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Rosie the Riveter Park Ranger Betty Reid Soskin receives lifetime achievement award

posted on November 16, 2016


Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer


img_3306At a deeply moving event held on October 9, 94-year-old Betty Reid Soskin was honored as someone whose “artistic vision, moral force and intellectual clarity gives voice to the people of California, their needs and desires, sufferings, struggles and triumphs.”

Soskin is a political activist raised in Oakland and Berkeley, and currently America’s oldest park ranger at the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, Calif. Her participation and activism in the creation of the park itself was instrumental in the ways Rosie the Riveter incorporates and memorializes the African-American history of Richmond and the greater Bay Area region.

Ever since 2002, the California Studies Association has presented the Carey McWilliams Award to a writer, scholar or artist who lives up to the best tradition of McWilliams’ work. McWilliams (1905-1980) was a vibrant, controversial, and influential intellectual, lawyer, and journalist who, among his other accomplishments, served as editor of The Nation for 20 years.

In choosing Soskin as this year’s Carey McWilliams awardee, CSA recognized her creative and political work in contributing to historical knowledge of California, and especially the experiences of African Americans during and after World War II.

The history of Kaiser Permanente is rooted in the World War II home front, and the national park where Ms. Soskin works shares that pioneering message with the world. Accompanying Ms. Reid at the award was Tom Leatherman, superintendent of four National Park Service historic sites in the East Bay.

Follows are excerpts from Ms. Reid’s acceptance speech. The full text can be found here:


“The National Park Service [celebrating its centennial] only has five years on me!

In 1942 I came into Richmond as a clerk in a Jim Crow segregated union hall… that would be decades before the racial integration of the labor movement. So, in order to comply with [Henry J.] Kaiser’s wishes, labor created what was called “auxiliaries” – a fancy name for Jim Crow, One in Sausalito, one in West Oakland, the other at Richmond – Boilermaker’s Auxiliary #36, which is where I went every day.

If you’d asked me at the time, I would have told you all the shipyard workers were black. They were the only people I saw every day. The people who came up to my window to have their addresses changed, which is what I was doing on 3×5” file cards to save the world for democracy. And, as we all know, it worked…

There were lots of steps in that process. But only Henry Kaiser would dare to bring in a workforce of 98,000 black and white southerners into a city with a population of 23,000. He did that not only because he knew he could revolutionize shipbuilding by introducing the mass production techniques Henry Ford used in the auto industry, but he knew where the greatest pool of available workers lay in the country – in five southern states: Mississippi, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana.

He brought people into a city who would not be sharing drinking fountains, schools, hospitals, housing, even cemeteries – any kind of public accommodations – for another 20 years back in their places of origin. That’s would not be happening until the 1960s. This was 1942. With no chance for diversity training or focus groups! … That social change, set up in those days, has significance for all our lives. Social change continues to radiate out from where we are into the rest of the country. We have been leading since 1942. And that’s the story I get to tell.

We are all ready to have these conversations now, we are ready at our park. And across the country, that’s beginning to happen. It’s possible now because, as Tom [Leatherman] says, it’s not just the environmental movement, or protecting the wildlife, or the protection of historic wildlands. What we are dealing with now, ever since about 1970, is the history and culture of this country. It’s now possible to revisit almost any era in this nation – the heroic places, the contemplative places, the scenic wonders, the shameful places, and the painful places, in order to own that history so that we may process it in order to forgive ourselves in order that we may all be able to move into a more compassionate future. And the National Park Service is leading that fight.”


A film project sponsored by the Rosie the Riveter Trust to capture Betty Reid Soskin’s irreplaceable Home Front insights is in process, for which Kaiser Permanente has provided crucial seed funding.  A preview of this documentary-in-progress can be seen here. Donations can be made here; gifts made between now and December 15th will be doubled up by another generous donor.

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[Thanks to Lisbet Tellefsen for the recording from which this transcript was made. Photos are by Bryan Gibel]

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Race, gender, and infection – the case for private hospital rooms

posted on November 4, 2016


Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer


The Southern Permanente Hospital (Fontana), 1944-08-25

Two-bed ward, The Southern Permanente Hospital (Fontana), 1944-08-25

When Kaiser Permanente opened its showcase modern Oakland hospital in 2014, news releases boasted that it had “all private rooms.” Which caused me to wonder – what is the history of private rooms in our facilities?

