Posts Tagged ‘California’

Strikes, smog, and steel – a case study of Kaiser Fontana Steel

posted on November 25, 2013

By Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer

Can heavy industry be a good neighbor? That was one of the challenges facing the Kaiser Steel plant in Fontana, California, in 1972.

Steel for shipbuilding and other industries was in heavy demand during World War II, and no integrated mills (those capable of all phases of steel production, from making iron through rolling shapes) existed on the West Coast.

Cover of "Aerial photographs during the strike" published by Kaiser Steel, Fontana 1972
Cover of “Aerial photographs during the strike” published by Kaiser Steel, Fontana 1972

Henry J. Kaiser was a man of action, so he built a state-of-the-art plant in then-rural Fontana, 55 miles inland from Los Angeles.  It fired up its first blast furnace, “Bess No. 1” (named after Kaiser’s wife), on December 30, 1942, and boasted numerous technologies to reduce air and water pollution.

Additional steps were taken over the years to be a model facility, but the plant struggled to adopt increasingly stringent environmental safeguards as the surrounding community developed.

The first national “Earth Day” in 1970 was an indicator of increased national environmental consciousness, and community relations with the steel mill grew tense.

In February 1972 the United Steelworkers of America Local No. 2869 started a 43-day strike that shut down the sprawling facility. Implementing Henry J. Kaiser’s famous proclamation that “Problems are only opportunities in work clothes,” management saw the situation as a way to help dispel one of their most persistent criticisms – Kaiser Steel’s perceived role as the primary source of local air pollution. They embarked on a project to document Fontana’s skies when the “variable” of an operating steel mill was absent.

Here is the explanatory text from the 32-page booklet, Aerial Photographs During the Strike, published by Kaiser Steel immediately following the work stoppage:

And The Smog Stayed On

Even though virtually all authorities agree that less than 15 percent of photochemical smog comes from stationary sources, it is often contended that the elimination of industrial plants in San Bernardino County would make a dramatic reduction in the area’s air pollution problem. Kaiser Steel was recently placed in the position where the results of such an action could be observed.

A strike idled the Fontana Plant beginning February 1, 1972. It brought to a halt all production from the blast furnaces, open hearths, oxygen furnaces, and rolling mills.

Sample pages from "Aerial photographs during the strike" published by Kaiser Steel, Fontana 1972. Photographs with date and time stamps, as well as notation about wind direction and speed.
Sample pages from “Aerial photographs during the strike” published by Kaiser Steel, Fontana 1972. Photographs with date and time stamps, as well as notation about wind direction and speed.

During the first three weeks of the strike, aerial photographs were taken to record atmospheric conditions in the vicinity of the Fontana Plant. Of course, this is the clearest time of the year and there were many days, and particularly mornings, of good visibility and little or no photochemical smog. On the other hand, most of the days there was a very visible bank of photochemical smog in the area, much of which appeared to be brought by afternoon winds from the west.

This booklet is a collection of pictures taken during the first three weeks of the strike. While it is not possible to make exact comparisons for any given day, it is evident that even with the steel mill shut down, the area suffered some of its worst smog for this time of year.

California author Mike Davis, in his critical book City of Quartz, noted Kaiser Steel’s strike-based environmental documentation in the chapter “Fontana: Junkyard of Dreams” and made these observations:

Many ex-steelworkers still vehemently believe that the Kaiser pollution scare was purposely manufactured by developers who regarded the plant—smog-spewing or not—as a huge negative externality to residential construction in the Cucamonga-Fontana area.

As San Bernardino County’s West End fell under the “urban shadow” of Los Angeles and Orange County, developable property values came into increasing conflict with the paycheck role of the mill as leading local employer.

Inevitably the pollution debate reflected these divergent material interests.

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Henry J. Kaiser and the building of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge

posted on September 3, 2013

By Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer

Part 1 of 2: See part 2NEW! silent film of bridge construction

Graphic from "Spanning the Bay" column in the Oakland Tribune, 1934
Graphic from “Spanning the Bay” column in the Oakland Tribune, 1934

With the new eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge finally completed, it’s interesting to note that the industrialist founder of Kaiser Permanente played a major role in the creation of the original bridge, which has served the region for more than 75 years.

Henry J. Kaiser and his construction companies participated in at least four significant aspects of building the bridge:

  • Helping secure U.S. government support and funding for the project.
  • Construction of piers and footings on the East Bay side.
  • Providing concrete for the other bridge components beyond the East Bay piers.
  • Initial painting of the bridge.

