, Heritage writer
A new car so inexpensive you could buy it with cash at your local gas station?
This was a consumer pipe dream during World War II – yet Henry J. Kaiser, despite being preoccupied with running the largest shipbuilding effort of the home front, simultaneously pursued postwar public needs such as transportation, housing, and health care – the last being his most enduring legacy.
Henry J. Kaiser’s efforts to produce an affordable car always point to the humble but inexpensive “Henry J“ launched in 1950. But there’s a deeper story that demonstrates Kaiser’s commitment to using new materials — aluminum and magnesium — to create an American “people’s car” 7 years earlier.
Light metals intrigued Kaiser. He proposed building a West Coast aluminum plant in 1941, but instead Alcoa was given the government blessing, and Kaiser wouldn’t get into the aluminum business until 1946. But he did venture into magnesium manufacturing, and in late 1941 was producing the exotic metal in a plant near his Cupertino, California aggregate quarry.
In early 1943, Henry J. Kaiser entered into a contract with Karl K. Probst and Rollin N. Harger. Probst is considered the “Father of the Jeep,” having designed it as a consulting engineer for the Bantam Car Company in 1940.
The arrangement was classic Kaiser — hiring skilled professionals to develop products that met a current government need as well as an anticipated broader public need. The contract specified creating both a “Jeep Junior” and a “Kaiser Car” (sometimes referred to as the “Kaiser Kar”) passenger vehicle.
The logic behind that pairing was explained in correspondence from Probst and Harger:
We feel so keenly the necessity of building the jeep coincident with the passenger car because the jeep is justified as a war necessity which satisfies us for our activities and enables us to employ such key men as are essential to both projects which we otherwise could not do.
By May, the contract had expanded to include 6 jeep models, ranging from 1,000 to 1,300 pounds for the U.S. War Department.
No civilian passenger cars were manufactured during World War II, so it was big news in June 1943, when Kaiser announced his intention to produce a $400 car (the average price of a new car in 1941 was over twice that) — so affordable, it could be bought with cash and available at gas stations.
“I’m aiming for a market that present cars reach only third- or fourthhand,” Kaiser said.
The car would be very lightweight due to using magnesium for the frame and engine. The powerplant was in development, described in press accounts as a 16-cylinder air-cooled two-cycle radial engine projected to develop 80 horsepower. This was around the same time Kaiser was considering a Dymaxion car with radial engine power. In 1950, Kaiser would choose a similar engine for his proposed personal civilian aircraft.
Meanwhile, the lightweight jeep began receiving good reviews at its August testing at the military’s Aberdeen Proving Grounds. Kaiser’s contract with Probst & Harger was revised; the Kaiser Car’s intended exotic radial engine was replaced with the less expensive conventional 4-cylinder Continental engine.
Probst & Harger was also asked to produce a “midget car” to be sent to Permanente’s workshops for further modification, as well as a “farm vehicle” — identical to the military jeep but allowing “such modifications as we consider necessary… to result in a general utility vehicle.” This was the middle of the war, and Kaiser anticipated the American public’s thirst for such machines.
On October 3, 1943, Probst & Harger submitted drawing #5129 for the “Kaiser Car.”
In December 1943, the Henry J. Kaiser Company entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Hudson Car Company (manufacturer of, among other vehicles, the 1954 Nash Metropolitan), detailing Kaiser’s development of 6 jeep prototypes (4 larger, 2 smaller) under contract with the Army Ordnance Research Department and anticipating volume manufacturing should the prototypes be selected for production.
But by mid-1944, things began to unravel. The military didn’t pick his lightweight jeeps — at least partly due to a shortage of aluminum — and Kaiser went to court against Probst & Harger to restrain them from disclosing details of the vehicles developed under contract with Kaiser.
The American public, eager for an affordable new car, would have to wait until July 25, 1945, when Kaiser-Frazer motors was founded, leading to the much-anticipated 1950 release of the “Henry J.”
