Posts Tagged ‘Henry J. Kaiser’

Old Oakland hospital holds memories of Kaiser Permanente’s dynamic past

posted on June 20, 2014

Rebuilt Oakland Medical Center
to open for business July 1

This is a view of the old Fabiola maternity wing that was to become Kaiser Permanente's first Oakland hospital.

This is a view of the old Fabiola charity hospital’s maternity wing, built in 1923. This structure was transformed into Kaiser Permanente’s first Oakland hospital, opened in 1942.

By Ginny McPartland
Heritage writer

If the walls of Kaiser Permanente’s soon-to-be-replaced Oakland Medical Center could talk, they would tell an epic story with many dramatic chapters.

The structure – cobbled together with many additions over seven decades – might channel the spirit of the Victorian-era nurses who tended to the sick and injured at the Fabiola charity hospital that sat near the corner of MacArthur Boulevard and Broadway from 1887 to 1932.

The first Kaiser Permanente Foundation Hospital, which opened in Oakland in 1942, might also reverberate with the heart-wrenching tales of injured World War II Kaiser Richmond shipyard workers whose lives were saved in a refurbished wing of the old Fabiola hospital.

For 40-plus years, the medical facility radiated with the passion of a wiry, red-headed, daring and dashing surgeon who teamed up with larger-then-life industrialist Henry J. Kaiser to set up an innovative, prepaid health plan, first for Kaiser’s workers and then for the public.

Physician founder Sidney Garfield’s ideas were incorporated into the design of the original Fabiola hospital refurbishing; in fact, over the next two decades he would play an integral role in designing most Kaiser Permanente facilities.

For his part, Henry Kaiser made sure the care Kaiser Permanente delivered was color-blind; the health plan embraced all people, despite the fact other hospitals in the Bay Area were segregated.

View of the maternity ward at Oakland hospital 1945.

View of the maternity ward at the old Oakland hospital in the early days.

Kaiser Permanente pioneer Avram Yedidia tells a memorable story about several local policemen who visited the Oakland Medical Center in 1946 with an eye to join the Health Plan. Yedidia recalls in his UC Berkeley Bancroft Library 1985 oral history:

“. . . The police chief said to me, ‘You know, when we walked through, I saw that you had some Negroes and whites in the same room. I don’t think we like that.’

“As I can recall, I responded, ‘Do you know this plan started that way, with blacks and whites in the shipyards, and that’s the way it goes. They worked together, and they were sick together.’ ” Yedidia told the police chief: ‘Those who don’t like it shouldn’t join the plan.’ ”

Phenomenal growth and change in 70 years

The seed Garfield and Kaiser planted in the war years has grown exponentially into Kaiser Permanente as we know it, with 9.3 million members and its significant presence in the national health care landscape of today.

Sidney Garfield, just 36 years old when he and Kaiser opened the hospital, had a vision for preventive care and total health for Health Plan members – a vision that played out in many ways in Oakland.

After the war ended in 1945, Dr. Garfield focused on improving the health plan’s quality by creating educational opportunities for physicians and nurses, encouraging research, and setting up ways members could learn how to stay healthy.

Avram Yeddia on the day he retired.

Avram Yedidia, Kaiser Permanente health plan pioneer and consulting economist, on the day he retired in 1982.

In 1947, Henry Kaiser and his wife, Beth, established the Kaiser Foundation School of Nursing and soon the halls of the medical center – expanded by then to 230 beds – were bustling with white-capped student nurses and their strict mentors, all clad in crisp white uniforms and sensible shoes.

Among their leaders was the legendary Dorothea Daniels, who set Kaiser Permanente’s high nursing standards in the early years.

Computer age begins

The Oakland Medical Center also witnessed the queuing up of burly, yet well-dressed longshoremen and other Health Plan members who followed the hospital’s version of the “yellow brick road”, a color-coded tape path that led them through the facility to stations where various tests were performed.

Initially called the “Multiphasic,” these screening tests marked the beginning of Kaiser Permanente’s pioneering work in automated laboratory testing and compilation of electronic medical records, and the Health Plan’s foray into the use of computers in the 1960s.

In 1965, the Oakland Medical Center opened its first specialized cardiac care unit with physicians and nurses trained to use the latest heart monitoring equipment to care for patients.

