, Heritage writer
When Hollywood descended on the sprawling, bustling Kaiser Richmond shipyards during World War II it was sure to cause a buzz. Beside the standard patriotic Home Front promotion films of shipbuilding, such as the classic documentary “We Build Tankers,” the entertainment industry also tapped into the natural energy of the yards for two major motion pictures.
The first was “Man from Frisco.” It was based on the script “Man from Brooklyn,” written by George Carleton Brown and directed by Robert Florey (1900-1979). Brown would later write screenplays for the 1960s TV comedy series McHale’s Navy.
The second major wartime film shot in the Kaiser shipyards was “Since You Went Away,” released June 1944. It was written and directed by David O. Selznick and starred Jennifer Jones, Claudette Colbert, Joseph Cotton, Shirley Temple, and Lionel Barrymore.
“Man from Frisco” was a fictional story based on the iconic industrialist Henry J. Kaiser, named Matt Braddock in the film and played by actor Michael O’Shea. Other leading roles were played by Gene Lockhart, Dan Duryea, and Anne Shirley.
The plot involved upstart Kaiser and his innovative shipbuilding practices locking horns with a veteran local competitor. The first clues of the film surfaced December 7, 1942, when Republic Studios announced their most ambitious motion picture, initially titled “Victory Fleet.” News accounts noted that “It is with ships, and more ships, that Uncle Sam will avenge the Japanese sneak on our fleet at Pearl Harbor. Certainly, no man stands out in our defense effort more colorfully than Kaiser, who believes in getting ships out first and talking about it later.”
Alas, the film did not do well with many critics. The New York Times reviewer Bosley Crowther sniffed “…Some of the shipyard scenes are vibrant, and the documentation of building is good. But you can’t expect much from a picture that is so obviously propped up on clichés.” The Hollywood Reporter reviewer termed the picture “disappointing” due to its “melodramatic Hollywood treatment,” despite it containing “numerous absorbing shots of the great shipyards at Richmond, Calif., and along the line a fund of extremely interesting information is given concerning the high-speed operation and how they evolved.”
Some reviews were more positive, focusing on the patriotic message of home front workers:
There are thousands of “extras” in Republic’s dramatic new picture who receive no screen credit. These “extras” are the Americans who are employees of a shipyard in Richmond, where much of the background material for the screen plays was filmed. Those men and women are the people about whom the story is concerned. Working twenty-four hours each day, they keep American ships sliding down the ways to the sea to take food, men, and equipment to the battlefronts of the war.
Filming in the Richmond shipyards (and nearby Point Richmond) caused quite a buzz. The weekly Kaiser shipyard newspaper Fore ‘n’ Aft wrote about it November 19, 1943, with photos [above, right]:
Republic’s Director Robert Florey points the camera at a bit of Yard One. The film -“Man from Frisco” – is about the guy who brings prefabrication to shipbuilding. Naturally, you’ll want to see it. Paramount gets Yard One’s main drag and home-bound workers. So, you’re in pictures!
When it opened May 18, 1944, in Oakland, Richmond, and San Francisco, Fore ‘n’ Aft carried this commentary:
If this is the way we look to Hollywood – and it apparently is, since Stephanie Bachelor ploys a woman shipbuilder in Republic Pictures’ “Man from Frisco” – then all we can say is, “Gosh!” Background shots for this movie of the life and loves of a shipbuilding executive were obtained in our own yards. That dazed look in Stephanie’s eyes is the result of not wearing flash goggles.
“Man from Frisco” got a rousing revival in the summer of 2010 when it was shown at the recently refurbished S.S. Red Oak Victory ship at Kaiser Richmond shipyard #3 with historical context provided by Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources consultant Steve Gilford.
In ”Since You Went Away,” the shipyards were merely a backdrop to the poignant home front story about a housewife who struggles to care for their two daughters and a pair of lodgers while her husband is off in the war. NYT’s critic Crowther bemoaned its almost 3-hour length and thin plot. But at the 1945 Oscars it won Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.