Thanks to UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library for materials used for some of the research in this article – Henry J. Kaiser papers 1873-1982, BANC MSS 83/42c, Cartons 18 and 122.
Short link to this article: https://k-p.li/2K6bOMW
, Heritage writer
Father’s Day is a time to celebrate the bond between father and child. In this sweet telegram from Henry J. Kaiser to his son Edgar during World War II, he pays tribute to that bond. At the time, Edgar was in charge of the three Kaiser shipyards in the Pacific Northwest.
A ship went sailing out, and at it’s helm–one lone young man, very young. He sailed his ship so very near the land, and on occasion ventured forth as a child might wade out and out just a little farther–to see how far he dares to go. This lone pilot went ahead, out and out–until one day he said “no man must go to sea alone.” So first he added his first born–a little man–a character–who was destined to grow and grow. Then as to sea they went, another and another to his crew he added. As rough the sea became, he was not daunted–still another to his crew he added, and another. One more little man–to whom he gave his name. So all, they forged ahead never fearing. And so today when the sea is furious, waves high and going might tough; the captain cannot leave to see the little man receive Portland’s highest honor.
And so tonite, when every light goes out–and you are left alone–just whisper “dear God, I thank you for my Dad, and it’s a job I’ve done of which he’s proud.” And then more gently say “dear Lord, guide me every day to make my city, Portland, proud of me.”
16R-S Henry J. Kaiser
Short link to this article: https://k-p.li/2MrBqFU
, Heritage writer
Although newspapers and popular magazines covered the remarkable feat of providing industrial health care for World War II home-front Kaiser shipyard workers, a review in the prestigious trade publication Architect and Engineer was endorsement on a different level.
A&E was considered one of the “most important professionally oriented architectural magazines” in California’s history. Their May 1945 article, with cover photo, gushed about the aesthetic and practical features of this hospital that was handling 1,500 patients a day.
While Kaiser Permanente founding physician Sidney R. Garfield helped plan many early Permanente Foundation hospitals and clinics, the huge expansion to the preexisting Fabiola Hospital in Oakland was designed by Palo Alto–based architect Birge Malcolm Clark. The A&E review comments:
If, as he has stated, Dr. Garfield’s first thought is to prevent illness and keep people well, he has admirably adapted the atmosphere of this institution to that purpose, for on first inspection there is little that is “hospitalish” about the place. The familiar odors that we associate with hospitals are absent.
However, it’s clear that Dr. Garfield had a hand in shaping this facility — the review notes one of his trademark features:
The surgeries were built, schematically, in a circle around a central work and sterilizing area, which permits the patients to enter through exterior corridors, thus avoiding cross traffic. This plan was thoroughly tried out at the Kaiser Hospital in Vancouver and improved in this plant.
The healing features of the design were also noted:
The halls are wide, clean and open to outside air and light; the reception rooms are furnished in good taste in a restrained domestic style; the patients’ rooms are simple, comfortable and attractive; there are outside, lawn covered courts of ample dimensions where convalescents may rest in wheel chairs; and there are sun decks.
This review was published months before the Permanente Health Plan was opened to the public, and the magazine saw the potential for this novel and effective program:
When that day comes thousands will thank providence that the men who built the Permanente Foundation Hospital worked so faithfully.
These buildings were demolished in early 2018, their long service to affordable health care fulfilled. Kaiser Permanente’s new facilities receive professional accolades for LEED environmental compliance as well as aesthetics and community engagement, but it all started with recognition for what’s “not hospitalish.”
Special thanks to librarian David Eifler from the UC Berkeley’s Environmental Design Library for his help in accessing this publication.
Short link to this article: https://k-p.li/2MkB7MH
, Heritage writer
Death and taxes may be certain, but obituaries are not.
Recently, the New York Times published a series of obituaries for special individuals who, for various reasons, didn’t get the one they deserved after they passed on. Here, we are filling a similar gap for an esteemed Permanente physician. Kaiser Permanente Heritage consultant and historian Steve Gilford wrote the following obituary immediately after Dr. Smillie’s death, but it was never published.