Support and funding for the overall bridge project

In early 1934, Earl Lee Kelly, California Director of Public Works, sent a letter to Henry J. Kaiser asking for help in getting federal funding for the Central Valley Water Project. The letter begins:

“I understand that you intend to leave shortly for Washington, and knowing of the fine legislative work which you did concerning the Boulder Dam, and the assistance that you gave us in your connections in Washington with securing of the money for the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, I would greatly appreciate it, when you are in Washington, if you would again render the same valuable assistance to the California Water Authority that you have in the former instances where you have secured funds for California, which means so much to the people of our State.”[i] (bold added)

Kaiser’s involvement at the national level was crucial because the bridge was to be paid for through the Reconstruction Finance Corporation established in early 1932. The Great Depression quashed the usual options for funding such a project through conventional revenue bonds. The RFC was originally intended as a financial industry bailout, but passage of the Emergency Relief and Construction Act offered expanded opportunities for cities to fund projects. Between August 1932 and April 1933, California sent numerous delegations to Washington, D.C., to negotiate the terms of the loan.[ii]

Henry J. Kaiser caisson barge, circa 1933. Photo courtesy Caltrans archive.
Henry J. Kaiser caisson barge, circa 1933. Photo courtesy Caltrans archive.

East Bay piers and footings

The major elements of the bridge construction were divided into seven contracts.  Different members of the “Six Companies” (the original construction consortium that worked on Boulder/Hoover Dam) were affiliated with the Trans-Bay Construction Company (also called “Transbay”) and Bridge Builders, Inc., and competed with one another for Contracts 2 and 4, with one group winning Contract 2 and the other group winning Contract 4. The fact that these companies bid against one another in this project illustrates the transient nature of these project-specific arrangements.

Bridge Builders was a consortium formed in 1931-32 with partners to bid on work on the Golden Gate Bridge. For the Bay Bridge, Bridge Builders consisted of a slightly different group of affiliated companies:  Missouri Valley Bridge and Iron Company, Kansas City; Raymond Concrete Pile Company, New York; Dravo Construction Company, Pittsburgh; Bechtel-Kaiser-Warren Company, San Francisco; and the Utah Construction Company, San Francisco. Henry J. Kaiser was the president of Bridge Builders.

On April 28, 1933, the State of California signed Contract #4 with Bridge Builders, Inc., for the East Bay Substructure – the 21 piers between Yerba Buena Island and the Oakland shoreline. This was no simple task, and included digging E-3, “the deepest pier known to man,” located 1,400 feet west of Yerba Buena Island and embedded 242 feet below the surface of the bay. This contract was completed December 24, 1934.

Next blog:  Supplying construction concrete and painting the bridge.
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[i] Letter from Earl Lee Kelly, California Director of Public Works, thanking HJK for legislative help, 1/10/1934; BANC83-42c-3-8
[ii] Historic American Engineering Record, San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, HAER no. CA-32

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Celebrated farmer urges Kaiser Permanente doctors to further healthy food traditions

posted on April 5, 2011

By Grace Emery

Heritage correspondent*

Joel Salatin, celebrity farmer. Photo by Rachel Salatin.

When I heard that famed farmer Joel Salatin had come to Oakland to speak with Kaiser Permanente (KP) doctors, I felt like this event almost constituted a brush with celebrity. I wrote my senior thesis on food movements in the Bay Area, and my longtime interest in food politics had introduced me to Salatin and his work to bring sustainable food to America’s tables.** While some may be puzzled at the idea of a “famous farmer,” I leapt at the chance to write about a veritable hero of the food politics world, and I was anxious to learn more about where KP doctors and Salatin crossed paths.

Thanks in part to Michael Pollan’s discussion of Salatin in “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and his appearance in the 2008 popular documentary “Food Inc.,” Salatin has become a renowned advocate of sustainable food and farming, and somewhat of an icon in the healthy food movement.

During his visit, Salatin, who raises beef, pork, and poultry at his Virginia family farm, Polyface Inc., spoke of the challenges small farmers face at the intersection of healthy food and politics. Locally grown food is often healthier and more sustainable, but small farmers struggle when selling their products to large institutions, preventing the large-scale adoption of a local food system.

Salatin started his visit with a stop at the birthplace of local food sales—the farmers market. Preston Maring, MD, a KP physician in Oakland, Calif., founded the first Kaiser Permanente farmers market at the Oakland Medical Center in 2003, and today there are more than 35 KP farmers markets in several regions, demonstrating Kaiser Permanente’s commitment to total health through nutrition.