Again, Hollywood stars in the shipyards were a welcome bonus during the grueling frenzy of war production. Fore ‘n’ Aft, September 8, 1944, published a photo [right] with the caption:
Wearing a becoming backdrop of 5,000 Yard Three workers, movie star Jennifer Jones visited Richmond last week. Inset, Anita Colby of Selznick Studios, who caused the Big Wind of 1944 hereabouts when she appeared with Jennifer. You know, whistles.
Short link to this article: http://k-p.li/2xbLlLo
On a rainy and snowy night in November 1945, U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Emory Land dropped his famously brusque manner to confess that he was “overwhelmed with sentiment.”
While sentiment is not an emotion often associated with World War II, Land was referring to some deep bonds that bubbled to the surface as he surveyed the shipyard and oversaw the last wartime contract ship to be launched, the S.S. Scott E. Land.
She had been built in the Kaiser Vancouver, Wash., shipyards, which produced 20 of these C4 cargo carriers and troopships.
“I’m sentimental about my father for whom it [the ship] is named. I’m sentimental about this magnificent shipyard. I’m sentimental about this young industrialist (Edgar Kaiser). I’m sentimental about these thousands of workers who came here from all parts of the nation to make the shipbuilding records possible.”
The war had been over more than three months, and the massive Home Front campaign was switching gears to a peacetime economy. The mighty Kaiser shipyards were finishing up war contracts, and everyone was uncertain as to what the future would hold.
An account in the shipyard newspaper The Bos’n’s Whistle gives us this touching account of that last launch on November 24th:
Both Land and Kaiser spoke of the strong father-son ties that influenced them so greatly. Kaiser pointed out that both their fathers were imbued with the spirit of the west and its potentialities. Land’s father, Scott E. Land, was a pioneer in the field of developing the west, and he raised his family in the early days of the West in Colorado. He was instrumental in starting its development as a recreational and scenic center, and envisioned its later development a generation ahead of Henry Kaiser, who has so materially carried forward the dream of western development.
Short link to this article: http://k-p.li/1sIci2D
War is hell.
One of the grim metrics of conflict is the casualty rate. During World War II no branch of the U.S. Armed Forces suffered as high a proportion as those who served in the American Merchant Marine – and who weren’t even in the military. Merchant mariners suffered the highest rate of casualties of any service, losing 3.9 percent of their 243,000 members, more than the 3.7 percent of the U.S. Marines.
An earlier blog post laid out the background on the role of the wartime Merchant Marine and their struggle for respect and benefits. This year two legislators introduced HR563, the World War II Merchant Mariners Act, which would recognize surviving seamen “for their bravery and sacrifice” and award them $25,000 each.
However, few know of the support that famed World War II shipbuilder Henry J. Kaiser offered those mariners during the war, and how that support exemplified his commitment to nondiscrimination in serving communities.
With the urging of maritime unions, the United Seamen’s Service was created August 8, 1942, by the War Shipping Administration with the approval of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It sought to provide facilities for rest, recreation and safety for seafarers who carried troops and war materials to ports in the war zones. Eventually more than 125 locations would be established worldwide.
It was turned over for private operation and ownership on September 13, 1942. Henry J. Kaiser was the first president, and the War Shipping Administration’s Admiral Emory S. Land was chairman of the board. Joseph Curran, of the National Maritime Union, and Harry Lundeberg, of the National Seafarer’s Union, were vice presidents.
“United Seamen’s Service Opens Recreational Club” in The New York Age from October 17, 1942, touted the the first USS facility. The club was named for Andrew Furuseth (1854-1938), a central figure in the formation of two influential maritime unions: the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific and the International Seamen’s Union. A Kaiser-built Liberty ship named for Furuseth would be launched from Kaiser Richmond shipyard number 1 the next month, on September 7.
Officers and men of the American Merchant Marine, many of them survivors of ships sunk by the enemy, cheered as the United Seamen’s Service opened for their exclusive use, the first of a coastal chain of recreational clubs at 30 East 37th street.
The staid, brownstone, four story building, owned by Mrs. Julius S. Morgan and situated within a few doors of J.P. Morgan’s home, was “dressed” for the occasion from roof to basement with code flags and burgees, as a band played nautical airs. Accustomed to cramped accommodations aboard ship, the seamen praised the club’s spacious and luxuriously appointed lounge rooms, game rooms, library, and the dance floor with its modernistic bar.