Permanente physician John “Jack” Graham Smillie, MD, passed away September 6, 2000, at the age of 83. The pediatrician joined the medical group in San Francisco in 1949 and steadily rose through the ranks of leadership, retiring in 1981. His 2000 book based on extensive research and personal experience, Can Physicians Manage the Quality and Costs of Health Care? The History of The Permanente Medical Group, may well be Dr. Smillie’s most lasting contribution to the Kaiser Permanente medical care program.
Born in Eaton, Colorado, Jack entered University of Southern California’s medical school in 1938. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps. The military was segregated, but Dr. Smillie convinced his commanding officer to let him integrate their medical unit in the Philippines, becoming one of the first in the U.S. armed forces to do so. Many years after induction, he noticed that the signature on his physical examination was Lt. Sidney R. Garfield. Jack joked he was probably the only Permanente doctor who’d met Permanente’s founding physician while in his underwear.
Dr. Smillie returned to a residency in Pediatrics at USC/LA County Hospital, where he showed a talent for administration. Doctors routinely admitted children with temperatures over 103 degrees and prescribed penicillin, which worked — but was not the best protocol. Dr. Smillie revised policy so that pediatrics residents reviewed each case, which dramatically cut down pediatric admissions. Parents were encouraged to bring children back a few days later to make sure their kids were OK, the hospital made better use of a 35-bed ward, and Dr. Smillie learned that he could reduce the cost of care and improve the quality of care at the same time.
Toward the end of his residency, he was invited to join a glamorous and lucrative practice in Hollywood. Although tempted, he discussed the offer with friend and mentor, Ray Kay, MD, who suggested he consider The Permanente Medical Group. He did, and accepted their offer to work in San Francisco at both the clinic at 515 Market Street and the 35-bed Permanente Harbor Hospital.
In the mid-1950s, Dr. Smillie told Dr. Garfield about a rooming-in concept from the Yale University School of Medicine, which increased physical contact between mothers and newborns. As a result, Dr. Garfield designed the baby-in-a-drawer, allowing the newborn to be moved between a mother and the nursery. The innovation caught the public imagination, and for a while was a kind of trademark of Kaiser hospitals.
Dr. Smillie became assistant physician in chief in San Francisco under Dr. Morris Collen, then served as physician in chief from 1961 through 1971. Dr. Collen recalled that Jack “was fond of saying that his greatest reward from his many years as a practicing pediatrician was seeing the children he had taken care of later bringing their children to him for care.”
In 1977 Dr. Smillie began a 13-year role representing TPMG in Washington, D.C. He was a strong advocate for the Kaiser Permanente health care model, later reflecting “I had an enormous satisfaction in dealing with the patients because I could do anything I wanted without worrying about how much it cost them. They have already paid me and our group for their care and for their hospitalization. And I was free to practice the kind of medicine I had learned to practice … It was a source of enormous satisfaction.”
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, Heritage writer
Fore ‘n’ Aft, May 12, 1944:
Sunday is Mother’s Day.
Never before has this fitting day of tribute to America’s mothers held the meaning it does in this year of world conflict. Mothers, in addition to their full-time job of loving, are doing the suffering for the boys who do the fighting. Mothers have joined the industrial army to make ships, planes, guns that will give their sons protection and strength.
All blessings to our Mothers.
Short link to this article: https://k-p.li/2IcusC6
, Heritage writer
Deloras Jones graduated from the Kaiser Foundation School of Nursing more than 50 years ago, but she vividly remembers the school’s philosophy of scientific training. In a medical profession long beset by gender inequalities, the program was progressive in teaching the female students “the science of medicine … as physicians were,” said Jones.
Among Kaiser Permanente’s many contributions to health care, it’s important to recognize a legacy of support and respect for nurses. One prime example: Deloras Jones’ alma mater. At the end of World War II, when the health plan opened to the public, qualified nurses were in short supply.
