World War II was not yet over, and Henry J. Kaiser was already anticipating the need for postwar housing – and houses need appliances. Henry J. Kaiser was one of the prominent American industrialists of the early 20th century who built everything from dams to ships to airplanes. Did his range extend to humble home appliances? Yes, it did.
The news broke on October 16, 1946:
“First Kaiser Cars Go on Display Here,” Berkeley Daily Gazette:
In the appliance line Kaiser Motors soon will distribute a machineless [motorless] dish-washer, now in production at Bristol, Pa. The dish-washer, which operates entirely by water pressure, is being produced in two models – a “chassis” type that will cost about $176 and can be made a permanent fixture of the home, and a “cabinet” dish-washer that can be moved from house to house. The “cabinet” dish-washer will sell for approximately $101.
The Kaiser-Frazer dealers have been offered franchises on the appliance and farm equipment lines in order to have something to sell the year round until new cars become plentiful.
As with most of his accomplishments, Henry J. Kaiser didn’t invent the dishwasher – he looked at what was needed, found out who knew how to make it, and did it better.
The origins of the Kaiser dishwasher begin with Raymond W. Wilson, an inventor in Glendale, Calif. In 1943 Wilson was granted a patent for a dishwashing machine whose primary feature was that it was entirely operated by water pressure – no electricity was needed. “As easy to install as a new sink – your plumber will gladly make three simple connections.” The washer used standard municipal water pressure and hot water from a residential hot water heater (assumed to be 140 degrees F.) A basket would raise for loading and lower for washing with spray jets at the bottom.
Wilson began producing these machines under the “Q.E.D.” brand name in 1939 and applied for his patent in 1940. The patent rights were later purchased by Mr. W. J. Schworer of Alhambra, Calif., and the product name changed to “Steril-Dry.”
Unfortunately for the new dishwasher, soon the United States was deeply involved in World War II, and manufacturing capacity for consumer products was marshaled for the war effort. But by September 1944, Kaiser had started partnering with real estate developer Fritz B. Burns to build modern housing projects, and Burns wanted to include the Steril-Dry in new homes. So, in November they installed and tested one of the dishwashers in their Latham Square Building offices in Oakland.
Although Schworer had begun negotiations with the Crane Company, the Kaiser Company managed to beat them out and buy the rights on November 10, 1944.
Arrangements were made to assemble and purchase six Steril-Dry machines from Schworer for installation at test locations including the Kaiser Steel mill in Fontana, Calif.; the Kaiser Cement plant in Permanente, Calif. (south of San Francisco near Cupertino); and the Fleetwings aircraft plant in Bristol, Penn. One was also set up at the residence of Eugene Trefethen, Jr. (1910-1986), a longtime Kaiser Industries employee who later rose to become president and vice chairman of Kaiser Industries.
And another one was installed at the Kaiser Richmond shipyard number 3 cafeteria, where it ran for more than 300 hours and washed 129,106 dishes. A report on that test included these findings:
The dishes are washed satisfactorily when the water is at the proper temperature (150-170 degrees F.), and they dry immediately. The same results occur when washing glassware. There has been absolutely no breaking or chipping of the dishes or glasses. If the water gets below 150 degrees the dishes are not washed as satisfactorily. The dishes and glassware come out clean with the exception of those that have lipstick on them. Other types of grease are easily removed, however.
The pressure of the water does not seem quite sufficient. It is about 60 to 65 pounds. The only objection to the pressure is not from the dishwashing angle, but from trouble with the hydraulic lift.
Results were very satisfactory considering that the operators were untrained, unskilled people. They had no difficulty in operating the machine. It only takes a few minutes of instruction to the most unskilled person for her to understand the operation of the machine.
Another model kitchen and laboratory were set up to further test the machines. An extensive list of proposed modifications was drawn up, including everything from design (locating knobs in the front, making the top flat and square to serve as a working surface) to technical (jet redesign to minimize clogging, automatic soap dispenser).
By early 1946, the Kaiser Fleetwings Division of Kaiser Cargo in Bristol began manufacturing four models of the long-awaited Kaiser dishwasher.Research by dishwasher historian (yes, you read that correctly) Mike Haller of Peoria, Ill., describes what happened next in the “automaticdishwasher forum“:
Two major flaws existed: (1) Distribution was turned over to the Kaiser-Frazer Sales Corporation (the car division of the Kaiser conglomerate). The Kaiser-Frazer division was ill prepared to market and demonstrate the dishwasher. (2) Lack of adequate field testing did not pick up on the fact that not all water sources were able to deliver the required minimum water pressure [or temperature] for adequate operation.