After a visit to the market, Salatin spoke to a group of KP physicians on the topic of “Local Food to the Rescue.” His message served to both validate the work Kaiser Permanente farmers markets and hospital cafeterias are already doing, and to inspire Kaiser Permanente officials to supply hospitals with even more locally sourced food.

History of healthy eating

Kaiser urged wartime shipyard workers to eat healthy, even grow their own vegetables, as this 2009 poster illustrates. Design by Pam Zachary, KP Multimedia Department.

Kaiser Permanente has long focused on the link between healthy eating and prevention. Before Kaiser Permanente was synonymous with health care, war workers flocked from all parts of the U.S. to Richmond and Oakland, Calif., where they helped to build ships in the Kaiser Shipyards during WWII. Henry Kaiser quickly realized that to build ships at a fast pace his workers had to be healthy and strong, and that meant they needed to eat nutritious foods. He saw that well-nourished workers translated into less absenteeism, more productivity, and happier employees.

In a 1943 memo written by Cecil Cutting, MD, a founding Permanente physician, there is a clear emphasis on the importance of nutrition. With healthier meals, Cutting hoped to “bring about greater vitality, greater psychological effect and consequently increased productivity.”

In “Ships for Victory, author and historian Frederic Lane discusses the Maritime Commission’s initiative to improve in-plant feeding at America’s shipyards in 1943. Many shipyards received additional funds to provide more hot meals and make sure workers had access to healthy food in the workplace. In the Kaiser Shipyards on the West Coast the emphasis on good nutrition even spilled over into the Kaiser-run child care centers where children were fed three square meals, and mothers could pick up prepared meals when they collected their children at the end of the work day.

After the war when Kaiser established a health plan open to the public, nutrition and prevention were among the core principles. “Kaiser health planners supported concepts of holistic preventive care,” writes Rickey Hendricks in “A Model of National Health Care: The History of Kaiser Permanente.”

A focus on healthy food comes to Kaiser Permanente hospitals

Nutrition education was big in the WWII Kaiser shipyards, as highlighted in this poster created in 2009. Design by Pam Zachary, KP Multimedia Department.

A 1972 article from the publication “Institutions/Volume Feeding” highlights Kaiser Permanente hospitals’ progressive commitment to providing patient meals with higher nutrition at a lower cost.  Hospital dieticians were consulted so that every meal had optimal nutrition and calorie content for a patient’s needs. Kaiser Permanente even began to serve meals with an accompanying pamphlet that explained the nutrition information of the meal so that patients could “begin to learn more about the foods that they eat” while in the hospital.

Quality nutrition was at the center of meal planning, and administration felt that when it came to cost “it was of the utmost importance to separate patient feeding from other food-service activities necessary in a hospital.” While the development of an efficient system came about slowly, Kaiser Permanente never strayed from a focus on the healing power of healthy meals.

Oakland: an epicenter of progressive food movements

In my thesis research on the bay area, I was surprised to find that the city of Oakland has also long been a center of progressive food movements. In the 1970s, the Black Panther Party provided a free breakfast program and other “people’s community survival programs” in Oakland, serving residents hot meals with a side of political activism.

The effort of the Black Panther Party members to address hunger in their community was seen as revolutionary and empowering. Soup kitchens and free breakfast programs drew attention to the fact that the local food system was not currently meeting the needs of the West Oakland community. In “A Panther is a Black Cat,” (1971) author Reginald Majors explains that rather than wait on city officials, residents intended to subvert the power dynamic of the community by taking matters in to their own hands.

The free breakfast program for school children went hand in hand with revolutionary ideals and food became an expression of political power. Majors explains, “The Panthers would be betraying their own beliefs by not pushing a little political orientation along with the grits, bacon, and eggs” they dispensed each morning.

Today there are several West Oakland farmers markets in action that echo these themes of racial empowerment. My thesis focused on several of these markets, like “Mo Better Foods” and “Phat Beets Produce,” which provide both locally grown food and social empowerment within a community many residents believe to be historically disenfranchised.

Kaiser Permanente’s continued progress and inspiration

Given Kaiser Permanente’s nutritional history coupled with Oakland’s revolutionary food movement past, Joel Salatin could not have delivered his somewhat radical message to a better group in a better location. Kaiser Permanente initially focused on healthy food in hospitals, and then on bringing local, sustainable food to the community through the Kaiser Permanente farmers markets in Oakland.