Speaking at the opening of the club, Douglas P. Falconer, national director of United Seamen’s Service, declared that the neglect of human needs of seamen was a disgrace to the nation. He promised that his organization would do its utmost to “rub out that disgrace.”
In describing the program of the United, Seamen’s Service…Mr. Falconer said: “We’ll look after every American seaman picked up by a rescue ship and landed in a strange port far from home. If he needs medical care, well see that he gets it on the spot. We’ll replace his lost clothes and papers, notify his folk at home. We’ll see that he gets proper food and rest and freedom from worry over how he’s going to get back home and on another ship. For that’s all the men themselves ask is a chance to get patched up so that they can go to sea again!
A postcard for the club noted that, in addition to coffee and home-cooked food, the club had “medical and social services staff in daily attendance.” That’s care and coverage together.
A January, 1943, article “All Seamen Are the Same” in The Crisis (the magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) praised the USS’s impact in the fight against racism and discrimination:
The United Seamen’s Service is outstanding in that the set-up makes no provision for discrimination because of race or creed. Rest homes are planned in many of the southern seaboard communities where merchant seamen will live together without special provisions being made for Negroes…
With the existence of separate USO [United Service Organizations] centers within the army camps and separate canteens for white and Negro soldiers, the action of the United Seamen’s Service presents a lesson in practical democracy that may well be copied by many other groups, including the United States Navy, Army, and Marine Corps.
Henry J. Kaiser was called the “Patriot in Pinstripes” for his contributions during World War II, but his social justice legacy extended to Home Front veterans without uniforms as well.
Short link to this article: http://k-p.li/1QwHP0x
Blog updated 11/20/2015
“Peace means so much more than a cessation of hostilities! Peace is a state of mind. It is based on the sense of security. There can be no peace in the individual soul, unless there is peace in the souls of all with whom we must live and work. Jobs for all could well be the first slogan for a just and lasting peace.”
–Henry J. Kaiser, “Jobs for all” address before the Herald Tribune Forum, Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York City, October 17, 1944.
Although Henry J. Kaiser earned the sobriquet “Patriot in Pinstripes” for his industrial contributions to the war effort during World War II, he was no hawk. Kaiser’s moral compass always aligned with constructive cooperation rather than conflict, and as the war neared its end he looked toward a better new world.One of Kaiser’s campaigns was the United National Clothing Collection Committee, to which President Roosevelt had appointed Kaiser as the National Chairman in the spring of 1945. Kaiser spurred the month-long drive in April – collecting used clothing for refugees in Europe while the war there was still being fought – by saying: “Our people are going to demonstrate their gratitude for being spared from the horrors which have descended on other lands.” Five months later President Truman would ask Mr. Kaiser to repeat his service. His request stated: “I am…calling upon you again to lead the Nation in this campaign to alleviate incalculable hardships which will be endured next winter unless we act without delay. The results achieved under your leadership earlier this year were magnificent.”
Mr. Kaiser also played a smaller role in a much larger endeavor – the creation of the United Nations. Beginning on April 25, 1945, delegates of 50 nations met for two months in San Francisco for the United Nations Conference on International Organization. Those delegates, and their alternates, drew up the 111-article Charter. It was adopted unanimously on June 25 in the San Francisco Opera House and the next day they signed it in the Herbst Theatre auditorium of the Veterans War Memorial Building. Copies were printed by the University of California Printing Services in Berkeley.
The negotiations were challenging and tiring. On May 3, 1945, 25 members of the French delegation took a break and visited the Kaiser Richmond shipyards, and on May 5th a Cuban delegation came to see the famed yards, followed by representatives of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The war in the Pacific was still raging, and the enormous productive capacity of the yards was displayed in full view of our Allied colleagues. The USSR group included Foreign Commissar Vyacheslav Molotov and Ambassador to the United States Andrei Gromyko. The soviets were accompanied by American Ambassador to the Soviet Union W. Averell Harriman.