To address the shortage, the Kaiser Foundation established the Permanente School of Nursing (later the Kaiser Foundation School of Nursing) in 1947 to train more nurses. The accredited school graduated its first class in 1950 and offered tuition-free education and training for its first 7 years. California regulations changed in the 1960s, requiring the school to transition from a diploma program to a degree-granting 4-year college. Efforts to connect with one of the local colleges while maintaining an independent identity were unsuccessful, and the last class graduated in 1976.
During its existence, the school graduated 1,065 nurses and boasted numerous accomplishments. It trained a diverse pool of highly skilled nurses (it was the first in California to consistently recruit minority students), and student scores in State Board Examinations consistently ranked in the top 3 of all California programs, including university schools. Watch their stories in this short video.
In January, that impressive legacy was documented in an academic article in Nursing Administration Quarterly, “Kaiser’s School of Nursing: A 70-Year Legacy of Disruptive Innovation.”
The article is the fruit of a legacy project that was launched in 2016 to research, capture and record the history and voice of Kaiser Foundation School of Nursing alumni. What emerged from these early nursing pioneers were inspirational stories about their pride of being part of a new way to provide health care that prioritized prevention, health promotion, and wellness over conventional “sick care” models.
These alumni became Kaiser Permanente’s earliest nurse leaders, educators, and care advocates, advancing new models for integrated patient care. Many graduates pursued advanced degrees and were instrumental in defining expanded nursing roles, including the introduction of nurse practitioners in California.
Kaiser Permanente nurses contributed to make their mark in advancing the field through research, such as the 1999 study “Exploring Indicators of Telephone Nursing Quality” in the Journal of Nursing Care Quality. Telephone nursing was an early effort in what we now call “telemedicine,” and the study resulted in important understandings about the effectiveness of technology-mediated care.
The school was an experiment that had run its course, but it had also enriched the Kaiser Permanente philosophy with a respect and value for the nursing profession as an essential component of group-practice medicine. To the world, it demonstrated the enduring importance of Kaiser Permanente’s leadership in disruptive innovation — in particular, the role of the nurse executive — in reimagining care for future generations. It’s a mission that continues to this day.
Short link to this article: https://k-p.li/2JHnKUV
, Heritage writer
Original photos of hundreds of U.S. navy ships in San Francisco Bay. A candid shot of Henry J. Kaiser, laughing while listening to a female accordionist. A color transparency of an unidentified “Rosie” with a cutting torch in front of the ship Haiti Victory before her launch in July 20, 1944.
These are only some of the images from a treasure trove of World War II photographs, many depicting scenes from the Kaiser Richmond shipyards, discovered last year by Fresno professor Dan Nadaner. The photos have not been seen since the mid-1940s.
Dan was donating the pictures to the curators from the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California, located on the former site of the Kaiser shipyards. He found these cartons while clearing out a storage locker, and wanted the photos to join others already on display at the visitor center.
The photos were taken by Dan’s father, Hugo Nadaner (1915–2009), a real estate developer, contractor, private airplane pilot, and Hollywood photographer. But during World War II, he turned his lens to marine vessels, working with the U.S. Navy to document construction, launch and shakedown cruises.
Hugo Nadaner’s trove of 4×5-inch negatives and photos include images of hundreds of U.S. navy ships. Many are copy photos (photos of other photos), but others are original shots from San Francisco Bay. Although few are identified, some ships and locations are obvious.
A cluster of photos reveal how neighboring industries prefabricated ship components for final assembly in the Kaiser yards. Among the Oakland subcontractors documented between June 24 and 26, 1943, were the Graham Ship Repair Company (foot of Washington St.), the Herrick Iron Works, and the Independent Iron Works. Other nearby factories included Berkeley’s Trailer Company of America and the Steel Tank & Pipe Company, as well as the California Steel Products Corporation in Richmond and the Pacific Coast Engineering Company in Alameda. One contractor documented was the Clyde W. Wood Company in Stockton (a deepwater port on the San Joaquin River), over 50 miles inland from the Richmond shipyards.