The first facilities expansion built for our flagship hospital in Oakland in 1943, which served the Kaiser Richmond shipyard workers, included single, double, and quadruple bedrooms. Similarly, the 1943 hospital at the Fontana, Calif., steel mill had rooms for one, two, and four patients.

It’s a logical assumption that the main reason for single rooms is medical.

“To isolate: to separate; to protect; to prevent.” This has long been the industry rationale given for single-patient rooms to reduce “nosocomial infections,” those acquired within a hospital by patients and personnel because of contamination or infection.

But there are other, non-medical reasons as well.

Fontana hospital architectural drawings, 1943-02-26; The Southern Permanente Hospital

Detail of floor plan, Southern Permanente hospital at Fontana, February 1943

When the original Fontana steel mill hospital became inadequate for the increased volume of patients, a 1952 prospectus for moving the Kaiser hospital to the city of Fontana specifically called out for private rooms:

Rationale for plans to build all 25 “general beds” as private rooms:

With 2 bedrooms, beds are wasted because some people need single occupancy.

1. Demand (executives, private rich, etc.)

2. Very ill and dying patients need privacy.

3. Wrong sex in one of the beds, so can’t admit other sex.

4. Racial problems — some colored and white people refuse to share rooms.

In an oral history, staff pediatrician Alice Friedman, MD, described the brand-new 1953 Kaiser Permanente Walnut Creek hospital, and revealed yet another reason:


Detail of floor plan, Oakland Permanente Foundation hospital expansion, April 1943

The rooms were designed for one person only, one bed in other words. There were a few two-bed rooms and otherwise, it was all one. The only reason for the two-bed rooms was because of Blue Cross coverage [for non-Kaiser Permanente patients] at that time. It covered two beds in a room and not a private room.

Adrienne Alcantara, principal media architect planner for Kaiser Permanente’s National Facilities Services organization, explains some of the issues that confronted hospital design during that period:


Detail, floorplan of Redwood City, 1968

Dr. Sidney Garfield’s main contribution in hospital design was the creation of separate corridors for visitors and staff. Visitors could enter a patient room from an outside walkway, staying out of the way of busy medical staff moving along the interior corridor.

But not all of the rooms in the new hospitals were private. A “mini-pod” served by a nursing station would be based on a 4-room cluster, with two private rooms and two semi-private rooms. The Kaiser Permanente hospital design template from the 1960s tried to achieve this ratio of 50 percent private room space.


Detail, floorplan of South Sacramento, 1985

As needs changed, so did designs:

In the 1970s more configurations were chosen based on local needs. For example, South Sacramento was built with a 30/70 private to semiprivate ratio, while nearby Roseville was 80/20. This was known as the “gateways hospital.”

In the late 1990s some nursing units – such as Perinatal and ICU – found that they needed more private rooms.

One factor in the room design equation was the cost and inconvenience of having to move patients in shared rooms
when situations changed (such as one patient became more ill). Sometimes a shared room was untenable because of patient behavior – the most common complaint in shared rooms is snoring. Also, health care competitors were moving toward more single rooms.


Detail, floorplan of Roseville, 1995

In 2002, the “template hospital” model was initiated, with similar plans serving several new facilities. The first three hospitals included Modesto, Antioch, and Irvine, which were designed with 100 percent private rooms. This became the standard ratio for all new hospitals or nursing unit remodels to follow. Some facilities have had to incorporate a few semiprivate rooms to compensate for variable peak bed capacity demands.

From gender privacy to nonmember insurance to snoring – so many reasons that private rooms make sense.


Detail, floorplan of Antioch, 2007.



All modern floorplans courtesy Adrienne Alcantara.

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Movember in the wartime Kaiser shipyards – no launch, no shave

posted on October 27, 2016

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer


Bos'n's Whistle, OSC, 1942-11-26, OHS

Bos’n’s Whistle, 11/26/1942.

Movember (the “mo” is for moustache) is an international charity campaign to raise awareness about men’s health during the month of November. Started in 2003 by two Australians, it has been a huge success. But a hairy face has been a sign of healthy competition long before that.