Historian Stephen Schlesinger, in Act of Creation: The Founding of the United Nations, described this break in the process: “[Secretary of State Edward] Stettinius…took Molotov to visit the Kaiser shipyards outside San Francisco to see the five-mile-long factory where ships were being manufactured at the rate of two or three a week.” And Mark S. Foster’s excellent Henry J. Kaiser: Builder in the Modern American West tells the story of Molotov’s reaction through an intermediary: “Mr. Molotov was profoundly impressed. You gave Mr. Molotov a splendid demonstration of the sources of our economic strength.”
Gromyko (1909-1989) would later serve as Minister of Foreign Affairs (1957–1985) and as Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet (1985–1988).
Molotov would become USSR Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1939-1949 and 1953-1956. He served as First Deputy Premier from 1942 to 1957, when he was dismissed from the Presidium of the Central Committee by Nikita Khrushchev. The popular term “Molotov cocktail” for improvised incendiary weapons was coined by WWII Finnish partisans, a pejorative critique of the ill-fated and despised 1939 Nazi-Soviet Non-aggression Pact.
The war had completely destroyed Soviet shipbuilding capacity, and Henry J. Kaiser began discussions with representatives regarding replacement ships and rebuilding of yards. However, as distrust quickly mounted between the two countries those plans evaporated.
Kaiser Permanente will be a co-host at the United Nations Foundation’s celebration of the UN’s 70th anniversary in San Francisco on June 26. Both Kaiser Permanente and the United Nations originated in the Bay Area in the summer of 1945, and share a common vision of a better world, especially in terms of the environment and its role in community health.
Thanks to United Nations Foundation historian Chris Whatley for help with this article.
Short link to this story: http://k-p.li/1KgGMO5
, Heritage writer
If you are interested in learning more about the history of Kaiser Permanente, the books listed here are all good resources. With the exception of The Story of Dr. Sidney R. Garfield and Permanente in the Northwest, these books are out of print, but copies can often been located through libraries and mainstream used booksellers, such as AbeBooks , Alibris , Barnes and Noble , Half Price Books or Powell’s Books .
The Story of Dr. Sidney R. Garfield:
The Visionary Who Turned Sick Care Into Health Care
Tom Debley with Jon Stewart
The first biography of Dr. Garfield tells the story of his long and eventful career, during which he turned his 1930s Mojave Desert industrial health care dream into a thriving and enduring reality that continues to offer a practical model for the future of American health care.
The Permanente Press, 2009, 148 pages
Available from The Permanente Press
This book fills a large gap in the history of Kaiser Permanente – the unique contribution made by the Northwest region, especially in the early years. The author, retired Northwest internist Ian C. MacMillan, demonstrates an insider’s insight and enviable access to details that thoroughly enrich this account.
The Permanente Press, 2010, 313 pages
Available from The Permanente Press
A good overview of the World War II Home Front experience in the Kaiser Richmond shipyards. The book is written for the general reader and includes many personal anecdotes about Home Front life.
Richmond Museum of History, 252 pages, 2011
Out of Print
A Model for National Health Care: The History of Kaiser Permanente
This extensively researched book is the definitive academic history of Kaiser Permanente that tells the story of its growth and impact on American health care.
Rutgers University Press, 1993, 265 pages
Embattled Dreams: California in War and Peace, 1940-1950
Part of an extensive history of California series, this book includes discussion of Henry J. Kaiser, his wartime industrial efforts, and the founding of Kaiser Permanente.
Oxford University Press, 2002, 386 pages
Henry J. Kaiser: Builder in the Modern American West
In this academic biography, historian Foster offers the definitive balanced view of Kaiser, covering his mistakes as well as his colossal strengths and successes.
University of Texas Press, 1991, 358 pages
Henry Kaiser, Western Colossus
This very readable biography is by a former Kaiser Steel executive who was an eyewitness to much of Henry Kaiser’s career.
Halo Books, 1991, 434 pages
Kaiser Wakes the Doctors
Paul De Kruif
This book by America’s foremost medical writer of the era was the first ever written about the revolutionary medical care available in the Kaiser World War II shipyards.
Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1943, 158 pages
Kaiser Permanente Health Plan: Why It Works
The author was commissioned to investigate Kaiser Permanente to assess “what it is, how it works, and whether it is good or bad.”
Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 1971, 92 pages
Can Physicians Control the Quality and Costs of Health Care?
The Story of The Permanente Medical Group
John G. Smillie, MD
Dr. Smillie, an early Northern California Permanente physician, offers an insider’s view of the beginnings of the Kaiser Permanente medical care program.
McGraw Hill, 1991, 283 pages
The Kaiser Story
When Henry J. Kaiser passed away in 1967, Kaiser Industries published this short book as a tribute to the company’s founder.
Kaiser Industries, 1968, 72 pages
Life Among the Doctors
Paul de Kruif
A collection of essays on people the author regarded as pioneers in medicine, including: Sidney Garfield, MD, in a section titled “The Last Maverick;” Edna Schrick, MD, whom de Kruif quotes as suggesting to Dr. Garfield that “we learn how to teach the well to take care of themselves…to keep away from doctors”; and Herman Kabat, MD, who founded the Kabat-Kaiser Institute, now the Kaiser Foundation Rehabilitation Center in Vallejo.
Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1949, 470 pages
Mr. Kaiser Goes to Washington: The Rise of a Government Entrepreneur
Stephen B. Adams
Historian Adams offers Kaiser’s story as a case study of “government entrepreneurship.” He explores the symbiotic relations forged by Kaiser and President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The University of North Carolina Press, 1997, 239 pages
The Rich Neighbor Policy: Rockefeller and Kaiser in Brazil
Elizabeth A. Cobbs
Cobbs details how Henry Kaiser’s participation in the Brazilian auto industry impacted U.S. foreign relations and how postwar businessmen sought accommodation with Latin American nationalism by evolving a code of ‘corporate social responsibility.’
Yale University Press, 1992, 273 pages
Historical Review of the Southern California Permanente Medical Group:
Its Role in the Development of the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program in Southern California
Raymond M. Kay, MD
A history of the SCPMG written by Dr. Raymond Kay, who was Dr. Sidney Garfield’s close friend, a pioneer of the Permanente Medical Groups, and the founder of the Southern California Permanente Medical Group.
SCPMG, 1979, 174 pages
An excellent overview of the issues confronting national health care at the end of the 1970s.
Addison-Wesley, 1980, 196 pages
The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994, 170 pages
Kaiser Permanente: A Short History
Gerry Gaintner, EdD, was a Kaiser Permanente employee for 15 years, all in the Information Technology department. He wrote this concise history in 2010, and upon his retirement, gifted it to KP Heritage Resources.
Unpublished, 2011, 42 pages
Available for download (pdf)
Last updated 11/1/2018
The very word screams “futuristic design,” and rightly so. It was industrial designer R. Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller’s term for his exotic road vehicle, so unusual it hardly seems fair to call it a “car.”
Dymaxion, a term Fuller used for describing his geodesic domes as well, was shorthand for Dynamic Maximum Tension. It was aerodynamically shaped like a zeppelin, with a strong and lightweight trussed frame. It had three wheels, two in the front and one in the back. The full-blown version would be nearly 20 feet long, fuel-efficient, and designed to carry up to 11 people. In partnership with design polymath Starling Burgess, Fuller produced a working prototype in their Bridgeport, Connecticut workshop and debuted it at the Chicago World’s Fair (formally known as the “A Century of Progress International Exposition”) in 1933-1934. National columnist Howard Vincent O’Brien described it on August 15, 1934:
[The Dymaxion car] is on exhibit…in the Crystal House, and is well worth a look if you are interested in knowing what sort of vehicle may soon be taking you about.
It’s a three-wheeled affair, driven from the front wheels, and with the engine in the rear. It turns on its own base, and, using a standard Ford engine as a power plant, it will go – says Mr. Fuller – 125 miles an hour, doing 30 miles to the gallon of gasoline.
I haven’t ridden in it yet, but those who have say it floats like an airplane.
Unfortunately, the vehicle never went into production. An accident in October, 1933 killed the test driver and injured several bystander investors, which dampened prospects for further commercial development. The design occupies the fringe area of “good ideas that weren’t practical.”