There are many photos from the Kaiser Richmond shipyards. One set shows the launching of the patrol frigate USS Tacoma from shipyard No. 4 on July 7, 1943. These include the happy sponsor, Mrs. A.R. Bergerson, and two young women, ready with a champagne bottle. Another photo catches three white-bloused singers, while a third is of Henry J. Kaiser finishing a celebratory meal — and is he really singing along with an accordion?
Kaiser shipyard workers are frozen in time. One unidentified Journeyman Maintenance Worker is pumping liquid into a battered bucket; a black welder and a black supervisor share a joke while inspecting an electric arc stinger; the tool control crew from Yard 3 shows home-front women in the trades.
Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources is helping the National Park Service to process this collection. Thank you, Dan and Hugo Nadaner, for your contribution to documenting and sharing the World War II home front.
Click on any image below for a larger view.
Short link to this article: https://k-p.li/2Jk3SXy
, Heritage writer
Recycling didn’t start with Earth Day in 1970 — a date that many consider to be the birth date of the modern environmental movement. Reuse of materials has been a practice for many years, especially during shortages of raw materials.
During World War II, the effort to build massive ships also created mountains of industrial trash. And while all resources were prioritized for winning the war against fascism, everyone was encouraged to step up to produce as efficiently as possible. At the Kaiser shipyards, that also meant recycling.
In 1944, the four Kaiser shipyards in Richmond, California, produced more than 11,000 gross tons of scrap steel and 78,000 pounds of non-ferrous metals, as well as 11,400 paint pails, 2,056 carbide drums, and large quantities of rubber scrap, wire rope reels, scrap burlap, rope, batteries, and battery plates.
Much of the material collected was recycled on site. “The idea is to waste nothing,” a writer explained in the Kaiser Richmond shipyard newspaper, Fore ‘n’ Aft. “Strongbacks (braces), clips, dogs, wedges, bolts, nuts, and the like are dropped down separate chutes into bins to be reclaimed in the shop.” The article pointed out that at the shipyards’ “Yard Three,” during the previous month, a crew of 137 salvage workers had reclaimed 14,800 feet of pipe, sold 318 tons of scrap pipe-ends, made 254,616 strongbacks and clips, and reclaimed over 176,000 bolts and nuts.
Fast forward to the present and Kaiser Permanente is continuing to stake out ambitious goals for recycling. In fact, the organization aims to recycle, reuse, or compost 100 percent of its non-hazardous waste by 2025.
Then, as now, recycling on a massive scale required hard work. At the wartime shipyards, scrap ferrous metals were collected for sending to steel mills for re-melting, but only about 10 percent were ready to go into the furnaces. The rest had to stop off at preparers for sorting and cleaning. And recycling didn’t stop at the water’s edge. The job of salvage even carried on to the high seas where the ships brought back scrap from the world’s battlefields. Aboard ship, cooking fats and tin cans were saved from the galley; flue dust from the boilers and fire boxes yielded strategic vanadium and lamp black; and sailors were encouraged to save every possible rope-end.
“Scramble and scrape to save scrap to scramble the enemy,” the Fore ‘n’ Aft article ends. “Don’t forget your part as a war worker handling vital materials is a big one. Make everything count so you can make more things that count. Try to imagine a price tag on every piece of scrap.”
Creating healthy communities by preserving natural resources — good advice then and now.
Short link to this article: https://k-p.li/2K1zNgS
, Heritage writer
Insurance visionary? These two words don’t often go together.
Harold Albert Hatch was the exception: He was an insurance agent who had a bright idea that helped change the course of American health care. He did this when he suggested an unorthodox reimbursement approach to a young physician, Sidney Garfield, sometime in 1934 — prepayment.