Mainly because of customer dissatisfaction and the high cost of the dishwashers – upwards of $200 plus freight and taxes, — the sales started to decline…in early 1948, Sears Roebuck & Company was searching for an automobile that could be sold as a house-branded item. As part of the deal, the Dishwasher line became part of the package, along with factory floor space. However, Sears needed the floor space for other contract work, so the Kaiser Dishwasher line had to go.
In 1948 Fleetwings was renamed Kaiser Metal Products, where they continued to manufacture a range of consumer products. But Kaiser’s short venture into the world of dishwashers went down the drain.
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Kaiser Permanente Panorama City Hospital, California
Built 1962, decommissioned 2008, demolished 2016
Designed by Clarence Mayhew with partner Hal “H.L.” Thiederman, Dr. Sidney R. Garfield as medical consultant.
Saint Joseph Hospital, Denver, Colorado
Built 1964, demolished 2016
Designed by Robert Irwin.
When I was touring Denver’s Kaiser Permanente facilities in late 2016, my host pointed out a hospital that was being demolished. It was the venerable Saint Joseph Hospital, and what I noticed immediately was that it had two paired cylindrical (or “radial”) towers, just like our former Panorama City hospital, a design universally described as “binoculars.” But taller.
Even though the Kaiser Permanente Health Plan has been operating in Colorado since 1969, and has built numerous state-of-the-art medical office buildings, it has always contracted with local facilities for hospital space. Saint Joseph is one of them.
Although there’s no firm evidence that the Saint Joseph design was influenced by Panorama City, it’s surely not a coincidence. The workflow logic was identical, and the main differences were the stairwell, lobby placement, and lack of an external balcony. It looked more like an overhead view of the Starship Enterprise than a pair of binoculars.
“Building started at Saint Joseph,” Rocky Mountain News, Oct. 26, 1961:
Groundbreaking rites were held Wednesday for the new $8,771,560 addition to Saint Joseph Hospital. The new building, to replace most of the north hall of the hospital, will consist of a pair of 11-story circular towers. Each will a have nurses’ stations at the center, and no station will be more than 20 feet from any room.
The new circular towers will be the heart of the 88-year-old hospital. Saint Joseph will be the nation’s largest example of the new hospital design, according to Robert Irwin, architect. The circular concept means patients’ rooms and wards will radiate from the nurses’ stations in the center.Kaiser Permanente’s original Panorama City Medical Center was featured as The Modern Hospital’s “modern hospital of the month” in November 1962. In the seven-page article “Good Nursing is Core of Panorama Plan,” Sidney Garfield, MD, explained the “circles of service” design concept:
It saves steps for the nurses [in this case, patients are within 20 feet of the nursing station]; it reduces the number of special duty nurses; it keeps the nurses to a central area outside the patients’ door, and it is particularly useful for keeping patients under observation at night with a reduced nursing staff.
Saint Joseph Hospital Communications Manager Colleen Magorian added these details:
The Saint Joseph Hospital “twin towers” were dedicated in 1964, so they were just more than 50 years old when our new hospital opened. The towers were part of an ever-expanding hospital that had been on the same site since 1898 and were inspired, in part, by the towers of the preexisting structure.
Predecessors to this design were a never-built Kaiser Permanente geodesic-dome-based facility from 1957, followed by the “Atomedic Hospital,” which originated in the early 1960s. But these facilities were never meant to be more than one or two stories tall.
Hospital architecture scholars Stephen Verderber and David J. Fine have noted that there are a few other examples of multistory “radial” layouts in the United States, all built in 1964-1965. These include the Lorain Community Hospital (Lorain, Ohio), the Scott & White Memorial Hospital (Temple, Texas), and the Central Kansas Medical Center (Great Bend, Kansas). The Prentice Women’s Hospital and Maternity Center in Chicago, which opened in 1975, was a unique version of this style with four radial towers. It was vacated in 2011 and was the subject of intense preservation efforts to avoid demolition. It was eventually torn down in 2014.
Prentice was designed by Bertrand Goldberg, who drew on learnings from anthropology and the field of “proxemics” (“the study of our use of space and how various differences in that use can make us feel more relaxed or anxious.”) It was praised for its innovative design and engineering prowess. However, many of the design weaknesses of the wedge-shaped rooms were noted as well. Architect and critic Jain Malkin pointed out that the most heavily trafficked side of the room was the narrowest, and in the case of Prentice, that the rounded exterior wall reflected and amplified sounds in a space that’s supposed to be quiet.