Nurses use monitoring system in cardiac care unit, circa 1965

Nurses use monitoring system in cardiac care unit, circa 1965

In 1970, physicians in Oakland began a progressive nurse practitioner certification program; specially trained nurses were assigned to see patients who needed routine primary care but didn’t need to see a physician unless a problem emerged.

In 1972, the 12-story hospital tower, which was built on top of the wartime structure, was opened. That extra space allowed Garfield to open Kaiser Permanente’s first Health Education Center, the precursor to today’s healthy living centers.

The Oakland patient education facility was stocked with books, pamphlets, films and tapes that patients could borrow to learn how to prevent and manage chronic illness.

In 1980, new radiology services, including ultrasound and CAT scans, opened on the Oakland campus. In subsequent years, hospital officials established a pediatric intensive care unit and new Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Lithotripsy centers on the Oakland campus.

Garfield separates the well from the sick

In 1981, Garfield was instrumental in the opening of a new primary care center, which was part of his mission to encourage members to take measures to stay healthy and avoid chronic disease, such as diabetes, heart problems and cancer.

Sidney Garfield, MD, Permanente founding physician, walking the walk in Mojave Desert near site of Contractors General Hospital, 1980

Sidney Garfield, MD, Kaiser Permanente founding physician, walking the walk in the Mojave Desert near the site of the first hospital he built, Contractors General Hospital, in 1933. Kaiser Permanente photo, 1980

Sadly, in 1984, Garfield died while still working on his “Total Health” research project. His colleagues finished his endeavor, whose results laid the foundation for the organization’s focus on Total Health that continues today.

The hospital tower that allowed Total Health to spread its wings in the 1970s was doomed in 1994 when the state of California passed seismic safety legislation that required a retrofit of the Oakland main hospital building.

Kaiser Permanente officials decided to replace the hospital with the new Oakland Medical Center across MacArthur Boulevard from the original 1972-built tower. The new Medical Specialty Office Building facing MacArthur opened in January: the new Oakland Medical Center will open on July 1.

Garfield’s Total Health philosophy can still be seen in ways great and small at the Oakland Medical Center, right down to a weekly farmers’ market – founded in 2003 – that served as a template for 50 such markets that operate in communities across the nation today. As the historic structure is abandoned and its memories fade, the passion of its original architect will live on.

Garfield summed up his philosophy of Total Health: “Remember, good health is a way to get more out of your life – more energy, more enjoyment, more potential, more purpose, more life.”

Photo history of the Oakland hospital




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D-Day landings in Normandy showcase fruits of shipyard workers’ labor, foreshadow victory

posted on June 6, 2014

By Ginny McPartland
Heritage writer

The scene on one of the five Normandy beaches following the Allied Forces D-Day landings, June 1944. National Archives photo

Before daybreak on June 6, 1944, 70 years ago this month, the biggest amphibious invasion force in history converged in the English Channel a few miles off the coast of France.

The news that the Allied Forces had finally marshaled a massive conglomeration of men, equipment and warships was thrilling for everyone in Hitler-occupied Europe and for every American.

All eyes, ears and hearts were focused on those five beaches of Normandy – codenamed Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno, and Sword – where the Allies would land and ultimately take back Europe from Hitler’s four-year Nazi stranglehold.

The long-awaited report of the Allied attack was especially thrilling for shipyard workers who had been turning out thousands of ships deemed necessary to defeat the Axis powers in Europe and Asia.

Kaiser shipyards play role in massive D-Day thrust

Since 1941, even before Pearl Harbor, Henry J. Kaiser’s West Coast shipyards had been producing ships in record numbers (through the U.S. Maritime Commission) for the Merchant Marine, whose sailors manned most of the Liberty supply ships, and for the U.S. Navy and British Navy.

The SS Joseph N. Teal, a Liberty built in a record 10 days at Kaiser's Oregon shipyard. President Roosevelt stopped by for the launching on his West Coast tour of war production facilities in September 1942.

The SS Joseph N. Teal, a Liberty ship built in a record 10 days at Kaiser’s Oregon shipyard, is launched. President Roosevelt (left, with Henry Kaiser in the foreground) stopped by for the christening on his West Coast tour of war production facilities in September 1942.