An article in the Portland, Ore., Kaiser shipyard newspaper The Bos’n’s Whistle on November 5, 1942, was boldly titled “Toil and sweat, steel and whiskers.” The curious headline was not explained until the last sentence:

The launching of the Schenectady was given a pioneer days atmosphere through another idea of Swan Island workmen, who vowed that they wouldn’t shave until the second tanker is launched from their yard. Many a crop of facial foliage is blooming on the old island airport.

Bos'n's Whistle, OSC, 1942-12-10, OHS

Bos’n’s Whistle, 12/10/1942.

A follow up article November 26, 1942, was “Whiskers measure tanker progress.”

Some shipyards get the boys to make bigger and better records with pep talks. But at Swan Island they go native – no launch, no shave. You ought to see it! Thousands of Rip Van Winkles on their island, toiling into the night surrounded by whiskers. Brunettes with red beards, blondes with black beards, goatees, Van Dykes, sheriff’s mustaches, and stubble. The ban on shaving is ruthlessly enforced. In two different kangaroo court sessions fines were levied for failure to comply.

At [a] trial on November 9, Edgar Kaiser [shipyard manager and son of Henry J. Kaiser] was fined a total of $37.10 for failure to comply with the ordinance. His heavy fine included $10 for filing a motion in bad faith, 10c for contempt of court, $20 for failure to grow a beard, and $7 court costs.

Bos'n's Whistle, OSC, 1942-12-10, OHS

Bos’n’s Whistle, 12/10/1942.

The campaign’s end December 10, 1942 was headlined “Swan Island Shaves!”

At Swan Island they literally “work up a lather” over a tanker-launching. When work began on the Quebec the Islanders resolved not to shave until the ship was launched. The Quebec and her Swan Island sisters are the biggest ships ever built in these parts.

Wartime shipbuilding in the 1940s and men’s health today – noble causes that benefit from healthy (and furry) competition.


Bos'n's Whistle, OSC, 1942-11-26, OHS

Bos’n’s Whistle, 11/26/1942.

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Kaiser Motors in Oakland – “We sell to make friends.”

posted on October 17, 2016

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer


Ad for Kaiser motors showroom, Oakland [newspaper archive] 1946-10-15

Ad for Kaiser motors showroom, Oakland, 10/15/1946

Just a few blocks from Kaiser Permanente’s current offices in Oakland (and Kaiser’s main headquarters during the 1950s at 1924 Broadway) at 23rd and Broadway is a new beer garden. It’s a nice place to relax after work, and part of its charm is the faux vintage signage honoring its earlier incarnation as a Dodge dealership. But drink deeper, and lo – back in the day, it was the site of Henry J. Kaiser’s first auto dealership.

The Kaiser-Frazer Corporation was Henry J. Kaiser’s venture into the post-World War II automobile industry, stagnant because civilian vehicles were not produced during the war. Pent up demand encouraged Mr. Kaiser to partner with automotive veteran Joseph Frazer and tackle a new field. K-F was founded on July 25, 1945, and its main manufacturing plant was Ford’s former Willow Run bomber plant in Michigan.

A 1945 promotional article in the Kaiser Richmond shipyard newspaper gushed:


1946 ad

“The Kaiser and Frazer will be the first new name cars to be introduced by a new company to the American public in more than a decade.”

A news item on June 21, 1946, announced that Henry J. Kaiser Motors had purchased half a square block at 23rd and Broadway in downtown Oakland for $150,000 to distribute Kaiser and Frazer automobiles and Graham Paige farm equipment. That portion of the block had been an auto dealership since at least the late 1920s. H.O. Harrison Co. sold Chryslers and Plymouths from 2321 Broadway in 1928. Later, the Remmer Brothers (1930-1931) and James F. Waters (1932) sold Desotos.

But even before the car lot was opened, the 1947 line of Kaiser and Frazer cars was premiered in the windows of the H.C. Capwell’s department store on Broadway from July through October, 1946. Banker A.P. Giannini, president of the Bank of America, was the proud first Pacific Coast owner of a Kaiser model. Small wonder – it was Giannini who introduced Kaiser and Fraser to stimulate a partnership.