Of all of these architects, it was Dr. Garfield and his Panorama City vision that pioneered this bold experiment in improved workflow and patient care. And, as I saw in Denver that cold October morning, the circles of history closed in on the “circles of service.”
Special thanks to Stephen Verderber, and Colleen Magorian and Tiffany Anderson of Saint Joseph Hospital, for their help with this article.
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Hospitals are highly technical facilities always in search of safe and effective ways of providing health care. Usually the bright shiny objects get the news splash – a brand new X-ray machine, a sleek MRI – but for every big-ticket item, there are dozens far more mundane.
When members come to Kaiser Permanente – whether in Washington, D.C. or California – they expect to experience a brand promise of “Total Health.” The National Facilities Services department is responsible for the physical component of this task, evaluating every aspect of a building – even including the humble toilet.
Project Principal Linda Raker explains NFS’s design goals:
The emphasis is on providing an environment that helps create a warmer, hospitality experience, by contrast to the institutional environments of the past. We are especially mindful of creating what we call a ‘moment of pause’ in these rooms, where our members can achieve a measure of privacy away from the chaos of medical environments. The other objectives – improved lighting, individual mirrors, use of optimistic colors, etc. – are all designed to support this more positive member journey.
“Institutional environment of the past” is a kind reference to some earlier concepts that certainly weren’t focused on a private “moment of pause.”While reviewing a set of large format film negatives in our archive, I ran across two photos that showed an unusual device installed in a patient room. On closer inspection it was two versions of a device, one designed to fit in a corner, and one for an open wall. Zooming in on the name plate revealed that these were products of the “TravelLav” (or Travel-Lav) company.
Extensive searching through newspaper archives and online sources revealed very little about these devices.
We know that they were the brainchild of a Philadelphia inventor:
Patent #2,725,575 approved December 6, 1955
“FOLDING WATER CLOSET” by Angelo Colonna, Philadelphia, PA.
The present invention relates to certain new and useful improvements in flush-type water closets which are expressly adapted to be used in wash rooms and similar quarters of limited size on railway cars, airplanes, boats, submarines and similar conveyances and has more particular reference to a hinge mounted toilet bowl or hopper of a so-called folding construction, that is, a structural adaptation wherein the bowl, when it is not in use, is swung up and into a storage and protective compartment provided therefor in a wall cabinet.
The Travel-Lav later shows up in a railway car patent:
Patent #2,953,103 approved September 20, 1960
“COMBINATION COACH AND SLEEPING CAR” by George W. Bohannon, Oak Park, and Walter Scowcroft, Palos Heights, Ill., assignors to The Pullman Company, a corporation of Illinois.
The washbowl and water closet or toilet are preferably a combined unit sold under the trademark “Travel-Lav” manufactured by Angelo Colonna of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Both the washbowl (72) and the water closet or toilet (76) fold down to a substantially horizontal position when they are to be used.
So, we at least know something about these folding water closet contraptions. These two photos imply that at one point, most likely around 1960, Kaiser Permanente installed or considered installing them in some patient rooms. But there’s no evidence that they lasted. It’s easy to imagine that the lack of privacy was a substantial deterrent to their acceptance, and that a device intended for cramped quarters – such as a submarine, or a bunker – would make less sense in a hospital.
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The arc of social justice relies on courageous individuals and Ellamae Simmons, MD, was one such individual. She was the first African-American woman to specialize in asthma, allergy, and immunology in the United States. She worked at Kaiser Permanente for 25 years, and to this day plays a central role in how Kaiser Permanente embraces diversity and inclusion.
Dr. Simmons’ new biography at the age of 97 is a valuable contribution to that history. The book details her life and career, including graduating from Hampton (Virginia) nursing school in 1940, serving in the Army Nurse Corps during World War II, medical school at Meharry Medical College (Nashville) in 1954, and her Kaiser Permanente career.
Dr. Simmons’ chapter titled “The Interview” is about her coming to work at Kaiser Permanente during the summer of 1965. Dr. Simmons had been training in chest medicine at National Jewish Hospital in Denver, at which Irving Itkin, MD, was her supervisor and mentor:
When I told Dr. Itkin of my plan to move west at the end of my residency, he was full of advice. “If you’re going to California,” he told me, “there are only two places you should consider. One is the Scripps clinic in La Jolla in Southern California, and the other is Kaiser Permanente in Northern California. Now,” he continued, warming to the subject of my future training as an allergist, “Scripps is just another National Jewish. They write the same papers and conduct the same research. You’d basically be doing the same thing you did here.