But visionary industrialist Henry J. Kaiser gave it a shot.
Kaiser made history when he entered the automobile market in 1945, applying his industrial mass production skills to a postwar world hungry for vehicles. He partnered with veteran automobile executive Joseph Frazer to establish the new Kaiser-Frazer Corporation, from the remnants of Graham-Paige, of which Frazer had been president. Kaiser’s name would grace the affordable and practical end of the line, and Frazer would be the nameplate on the upscale side of the lot.
It’s not commonly known that years earlier, at the end of 1942, Henry J. Kaiser paid Bucky Fuller to engineer and produce a ¼ scale model Dymaxion, to be completed in early 1943. At that time Henry Kaiser was committed to various wartime vehicle projects under federal support, including building cargo ships and “baby flat top” aircraft carriers, prototyping lightweight jeeps, and even experimenting with giant flying wings. So it should come as no surprise that, with the support of the Board of Economic Warfare (on which Fuller served as staffmember), he explored the advantages of Fuller’s Dymaxion.
According to Fuller scholar J. Baldwin, the updated design would include several of these features:
- Powered by three separate air-cooled “outboard” type (opposed cylinder) engines, each coupled to its own wheel by a variable fluid drive. Each of the engine-drivewheel assemblies was detachable. The engines themselves were run always at the same speed; the speed of the car was controlled by varying the quantity of fluid in the coupling;
Low-horsepower engines – 15 to 25 hp, cut down to one engine at cruising speed, for 40-50 mpg;
Steered at cruising speeds by the front wheels, rear-wheel steering was used only as an auxiliary for tight turns, or to move sideways;
High speed stability enhanced by extending the rear wheel on a boom to lengthen the wheelbase.
Alas, the prototype results were not impressive.
In August, 1946, author Lester Velie wrote this in a three-part series on Henry J. Kaiser for Collier’s magazine:
Kaiser had dabbled with cars since 1942. In that year he commissioned Buckminster Fuller, the industrial designer, to design a car. Fuller came up with what he called a dymaxion car, a three-wheel job, with a motor that could be hitched to front or rear, or to any of the three wheels. He made a mock-up of the car’s tear-drop body in plywood. This and engineering drawings he submitted to Kaiser, expecting Kaiser to commission him to do the further necessary engineering toward a completed prototype.
Kaiser shipped the plywood mock-up of the dymaxion car to his cement plant at Permanente, Calif. There, without waiting for such refinements as a specially designed motor, he slung a secondhand Willys-Knight engine on the three-wheel job and started riding.
The dymaxion turned over.
Undaunted, Kaiser brushed himself off and went to New York where he announced belligerently before a National Association of Manufacturers audience that if the automobile industry lacked the courage to plan postwar automobiles now, he would have to do it himself.
Despite Henry Kaiser’s enthusiastic and reckless test drive, the Dymaxion’s road stability was not an insurmountable design flaw (it did have a few, including poor rear visibility and an unfortunate tendency for the rear to lift off the ground at speed). But the project ended there, and it never saw mass production.
In 1957 Henry J. Kaiser and Bucky Fuller would again collaborate on another project, the commercialization of aluminum geodesic domes.
Jeff Lane, director of the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tennessee, has been faithfully recreating a working model of the first Dymaxion prototype, and Noel Murphy is directing a documentary film on this magnificent, though flawed, vehicle. Recently a set of original blueprints turned up, and an excellent set of Dymaxion photos can be seen here.
On the broader subject of the vision of Henry J. Kaiser and his role in the automotive industry, listen to the stirring podcast by Hemmings Motor News’ Jim Donnelly and read his companion article “Master of the West: The Towering Accomplishments of Henry J. Kaiser” in the Hemmings Classic Car March, 2015 issue.
Short link to this article: http://bit.ly/16GYif1
It’s not every day a first lady visits a Kaiser facility, but it happened in the middle of World War II – and she visited two.
Eleanor Roosevelt came to the Kaiser Company shipyard on the Columbia River in Vancouver, Washington to personally launch the U.S.S. Casablanca, the first in a new class of small, versatile and inexpensive aircraft carriers.