Promo about Kaiser Frazer cars, Fore 'n' Aft, 1945-12-28, RMH

Promo about Kaiser Frazer cars, Fore ‘n’ Aft, 12/28/1945

At last, Henry J. Kaiser Motors, distributors of Kaiser and Frazer cars, was formally opened to the public October 20, 1946.

By 1947 a second lot was opened a block away at 2230 Broadway, where it intersects with MacArthur Boulevard. By 1950 a third lot appeared, at 2600 Broadway – and Henry J. Kaiser and his two sons held a grand showing in the lobby of San Francisco’s elegant Fairmont Hotel.

The dealership’s slogan? “We sell to make friends.”

Kaiser was very proud of his 1950 affordable compact car, the “Henry J.” By 1952, the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation was renamed Kaiser Motors Corporation and continued building passenger cars, and in 1953 introduced a stylish sports car called the Darrin.  But it wasn’t enough, and the company ground to a halt in 1955. It was one of the very few failures in Kaiser’s career. In 1953 Henry J. Kaiser had bought the famous but ailing Jeep manufacturer Willys-Overland, which he ran much more successfully until it was sold off in 1970 after his death.


Article on new Kaiser Frazer cars, Fore 'n' Aft, 1946-08-00, RMH

Article on new Kaiser-Frazer cars, Fore ‘n’ Aft, 8/1946.

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Kaiser’s geodesic dome clinic

posted on October 12, 2016

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer


Copy of plans for "Medical office building for Kaiser Foundation hospitals with Kaiser Aluminum dome" by Clarence Mayhew, with Sidney Garfield as consultant.1957-12-18. [TPMG P1283]

Plans for “Medical office building for Kaiser Foundation hospitals with Kaiser Aluminum dome.”

There are hospital rounds, and there are round hospitals.

While researching an earlier article on the Kaiser Permanente hospital designs created by founding physician Sidney Garfield and the architect Clarence Mayhew, I was looking through folders of drawings for the amazing 1962 Panorama City hospital.

Panorama City featured seven double circular floors, the best example of Dr. Garfield’s “circles of service” concept. But one set of plans didn’t quite look right.

We know that Henry J. Kaiser was a geodesic dome pioneer. Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corporation built two of the first civilian domes in 1957, one in Virginia and one in Hawaii. Geodesic domes are self-supported spherical structures composed of rigid triangles, which 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.

Fourth floor plan of tower, Kaiser Foundation Hospital at Panorama City. 1961 [circa]. [TPMG P1283]

Fourth floor plan of tower, Kaiser Foundation Hospital at Panorama City, circa 1961.

We also know that in the 1960s Dr. Garfield was intrigued by (but never followed through on) an innovative project called the Atomedic Hospital, based on a dome structure.

But this 1957 plan, by Mayhew (with Dr. Garfield as “medical consultant”) clearly says “Medical office building for the Kaiser Foundation Hospitals with Kaiser Aluminum dome.” It was to be 18,500 square feet, with 20 physicians on two floors.

As a round design, it had been misfiled with Panorama City. We don’t know why it was never built, but at least we now know that in the infancy of geodesic dome innovation Henry J. Kaiser and Dr. Sidney Garfield were creatively thinking outside the box.

Copy of plans for "Medical office building for Kaiser Foundation hospitals with Kaiser Aluminum dome" by Clarence Mayhew, with Sidney Garfield as consultant.1957-12-18. [TPMG P1283]

Plan credits, “Medical office building for Kaiser Foundation hospitals with Kaiser Aluminum dome,” by Clarence Mayhew, with Dr. Sidney Garfield as consultant. 12/18/1957.

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Henry J. Kaiser’s exemplary record of hiring the disabled

posted on October 5, 2016

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer


“Handicapped workers aren’t necessarily misfits; in fact, they do most jobs better than the average in the three shipyards.” The Bos’n’s Whistle, Oregon Shipbuilding Company, April 22, 1943.

Bos'n's Whistle, OSC, 1943-04-22, OHS

Warner H. Van Hoose, shipwright, 4/22/1943.