At Kaiser, on the other hand, you’d round out your experience in a well-established outpatient allergy center, where asthmatics are well maintained on an established anti-allergenic regimen. And I recommend Ben Feingold, the chief of asthma-allergy at Kaiser. He’s a good allergist, does fine research. Of course, he’s difficult…. but I recommend you go there and learn everything he has to teach you about asthmatics whose condition is well controlled, who are ambulatory, who go to school or to work. After that you’ll be well set up to take care of anybody in this field.”
Dr. Simmons’ job interview with Ben Feingold, MD, has become legend in Kaiser Permanente history:
Dr. Ben Feingold sat back in his large bronze-studded black leather chair, scrutinizing me. He questioned me about my previous residencies, always calling me “Miss,” never “Doctor.” He asked me about my asthma-allergy fellowship, and more superficially about my chest medicine residency.
After about 30 minutes, he tented his fingers on his desk and said, “Well, I have my doubts about hiring anyone whom I have not trained, but please go out and see my secretary. We’ll have to continue this another day, as I have another meeting.” He told me to make an appointment with his secretary for the following Tuesday, which was five days away. I could ill afford the expense of additional nights at my hotel, plus meals, but I did not say this. Instead I made the appointment and spent the next few days exploring downtown San Francisco and biding my time.
I returned the following Tuesday for the continuation of our interview and entered Dr. Feingold’s office as scheduled. Again the department chief sat back in his chair and viewed me intently. He asked a few questions about specific allergic reactions and how they might be treated at the institution of my residency. I answered easily and in meticulous clinical detail. At last he said,
“Well, I see you know your stuff, but I’m afraid I cannot hire you, as I’ve never hired anyone whom I have not trained.”…
“Dr. Feingold,” I said, my voice steady, my gaze direct, “I’ve never applied for a job for which I was not fully qualified. In fact, I’ve usually been overqualified. So tell me, is the real reason you’ve decided not to hire me the fact that I’m black?”
She asked Dr. Feingold if there were any other black physicians at the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco hospital; it took him a while, but he finally remembered Granville Coggs, MD, a radiologist who’d joined the staff just a few months before. Dr. Simmons met with Dr. Coggs, and they shared experiences of racial discrimination pursuing their respective professions. She then returned to Dr. Feingold’s office, resigned to not getting the position.
Dr. Feingold didn’t respond at first. He just stared at me in that fixed way I was already becoming used to. I realized he was wrestling with a decision.
Finally, he spoke. “Stop by my secretary on your way out and sign your contract,” he said. “I’ll take you after all.”
Among Dr. Simmons’ battles was that of housing discrimination. Even in the relatively progressive San Francisco Bay Area of the late 1960s, covenants and real estate practices perpetuated racially segregated neighborhoods.
This discrimination also was experienced by another early Kaiser Permanente physician, Eugene Hickman, MD. His unpublished memoir includes a chapter titled “House Hunting While Black”:
My major problem in Oakland was with housing…I would phone all numbers regarding places within a radius that would afford reasonable access to the hospital where I was going to work. I was up front with my racial identity, after which I would summarize my credentials, etc. The response was always the same: “I am very sure you would be a very desirable member of our community, but we promised our neighbors we would not rent or sell to Negroes.”
After several frustrating months, someone informed me of a place in Berkeley where I could go and apply for one of the homes that had been condemned to make way for the Grove-Shafter Freeway [California Highway 24]. We obtained an old house on 53rd St, near Children’s Hospital. I was then able to move our family here. Then we began the search for a permanent residence. My wife would go out with an agent during the day while I was working; the children were not yet in school. Some idiots frequently mistook my wife for a southern European. One agent…suggested that if I wanted to see the house, I should come around after dark.
And if that wasn’t discouraging enough, Dr. Hickman experienced discrimination about his choice of a job from an unexpected source. The Sinkler-Miller Medical Association in Oakland (named in honor of two outstanding black physicians) accepted him for membership, but insisted on characterizing him “as some sort of traitor to the black physician community” because of his affiliation with Kaiser Permanente.
Dr. Simmons’ personal story is a tribute to persistence and vision overcoming adversity. Although we have come a long way in building social justice, there is always more to do – and pioneers such as Dr. Simmons inspire and guide us.
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