This novel approach to industrial health insurance kept Dr. Garfield’s practice afloat, and survives as one of the fundamental components of the Kaiser Permanente health plan. It inverts the conventional model of medical economics, favoring prevention over treatment.
Prepayment for health care was not a completely new concept — the Ross-Loos Medical Group adopted it in 1929 to cover 12,000 employees and their families in the City of Los Angeles’ Department of Water and Power. But the practice for on-the-job care was novel.
Dr. Garfield and his partner Dr. Gene Morris ran a clinic in Southern California’s remote Mojave Desert for the workers on the Colorado River Aqueduct Project. It was standard industrial medical care, which was voluntary for California employers beginning in 1911 (and mandatory in 1914) to keep employees healthy and on the job. Industrial Indemnity was the largest insurer on that project.
The process was straightforward: A worker gets hurt on the job, sees the doctor, and the doctor gets insurance reimbursement. Workers’ compensation insurance worked — until it didn’t.
The issue for Dr. Garfield was that insurance companies challenged full reimbursement for bills and were slow to pay those they accepted. Dr. Garfield also handled medical care not covered by the insurance, and the workers couldn’t afford to pay much.
Confronted with the lag in reimbursement for care, Dr. Garfield was at risk of losing his practice, and the workers were at risk of losing the local health care they liked. Dr. Morris packed his medical bag and left.
Here’s how Hatch came in to help. Industrial Indemnity Exchange began when several major contractors (including Henry J. Kaiser and Warren Bechtel) banded together to self-insure their industrial health care in 1921. By the end of 1942, Industrial Indemnity would grow to be California’s second-largest writer of compensation insurance. Henry Kaiser’s right-hand man, Alonzo B. Ordway, was tasked with running it, and in 1934, they hired Hatch as underwriter and policy strategist. Hatch had been an engineer who as a child had been partially physically impaired by tuberculosis of the bone.
Hatch befriended Dr. Garfield, and proposed the novel insurance idea — paying 17.5 percent of its workers’ compensation premium back to Dr. Garfield to care for job-related injuries. That was 5 cents a day guaranteed income from each worker. Dr. Garfield accepted. The two men then completed the prepayment equation by adding a voluntary nonindustrial health plan for the workers for another 5 cents a day.
With Dr. Garfield’s practice financially viable, he hired more physicians and built temporary hospitals along the aqueduct’s route. When the construction project ended, Hatch and Ordway recommended Dr. Garfield as the perfect candidate to care for workers at the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington. There, from 1938-1940, Dr. Garfield expanded his model to include a prepaid plan for worker families as well.
Hatch continued to consult with Kaiser and Dr. Garfield until 1948, when he founded the Argonaut Insurance company, which by the time of his death in 1962 was the second largest writer of workers’ compensation insurance in California.
Thank you, Harold Hatch, for your pioneering role in the evolution of health care insurance.
Short link to this article: https://k-p.li/2HbKkaL
, Heritage writer
When Henry J. Kaiser and Kaiser–Frazer Motors released their entry-level passenger car in 1950, its name was the subject of a national contest that raised money for cancer research. The winner? “Henry J.”
But historical interpretation is full of “what ifs,” and recent research has turned up a startling alternate set of names for this humble little car that took on the Big Three automakers. An interoffice memo from Edgar F. Kaiser, Henry’s oldest son, to his father and Gene Trefethen — a lifelong Kaiser right-hand-man and corporate executive — reveals a charming detail of this high-stakes branding challenge.
Henry Kaiser partnered with industry expert Joseph “Joe” Frazer in this automobile venture, and Joe knew a thing or two about sales. While the naming contest was going full bore, Edgar and Joe were trying to make sure that whatever name was selected would have some traction.
Almost two months before the announcement of the winning name, Edgar spent several hours with Joe Frazer reviewing the 2,500 names at the top of the list.
Joe’s preference for first choice?
Edgar goes on to tell his father, “At the moment I favor calling the car ‘Kaiser Mustang’ but I am not sure that it will last with me.”
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