November is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. The pull quote above was for an article about disabled workers in the World War II Kaiser shipyards, and shows how even though the language has changed over the past 73 years, the sentiment – that everyone, regardless of ability, could contribute to the Home Front production – was consistent with the hiring practices in the seven wartime Kaiser shipyards.

As World War II waned, President Truman announced that the first week in October would be “National Employ the Handicapped Week” (also called “Employ the Physically Handicapped Week”), and a San Francisco Bay Area conference was set for October 10, 1945, which included representatives of industry, the AFL, CIO, and various governmental agencies. Jack Wagner, an AFL representative, declared: “We include in our definition of full employment the disabled war veteran’s and the handicapped civilian worker’s right to gainful employment.”

More from that Bos’n’s Whistle article:

Before the war, most business and industry shied away from hiring the “crippled” man. Although the handicap often had nothing to do with the job, it just didn’t seem like the employer was getting his full money’s worth in hiring a man with a missing arm or leg. Then along came the war with its terrific demand for manpower. The armed forces had the same ideas as business men. They, too, wanted physically perfect specimens. The only difference was that they wanted 10,000,000 of them and they had the Selective Service Act to insure first call and prior rights. Industry must get along on what’s left.

Employ the Physically Handicapped Week announcement, Lawrence (KS) Journal, 10/2/1945

Employ the Physically Handicapped Week newspaper story, 10/2/1945

Then came the great discovery. Under the mass production system, it was found that many so-called handicapped workers could find a place just as easily as the physically fit. Not only were there jobs they could do just as well as the “fit” man, but amazingly enough, they sometimes actually did much better. The secret of all production is to make the best use of the talents that ANY man has.

Eleven workers were profiled, highlighting each one’s disability, the cause of the disability, and the job that each worker now held in the Kaiser shipyards. Here are two of them:

Warner H. Van Hoose, O.S.C. shipwright, lost a leg at the age of 7, but it didn’t even slow him down. He became a carpenter and developed a hobby of hunting and fishing. Now he jacks in bilge plates, and with the aid of one crutch travels easily up and down scaffolds. He doesn’t wear his artificial leg to work, “It just gets in my way,” he says. “I save it for dances or less strenuous activities.”

T.R. Wright, 4/22/1943

T.R. Wright, welder, 4/22/1943

T.R. Wright formerly worked for a lumber company. One day a snag fell on him crushing his shoulder and ribs. It took seven operations, including the grafting of bone from a leg to his shoulder and three years in a hospital, to get him back together again. He still suffers, however, from paralysis of his right arm, but manages to get along nicely as a welder at Swan Island.

A similar article from the Kaiser Richmond shipyard newspaper Fore’n’Aft, June 18, 1943, was titled “They didn’t know when they were licked”:

The men whose pictures you see on these pages are but a few of the hundreds who are building ships in Richmond. There are a million more like them, eager and able to help win the war. Before Pearl Harbor little attention was paid them. They had two handicaps: one physical on their part, the other psychological on the part of employers. Too often they were not given an opportunity to prove their ability.

As the armed forces and increased war needs drained the manpower market, other sources were tapped. Among them were the physically handicapped. Now the rest of America is learning what that important but forgotten million always knew-they can do almost any job as well or better than the normal man.

Fore'n'Aft, 1943-06-18

Allen Moreland, burner, 6/18/1943.

The article also profiled several workers, including an African American burner:

The Negro race has responded magnificently to the demands of the war, both on the battle fields and on the home front. Allen Moreland is a burner in Yard Three, has been there for nearly a year. An artificial leg has been no insurmountable handicap for him. He takes his jobs in turn, asks for no odds from anyone. His work has won the respect of his fellow workmen.

Making sure that disabled workers had a job that fit required extra effort. In May 1944, the 627-page tome Physical Demands and Capacities Analysis was published as a joint project of the Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and the Occupational Analysis and Manning Tables division of Region XII War Manpower Commission. One of the primary goals of the Analysis was to make sure that individuals were assigned to jobs that they could perform without risk to their health. The report detailed over 600 distinct job titles in the shipyards.

The shipyards also hired medical professionals to assist in placement efforts. One was Colonel B. Norris, MD, who had retired from the Army Medical Corps and was in charge of Oregon Shipbuilding’s care for disabled war veteran employees. “Dr. Norris will work closely with the personnel department in placement of handicapped or convalescent veterans in jobs particularly suited to their individual requirements.”