The class was named for the Battle of Casablanca, fought November 8-12, 1942, where the U.S. Navy fought vessels under the control of Nazi-occupied France. The 50 ships the Kaiser yards produced comprised almost a third of the American carriers built during the war and were launched in less than two years.
The ship was known as the Alazon Bay while under construction and renamed the U.S.S. Casablanca two days before she slid down the ways on April 5, 1943. Five of the “baby flattops” were sunk in action during the war, and none survive today.
Health care, not warfare
But Eleanor wasn’t just there for the latest in military technology. She was more interested in the social programs affiliated with the massive shipbuilding projects, including child care, prepared meals for double-duty women, and health care.
Henry J. Kaiser listened to her and responded by introducing two controversial (at the time) programs for shipyard workers – model child care facilities near two of the shipyards and pre-cooked meals for working moms.
As for health care, Mr. Kaiser needed no convincing. Mrs. Roosevelt was given a grand tour of the state-of-the-art Northern Permanente Foundation Hospital built in September, 1942 for the shipyard workers.
Eleanor wrote a regular newspaper column, “My Day.” Her April 7, 1943, entry included this reflection on the Portland visit:
A little after 9:00 o’clock Monday morning we were met in Portland, Ore., by Mr. Henry J. Kaiser and his son Mr. Edgar Kaiser. A group of young Democrats presented me with a lovely bunch of red roses at the airport and then we were whisked off for a busy day.
Our first tour was in the Kaiser shipyard itself. It is certainly busy and businesslike. Everything seems to be in place and moving as quickly as possible along a regular line of production. I was particularly interested in the housing, so I was shown the dormitories and then the hospital, which is run on a species of health cooperative basis costing the employees seven cents a day. It looked to me very well-equipped and much used, but I was told there were few accidents in the shipyards owing to safety devices. The men come in for medical care and some surgery and their families are also cared for…
The ship went safely down the ways at the appointed time and was duly christened. It was interesting and impressive to see all the workers and their families gathered together for the occasion and I felt there was a spirit of good workmanship in this yard.
Mrs. Roosevelt was so intrigued with the new medical care program that she wrote Permanente’s founding physician, Dr. Sidney R. Garfield, who happened to be away at the time of her visit. “What is your plan for preventive care?” she asked.
“This is the solution of medical care for the majority of people in this country”
Dr. Sidney Garfield replied in a letter May 25, 1943, in which he took the opportunity to explain how aligned the first lady’s vision was with that of the Permanente Health Plan:
I regret very much not to have been present during your recent visit to Vancouver, Washington, and not to have had the opportunity of showing you through our medical facilities and hospitals in the Oakland-Richmond, California area.
Your expression of interest in preventive medicine is rather closely allied with our thoughts for medical care. Mr.Kaiser and I believe that preventive medicine is more important than the curative side. Our medical programs have always been developed with this fact in mind…
Because of the economy of such a medical plan the cost of medical care to the people is lowered. For the small amount charged at Coulee Dam we were able to provide the best of medical care and pay for the hospital facilities provided in a period of four years. When the cost ofthe facilities is paid for the charge per week to the people can be reduced, or the money used to provide more facilities, added equipment, and for research. Mr. Kaiser and all of us who have had a part in these programs feel that this is the solution of medical care for the majority of people in this country. It is self-sustaining and unites the medical profession, the employer and employee all in one common objective – “to keep the people well and to prevent their illness.”
Your interest in our organization is greatly appreciated. If we can be of further service in answering your questions please do not hesitate to call on us.
Sidney R. Garfield, M.D.
Medical Director, Kaiser Co., Inc., West Coast Shipyards
Years later, Eleanor Roosevelt’s light would shine on KP again.
In 2007 Kaiser Permanente was one of three recipients of the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award from American Rights at Work, an advocacy and public policy organization responsible for promoting and defending workers’ rights since 2003. Kaiser Permanente received the award for “creating a management-union partnership based on mutual trust and respect.”