What follows logically is a bridging of those two ideals: bring even more local and sustainable food in to hospital meals. Kaiser Permanente hospitals already bring in over 600 pounds per week of sustainably grown vegetables on patient entrée plates at 21 Northern California Kaiser Permanente Hospitals, and Salatin hopes his talk will encourage them to expand that trend and do even more. When he visited Oakland in January, Salatin said:

“The idea of bringing local food right into the façade of a hospital — there couldn’t be a better match. . . If anyone should lead the way in bringing this nutrient-dense food, food that heals people, heals the soil, heals communities, it should be the hospital. Every sphere of its existence should be healing.”

*Grace Emery is an intern with Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources. She is a graduate of Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA, and is pursuing a career in public health.

**Grace Emery, “‘Feeding Ourselves’: Power and Participation in West Oakland Food Movements.” Senior Political Science thesis for Whitman College. Winner of the 2010 Whitman College Robert Fluno Award for Best Politics Thesis.

For more about Joel Salatin’s visit to Oakland Kaiser Permanente,

To learn more about Kaiser Permanente’s green programs:

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Rosie park in Richmond not just for Rosies

posted on May 19, 2010

By Ginny McPartland   

World War II changed everything. Women dared to strike out for the first time into a man’s world of work. America’s harbors sprouted hyperactive shipyards, and a burgeoning U.S. heavy industry turned out the steady stream of weapons and vehicles needed to outlast our enemies. “We won the war because we out-produced everyone else,” observed Lucille “Penny” Price, a Richmond, California, shipyard electrician during the war. 

Diverse shipyard workers in class

A grateful American society has been thanking the stereotypical “Rosie the Riveter” for her role in war production ever since the war ended 65 years ago. About 25 percent of the hundreds of thousands of West Coast shipyard workers were women, but the park is really dedicated to all home front workers – welders, electricians, pipe fitters, cleaners, helpers – everyone. 

Telling the “Rosie” stories, as well as chronicling the dramatic societal changes the war spawned, is the mission of the Rosie the Riveter/World War II National Historical Park in Richmond. The park sits on the Richmond waterfront where the wartime Kaiser shipyards were situated. 

Celebrating World War II’s home front legacy 

As the nation marks the 65th anniversary of the war’s end this year, the Rosie park celebrates its 10 years as an institution dedicated to keeping the lessons of World War II from being forgotten. Kaiser Permanente, whose medical care program started in the Kaiser West Coast shipyards in 1945, also celebrates its decade-long association with the park to keep the war’s legacy alive. 

The health plan’s contributions to the park’s mission will be formally recognized on Monday, May 24, when the city of Richmond and the National Park Service present Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources Director Tom Debley with the 2010 Home Front Award. Debley is being honored for “initiatives to create and support the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park.” 

Ambulances at the ready in Richmond

The powerful synergy of the national park-Kaiser Permanente partnership was highlighted at a recent party to raise funds for the Rosie the Riveter National Park Trust. Debley was guest speaker and gave his talk about the history of health care reform. 

About 150 people attended the annual event in the old cafeteria on the former site of Kaiser Shipyard No.3, raising $38,000 for various trust community projects. These projects include Rosie’s Girls, a summer camp for adolescent girls; restoration of Atchison Village wartime housing, which is on the National Register of Historic Places thanks to work by the Rosie trust. You can find out more about trust projects at 

The cafeteria, an ugly duckling the day before, was transformed into a lovely swan by Saturday night. NPS Ranger Elizabeth Tucker, along with Rosie Trust dinner co-chairperson Jane Bartke and others, dressed up the place with a couple hundred posters, photos and other war era artifacts. Rosemary Blaylock, a friend of Bartke, collected products and household items that recalled a simpler time before the war. She made up see-through packets that contained wartime candies M&Ms, malt balls, and bite-size York’s Peppermint patties. 

Among the guests at dinner was a sunny Kaiser Permanente President and CEO George Halvorson and his photographer wife Lorie Halvorson; pioneering Permanente physicians Morris Collen and Ed Schoen, who treated shipyard workers; Diane Hedler, director of Quality for the Permanente Federation and Rosie trust board member; Alide Chase, senior vice president of Quality and Safety; Robert Erickson, retired chief counsel for Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals; Glen Hentges, chief financial officer for the Permanente Federation; Clair Lisker, retired hospital nursing administrator and educator, her family including her son Wes Lisker a physician at Hayward Medical Center; John August, executive director of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions; Dianne Dunlap, August’s deputy and member of the Rosie trust board; Holly Potter, vice president, public relations and stakeholder management, Brand Strategy, Communications and Public Relations; Bill Graber, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals Board of Directors member; Richard Reed, senior project manager, Health Plan Process Administration; and Mark Aquino, Patient Care Services. 