Bos'n's Whistle, OSE, 1945-06-29, OHS

B. Norris, MD, 6/29/1945.

An article in Fore ‘n’ Aft from July 20, 1945, titled “According to a man’s abilities…” described employment opportunities for these disabled workers as the war was winding down.

Because the Permanente Hospitals in Richmond and Oakland instituted vocational rehabilitation services with the cooperation of the State and Federal Bureaus, several former Richmond shipyard workers, who were injured or who suffered serious diseases, have been trained or are being trained in work which they can perform.

The case of Ed Andreas is a typical example. Ed was a painter on the ways in Yard One. He broke both feet, his ankle and pelvis bone when he fell from the scaffolding to the ground forty feet below. Ed was unable to return to his former job and his case was referred to George Sloan, Richmond representative for the State Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation. After an interview to determine his eligibility, Ed was sent to the San Francisco office, where he was given aptitude tests. One of the many counselors in this office discussed employment objectives with him, and today Ed is learning the trade of watch repairing.

… The key to all rehabilitation work is recognition of one cardinal point. Very few jobs require all human faculties. Therefore it is a problem of fitting the abilities of the individual to the requirements of a job. It is a problem of placing a man according to his abilities- not rejecting him because of his disabilities.

Employment without discrimination – The Kaiser way, since 1942.
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Henry J. Kaiser featured in Investor’s Business Daily

posted on September 21, 2016

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer



Henry J. Kaiser, second from left, is joined by Oregon Governor Charles Sprague, left, and President Franklin Roosevelt on a 1942 visit to the Kaiser Shipyards in Portland.

Investor’s Business Daily writer Scott Stoddard recently noted “Henry Ford built cars, William Boeing built airplanes, and Cornelius Vanderbilt built railroads. But Henry J. Kaiser built just about everything.”

Henry J. Kaiser (1882-1967) was a household name in the United States between the 1940s and the 1960s, but today few know much about him and what he accomplished.

Stoddard’s article “Industrialist Henry Kaiser Made Everything His Business” under the “Leaders & Success” section goes a long way toward elevating his stature as a significant American figure of the 20th century.

And more than that, much of what Kaiser accomplished sought to improve social conditions. At Grand Coulee Dam in 1938 he and Sidney Garfield, MD, offered employees an affordable and effective prepaid health plan. In 1942 he founded what would become Kaiser Permanente, which today is one of the nation’s largest integrated health plans.

The noted California historian Kevin Starr, quoted in the article, once told an audience at the Commonwealth Club that “Kaiser the industrialist was powerful enough, but the Kaiser Plan, with Sidney Garfield… it’s the great big social idea to come out of the war.”

Several biographies on Henry J. Kaiser help to tell his story, as well as regular articles in this History of Total Health blog that cover his role in such diverse topics as housing, support for merchant mariners, and employment discrimination. The blog also looks into his more idiosyncratic pursuits, which included race cars, the iconic Jeep, geodesic domes, and catamarans.


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The Day 2,270 Rosies Rocked Richmond

posted on September 12, 2016

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer



Heritage Resources archivist selfie with 2,269 other Rosies

On August 14, 2016, 2,270 people (yes, men were allowed!) all dressed as the iconic “Rosie the Riveter” gathered in the giant Ford Assembly Building craneway in Richmond, Calif., to beat the current Guinness World Record for such an event. More than a record-breaking gimmick, it was a testament to the impact of the World War II Home Front, and specifically honored the women who participated in the war effort.

The record had been previously held by 2,096 women at the site of the World War II Willow Run bomber plant in Michigan. During the war the workers at that Ford-owned factory turned out B-24 Liberator bombers; in 1945, the upstart automobile manufacturer Kaiser-Frazer moved in and by June 1946 began producing cars for the huge postwar market.

IMG_2932-medDuring World War II the Ford plant in Richmond was surrounded by four Kaiser shipyards, which together produced 747 ships to help win the war. The social programs that accompanied the war effort – such as efforts to integrate housing, provision of quality child care, acceptance of women in the industrial workforce, opportunities for women and people of color in trade unions, and the Kaiser health plan – were precursors of many subsequent social justice efforts, including the civil rights movement and second wave feminism.

The Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond is the only National Park to cover this important period in national (and California) history. It’s well worth a visit – on most Fridays, you can visit with these real Home Front workers from World War II. Please call the Visitor Education Center for schedule, (510) 232-5050.

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We Can Do It! photo stations, Rosie Rally at Richmond shipyards, 2016-08-13

We Can Do It! photo stations


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World War II Kaiser ships named for labor leaders

posted on August 24, 2016

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer


Fore 'n' Aft, 1942-09-10, RMH

Labor day launchings in Richmond, Calif., Fore ‘n’ Aft, 9/10/1942.

Naming a ship after someone is a high honor. The United States Navy recently announced plans to name the fleet oiler T-AO-206 after the gay rights activist, San Francisco politician, and Navy veteran Harvey Milk. Several ships in this class commemorate social justice heroes and heroines, including the T-AO 187 USNS Henry J. Kaiser.

During World War II, when production was maximized and the workforce was essential to victory, labor and management made great efforts to be as cooperative as possible. On January 12, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt reinstated former President Woodrow Wilson’s National War Labor Board to anticipate and resolve labor-management conflict.

Labor Day ship launchings often feted the local labor community, but trade unionism was further elevated during the war by naming Liberty ships after labor leaders.

Announcement of launching of the SS Furuseth, Fore 'n' Aft, 1942-09-17, RMH

Launching of the SS Andrew Furuseth, Fore ‘n’ Aft, 9/17/1942.

Five Liberty ships named after labor leaders were launched on Labor Day – September 7 – 1942, and three of them were built in Kaiser shipyards. A sixth ship (the SS Samuel Gompers) was launched on June 28, 1944. Seven additional ships named for Jewish American labor leaders were launched between January 21, 1944, and October 13, 1944.

Labor took the lead in this campaign. In July, 1942, the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific petitioned the United States Maritime Commission and the War Shipping Administration for a Liberty ship to be named in honor of Andrew Furuseth, the longtime president of their union.

The plea was reported in the Oakland Tribune, July 14, 1942, in an article titled “Mariners ask ship to be named for union leader”:

Members of the West Coast Local No. 90 of the National Organization of Masters, Mates, and Pilots of America today petitioned the United States Maritime Commission to name one of the new Liberty ships after Andrew Furuseth, one of the founders of the Sailors Union of the Pacific.

In a resolution forwarded by Captain C.F. May, president, the Commission was asked to select one of the ships to be launched on Labor Day, September 7. Captain May told the commission that, if the committee selects a vessel to be named Furuseth, it “will not only be honoring an outstanding labor leader and citizen, but also recognizing the American marine seaman of today for his bravery and sacrifices which he is making to win the war.”

Logo (scan from production idea award certificate), Labor-Management Committee, War Production Drive, 1944

Logo, Labor-Management Committee, War Production Drive, 1944

On September 7, 1942, the United States Maritime Commission arranged to have five ships launched that were named for labor leaders. The launch ceremonies, held at four different shipyards around the country, were to be linked by a coast-to-coast broadcast and feature speeches by John P. Frey, an executive of the American Federation of Labor, and John W. Green, president of the Congress of Industrial Organizations. The two organizations would merge in 1955, and the AFL-CIO remains the largest federation of unions in the United States.

An Associated Press account described the Labor Day launching event in Baltimore:

With thousands of workers looking on, three Liberty ships slid down the ways at the Bethlehem-Fairfield shipyards Monday as the climax to a Labor Day celebration attended by political notables and ranking labor leaders. For the rest, it was just another working day for Bethlehem-Fairfield workers as they followed the lead of other defense industries and stayed at their jobs. Two of the new vessels were christened in honor of outstanding labor leaders and one of them was constructed in the record-breaking time of 39 days.

Yard General Manager J. M. Willis keynoted the ceremonies when he said “In all the history of America never has there been a Labor Day as significant as this one.”