Short link to this article: http://bit.ly/1r3YZUW
by Bryan Culp
Actor James Garner’s passing last weekend at age 86 brought new attention to his incredible body of work spanning half a century in Hollywood; his death also brings to mind Henry J. Kaiser’s bold foray into television.
In 1957, Kaiser bankrolled Garner’s star vehicle “Maverick,” a hugely popular television program. The largely unknown Garner played the amiable gambler Bret Maverick, a role that made him famous.
“Maverick” aired on Sunday evening prime time from 1957 to 1962 on the ABC network under the lone sponsorship of Kaiser Aluminum. The show, broadcast during the “Kaiser Aluminum Hour,” was an overnight sensation and the number-one-rated show in America for several seasons.
Henry J. Kaiser could not have been more pleased. He had taken a big gamble on “Maverick”. The single sponsorship network contract ran $7 million, a big commitment of advertising dollars for Kaiser Aluminum in 1957.
Kaiser polled his managers on the idea of underwriting a Sunday night TV western. There were 31 votes against and one in favor, Kaiser himself.
But Kaiser followed his own lights, as readers of these pages know. He was the first industrialist to champion employer-sponsored health care. He expanded roles for women in the workforce, and opened societal fissures for the pursuit of civil and equal rights.
Throughout his career, Garner moved smoothly from TV to movies and back again. He appeared in more than 50 films, including “The Children’s Hour” (1961) with Audrey Hepburn and “The Americanization of Emily” (1964) with Julie Andrews.
Garner also will be remembered as the bedeviled ex-con turned detective, Jim Rockford, in the long running series, “The Rockford Files,” in the 1970s. For more on his career see the remembrance in The New York Times.
It is not surprising then that Kaiser quickly took to Garner’s easy-going onscreen personality. The two men enjoyed each other’s company and Garner visited Kaiser at home in Lake Tahoe and in Hawaii.
So when you think fondly of the acting genius of James Garner – from his romantic scenes with Audrey Hepburn to his car chases in “Rockford Files” – recall that Henry J. Kaiser financed his first big break.
Anniversaries offer an opportunity to reflect on the past and anticipate the future. It is at such times that history helps an organization take a deep breath and focus again on its purpose and direction.
In 1982, two of the original Permanente Foundation hospitals – Oakland and Richmond – embarked on a campaign to celebrate “Caring and growing since 1942.” In addition to a special issue of the employee magazine KP Reporter, the hospitals produced a short video that swept from the World War II Kaiser shipyard health plan to the hugely expanded Oakland medical center, and beyond.
The Oakland Hospital opened August 1, 1942, with 70 beds. The Richmond Field Hospital, closer to the shipyards but with only 10 beds, opened August 10, 1942.
The video includes footage of wartime President Franklin D. Roosevelt chatting with Henry J. Kaiser at a ship launching, and founding physician Sidney R. Garfield, M.D., describing the goals of this remarkable health plan.
Short link to this article: http://bit.ly/1rs7AAt
August 21, 1942.
Edgar F. Kaiser, Henry J. Kaiser’s eldest son, was busy managing three Kaiser shipyards in the Pacific Northwest in a massive effort to win World War II. Part of that mobilization included providing health care for thousands of Home Front workers, many of whom were in poor health yet expected to function as productive industrial laborers.
Unable to attend the dedication of the first Permanente Foundation hospital in Oakland – the initial facility in the medical complex that would steadfastly serve the Kaiser Permanente Health Plan for more than 72 years – Edgar sent this telegram to his father. It’s a touching testament to the bond between son and father and a pledge to public service that both recognized in the nascent health plan.
August 21, 1942
Mr. and Mrs. Henry J. Kaiser Sr.
Henry J. Kaiser Co.
We know that today’s dedication marks the realization of a long cherished dream. The rebuilding of this hospital, the birth of its organization, is stimulated as we boys know by one desire – the service that individual thought and care can give to individuals. This service is the life behind doing the job well. This is one of the many principles you have both taught us all. The dedication today of Permanente Foundation is tangible fulfillment of that principle. While today we cannot be with you and the organization that will make Permanente Foundation live, we are with you in spirit. Sue and the boys here up north join me in sending you our best.
Short link to this article: http://bit.ly/TKyTd2