rand (1905-1982) was the iconic American promoter of laissez-faire capitalism and the philosophy of “Objectivism.” In 1957 she published Atlas Shrugged, her most famous work. Part of that novel is set at the fictional “Rearden Steel,” which was largely based on her visit to the Kaiser Fontana Steel Plant ten years earlier. In 1948 she reflected on some of those impressions in a letter to a friend, using the opportunity to criticize Kaiser for having too cozy a relationship with a populist president (Franklin Delano Roosevelt) of whom she did not approve:

In Chicago, I had a marvelous time on my visit to the Inland Steel plant. That was a real steel mill, not at all like Mr. Kaiser’s WPA [Works Progress Administration 1935-1943; Rand errs here, the facility was built at the beginning of WWII with a loan from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation at the direction of the War Production Board] project in Fontana. It’s funny that I knew that the Fontana plant was a phony, even though I had never seen a real steel plant before.

The General Manager of Inland Steel arranged a luncheon, at which I met all the top executives of the plant. These were… the real working executives of the mills…They were all conservatives and in quite an intelligent way. The stories they told me about their problems with regulations and regimentations are simply hair-raising. Here is a sample:

The Interstate Commerce Commission now controls the distribution of freight cars. They have threatened an embargo on freight cars for deliveries to steel plants, which, if put into effect, would stop the entire steel production of the country. The excuse given is that the steel companies do not empty freight cars fast enough. The real reason—the bureaucrats want freight cars for coal, to ship the coal to Europe.

 

So there you have it: Henry J. Kaiser was too socialist for Rand and too capitalist for Sartre. Yet Kaiser, and his legacy health care program now known as Kaiser Permanente, continued on and thrived – and remain the targets of social critics.

 

[i]  “On the American Working Class,” Dissent, January 1, 2001

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