Labor men everywhere, Willis continued, “have turned their parades into the shipyards and other defense industries in order, that not one hour of their productive effort be lost.” John Green, national president of the Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers of America, spoke of the steady growth of unionism. “By persistent work and unrelenting efforts the workers have achieved recognition. Our organizations are accepted as a necessary part of free American society. Our job now is to demonstrate that we are worthy to inherit the Promised Land made possible by the struggles of our pioneers,” Green said.


BW 1945-11-09

“Labor to be honored at Friday’s Launching,” The Bos’n’s Whistle, Oregon, 9/9/1945.

Even as the war wound down, labor was honored. A November 9, 1945 article titled “Labor to be Honored at Friday’s Launchings” informed readers that “Labor of the entire area will be feted for the part it has played in the Portland-Vancouver Kaiser company shipyards during the war in a huge ‘All Labor’ launching of the Mount Rogers at Vancouver … the entire program will be arranged by the Portland-Vancouver Metal Trades Council.”

Here are details of those five labor leader ships:


Norwegian-flagged Essi, formerly the SS Andrew Furuseth, circa 1960s.

SS Andrew Furuseth. Built at Kaiser Richmond shipyard #1; sold to Norwegian interests as Essi, 1947. Scrapped in Japan, 1967.
Norway-born Furuseth (1854-1938) was a merchant seaman and American labor leader. He helped build two influential maritime unions: the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific and the International Seamen’s Union. Furuseth served as the executive of both for decades.

SS Peter J. McGuire. Built at Kaiser Richmond shipyard #2; scrapped 1968.
McGuire (1852-1906) co-founded the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America in 1881 and was one of the early leading figures of the American Federation of Labor. He is credited with first proposing the idea of Labor Day as a national holiday in 1882.

SS James Duncan. Built at Kaiser Oregon Shipbuilding (St. Johns, Ore.); scrapped 1962.
Duncan was a Scottish-American union leader and president of the Granite Cutters’ International Association from 1885 until his death in 1928. He was an influential member of the American labor movement and helped found the American Federation of Labor.

SS John W. Brown. Built at Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyard, Baltimore, Maryland.
John W. Brown (1867-1941) was a Canadian-born American labor union leader and executive of the Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers of America. This Liberty ship is one of two still operational (the other being the SS Jeremiah O’Brien, berthed in San Francisco) and one of three preserved as museum ships. The John W. Brown is berthed in Baltimore.

SS John Mitchell. Built at Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyard; scrapped 1967.
Mitchell was a United States labor leader and president of the United Mine Workers of America from 1898 to 1908.

A sixth labor ship, launched June 28, 1944, was the SS Samuel Gompers, built at California Shipbuilding Corporation (Calship) in Sausalito. Gompers was the first and longest-serving president of the American Federation of Labor. She replaced a cargo steamship with the same name which had been torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine in the South Pacific on January 30th, 1943.

Seven other Liberty ships launched in 1944 were named for Jewish American labor leaders.

January 21: The SS Benjamin Schlesinger was launched from the Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyards. This was followed by the January 22 launching of the SS Morris Hilquit. Both were honored for their wartime contribution through the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.

The SS Morris Sigman, launched from Baltimore on February 4, honored the former president of the ILGWU, followed by the SS Meyer London, another ILGWU leader.

The SS B. Charney Vladek was launched from the New England Shipbuilding Company in South Portland, Maine, on July 7. She was named for Baruch Charney (1886-1938; he added “Vladek” as a nom de guerre surname in Tsarist Russia). Vladek emigrated to America in 1908, and was a Jewish labor leader and manager of the Jewish Daily Forward.

The SS Abraham Rosenberg was launched from the New England Shipbuilding Company in early October, named for the former ILGWU president. And on October 13 the SS Morris C. Feinstone, named for the the late general secretary of the United Hebrew Trades, was launched at the St. John’s shipyards in Florida. AFL President William Green paid tribute to Mr. Feinstone as “a devoted member of organized labor.”

Also see:Liberty and Victory Ships named for African Americans” and”Henry Kaiser and merchant sailors union: the curious case of the SS Pho Pho” about the SS Harry Lundeberg, 1958


Photograph of the Essi courtesy Den Norske Libertyflaten, (The American Liberty Fleet and other U.S.-Built Merchant Ships) Vormedal Forlag, Norway, 2015. Did you know that Norwegian for “scrapping” is “opphugging”?

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