Of course, the national park service was well represented by Ranger Betty Soskin Reid, our most celebrated local Rosie who worked in the shipyards and is the oldest ranger in the park system; park Superintendent Martha Lee; Ric Borjes, Chief of Cultural Resources for four Bay area park sites; and Elizabeth Tucker, park ranger and all-around get-things-done person. Other special guests of the night were Bernice Grimes, of Walnut Creek, who was a scaler at the Kaiser shipyards,  Mary Gillum, of Portland, Ore., who was a machinist in an Oregon Kaiser shipyard, and Marian Sousa, a draftswoman in Shipyard #3. 

Rosie Marian Wynn, a wartime pipe welder, Marjorie Hill, a Red Oak Victory volunteer, Amanita Cornejo, a Contra Costa College volunteer, and Marian Sousa helped with set-up and clean-up for the dinner. 

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Climb the gangplank to learn about World War II’s social legacy

posted on March 13, 2010


Photo courtesy of Red Oak Victory

By Ginny McPartland
Heritage writer

If you grew up in the Bay Area, or anywhere in America for that matter, you’re missing the boat if you haven’t been out to experience the Red Oak Victory ship docked on the Richmond waterfront.

Granted it’s difficult to find, and in fact, you may never have heard of it. Not to worry, most people haven’t yet visited the Rosie the Riveter National Park where the ship is found.

The Red Oak Victory, built in the Kaiser Richmond shipyards in 1944, is a huge hulk of seaworthy steel that embodies a million stories pertinent to our society’s past.

The ammunition ship, saved from scrap in 1998 by the Richmond Museum of History, serves as the chief artifact of the home front city’s museum collection. Volunteers have renovated much of the ship, which carried essential cargo for battles in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

Richmond, and other Bay Area shipyards, figured fantastically in WWII home front America. The Bay Area was radically changed forever by the phenomenal influx of 200,000 shipyard workers and their families from around the nation. Every type of individual was represented in the newly configured social structure of California.

The legacy of World War II’s sociological impact is fully explored and documented in books and other items in the Red Oak’s museum gift shop. Notable examples are: “To Place Our Deeds” by Shirley Ann Wilson Moore; and “World War II Shipyards by the Bay” by Nicholas A. Veronico.

Red Oak's main mast

Red Oak’s main mast

Just a few changes nudged by the war: Women working with men in industrial settings for equal pay; blacks and minorities working with whites for comparable pay; the emergence of professional child care centers; employment for the disabled; and affordable prepaid preventive health care provided by employers.
The medical care program started in the wartime shipyards lives on as Kaiser Permanente and is well documented in Tom Debley’s book “Dr. Sidney R. Garfield: The Visionary Who Turned Sick Care into Health Care,” published in 2009 by Permanente Press.

Changes in the status of women and minorities largely reverted after the war, but the seeds were deeply planted for the civil rights and women’s liberation movements of the 1960s.

Now for my confession: I grew up in Richmond, and I had never seen the shipyards or the Red Oak Victory until recently. My first visit to the floating museum was only a few weeks ago. Bay Area Historian Steve Gilford, a director on the museum board, gave me two tours of Shipyard 3 and the Red Oak. My eyes were opened to the treasure that is preserved in the depths of this honey-combed hunk of war grey welded and riveted steel.

The ship experience starts with a climb up the gangplank, a portable, suspended aluminum staircase to the main deck. From there, you step over the raised rims of the hatchways and navigate steel ladders to the various compartments of the midship house and the deckhouse. Down from the main deck you’ll find the museum, gift shop, and meeting room in a cleaned-up cargo hold.

Red Oak’s industrial mixer for batter

One cheery way to introduce yourself to the historic waterfront is to partake of the $6 pancake breakfast offered on the Red Oak Victory once a month from April to October. The first one for 2010 is April 11.

To get to the Red Oak Victory, take I80 to 580 West. Stay on the freeway past the Rosie the Riveter park exit and take Canal Boulevard instead. Follow Canal all the way to the bay and wind your way through the industrial area to Berth 6A.

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Henry Kaiser’s Legacy Woven into Rich California Tapestry

posted on November 26, 2009
Kaiser on horseback at site of his first California road project

Kaiser on horseback at site of his first California road project

What do Henry Kaiser, Carol Burnett, and George Lucas have in common? Not obvious? How about John Madden, romance novelist Danielle Steel, bodybuilder Joe Weider – and Henry Kaiser? Not intuitive? OK, what about Clint Eastwood, restaurateur Alice Waters, and Color Purple author Alice Walker? Still stumped?

Try this combination: Henry Kaiser, Earl Warren, Leland Stanford, architect Julia Morgan, Hiram Johnson, photographer Dorothea Lange, pilot Amelia Earhart, and polio vaccine developer Jonas Salk. Starting to see a pattern here? These famous historical figures are all recent inductees into the California Hall of Fame.

Henry Kaiser, 20th Century industrialist and co-founder of Kaiser Permanente Health Plan, will be officially inducted into the California Hall of Fame (launched in 2006) in December.  This will be Kaiser’s eighth inclusion in lists of hall-of-fame honorees, including the U.S. Labor Hall of Fame in Washington, D.C., where he was honored in 1990.

California Gov. Arnold Swartzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver announced the 2009 list of honorees this fall. They are (alphabetically): entertainer Carol Burnett, former Intel CEO Andrew Grove, governor and U.S. senator Hiram Johnson (19th Century), decathlete and philanthropist Rafer Johnson, Henry Kaiser, philanthropist and peace activist Joan Kroc, filmmaker George Lucas, football commentator John Madden, gay rights advocate Harvey Milk, artist Fritz Scholder, author Danielle Steel, fitness and bodybuilding pioneer Joe Weider, and Air Force test pilot General Chuck Yeager.


To learn more about the 2009 inductees and the 38 from previous years, go to

Schwarzenegger said the intent of the hall of fame is to highlight the broad range of California interests by honoring trailblazers who have distinguished themselves in more than one field and “impacted the world with their overall courage, determination, and creativity.”

Henry Kaiser, it can’t be disputed, personifies the governor’s definition of California’s best and brightest. His amazing career began in 1913 when he bought a failing road-building company and turned it to success with innovation in paving techniques and branching into building levees and dams.

When Kaiser lost his bid to build the Shasta Dam, he started a cement company to provide the six million tons needed for the northern California project and quickly became the world’s largest cement producer.

Kaiser's Barge 21 on Bay Bridge construction

Kaiser's Barge 21 on Bay Bridge construction

He played a major role in the construction of such pre-War wonders as the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River, the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River in Washington State, and the 1933-built Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge. He even built roads in Cuba and levees in Mississippi.

During World War II, Kaiser established West Coast shipyards whose workers built war ships at record-breaking speed. Kaiser employed a mix of skilled and unskilled workers that included the first women shipyard workers, as well as African-Americans, Chinese, Hispanics, and Native Americans.

Making of a health care program

Taking care of workers, many transplanted from the South and other parts of the country, entailed the creation of a health care program that placed emphasis on workers’ safety and a healthy lifestyle to avoid illness and injury. With 100,000 shipyard workers in the four Richmond, Calif. shipyards alone, the Kaiser Health Plan became the largest civilian medical care program on the Home Front of World War II.

Sidney Garfield, MD, developed and ran the medical care program, based on a prepaid, group practice model he had found successful on earlier Kaiser worker care programs. When the shipbuilding contracts evaporated at the end of the War, Kaiser and Garfield opened the health plan to the public. Eventually, union agreements kept the plan afloat and allowed it to grow to serve 8.5 million members today.

After the War, Kaiser turned to other industrial endeavors — manufacturing automobiles, homes, dishwashers, aluminum, steel, chemicals, electronics, and aeronautics.  But Kaiser always wished — and believed — that he would be best remembered for his work to provide better health care for all people.

In the decade before his death in 1967, Kaiser often said:

“Of all the things I’ve done, I expect only to be remembered for . . .  filling the people’s greatest need — good health.”

— Ginny McPartland

Kaiser Permanente Historian Tom Debley will be interviewed Tuesday, Dec. 1, on Capitol Public Radio (KXJZ 90.9 FM) about Henry Kaiser’s legacy and his induction into the California Hall of Fame. The interview will air on Insight with Jeffrey Callison from 10:05  to 11:18 a.m.  For more information:

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