The D-Day landings in Normandy were in large part the culmination of the Herculean effort of the United States to “out-produce” the Germans and Japanese and thus outlast them and win the already long and exceedingly bloody world war.

“Overwhelming Allied might was slowly reducing the Germans ability to strike,” wrote a U.S. Navy historian in the history of the Naval Armed Guard, whose members rode aboard to protect civilian merchant ships.

Penny Price, an electrician at the World War II Kaiser Richmond shipyards, says Americans understood the urgency of the Home Front war production:

“The government said they wanted foil to break communications; they wanted rubber, so the women donated their girdles . . . I don’t care what they wanted, they got it in cards and spades.

“The Germans were not fools (but). . . We had the most ships. We had the most planes. We had the most weapons because we out-produced them at home. They (the government) said ‘we need ships’ and we’re turning them out one a day.”

Home Front workers crave news of ships

On D-Day in Europe, Kaiser shipyard workers – like everyone else – were glued to the radio to hear the latest progress reports. The ships the men and women built didn’t just drop out of mind after they slid down the way and sailed into the fray to points around the world.

Kaiser Shipyard workers in Richmond, Calif., pause to acknowledge the men who were braved the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944. Kaiser J. Kaiser collection.

Kaiser shipyard workers in Richmond, Calif., pause to acknowledge the men who braved the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944. Kaiser J. Kaiser collection photo

The shipyard population was hungry for any bit of news of the fate of the ships they launched. The Richmond shipyards weekly newsletter, Fore ‘N ‘Aft, carried a series of articles about where the ships were engaged.

“What Happens to Our Ships” was published April 14, 1944, just two months before D-Day. An anonymous writer/cook on the Liberty ship SS Robert E. Peary’s maiden voyage in 1942 wrote:

“On all of the seven seas, in all of the great offensives we have opened, Liberty ships have written indelible chapters into the saga of the present global conflict. Many of those Liberty ships were constructed in (Richmond Kaiser) Yards One and Two.”

Fastest-built Liberty sails the world

The SS Robert E. Peary was celebrated at its launch in November 1942 because workers had built it in four days, 15 hours and 29 minutes – setting a record as the fastest ship ever built.

Henry Kaiser took on a reporter’s challenge for the Richmond yards to beat the record Oregon shipyards workers had set in the 10-day construction of the Liberty ship SS Joseph N. Teal in September.

The SS Peary had participated in many battles in all theaters of the war by the time it got to France in June 1944. The Peary crew rescued American soldiers trapped near the beach of a Pacific island held by the Japanese in 1943, and in 1944 the ship headed to England where it carried men and equipment from Cardiff (Wales) to Omaha Beach on June 7, 1944.

An LST (Landing Ship, Tank) approaches the Normandy coast on D-Day, June 6, 1944. National Archives photo

A fully loaded LST (Landing Ship, Tank) approaches the Normandy coast on D-Day, June 6, 1944. National Archives photo

Other Kaiser-built Liberty ships that took part in the massive D-Day invasion and subsequent missions in the English Channel included these four Richmond-built Liberty ships:

  • The SS Joaquin Miller, the first Liberty ship to arrive in London in preparation for the Normandy attack;
  • The SS J.D. Ross, recipient of a battle star for its part in the Normandy operation;
  • The SS William Burnham, which was torpedoed by a German submarine in the English Channel losing 10 crew members and 8 Armed Guards; and
  • The SS H.D. Blasdel, which was torpedoed by a German submarine in the English Channel. Seventy-six U.S. Army personnel died in the attack and the ship had to be scrapped. The Blasdel was carrying troops, tanks, trucks, jeeps and other mechanized equipment and was on its way to Utah Beach.

Three Liberties built in Kaiser’s Oregon shipyards were also there:

  • The SS Cyrus McCormick, which was torpedoed by a German submarine off the coast of North Wales and lost 17 crew members and 12 members of the Armed Guard;
  • The SS David Starr Jordan, which was bombed and strafed by German aircraft; and
  • The SS Sambut, which was shelled and sunk in the Straits of Dover on June 6, 1944.

Keep building more ships

Many more bloody battles were yet to be fought before the Russians reached Berlin in May 1945 and Germany subsequently surrendered. In the Pacific Theater, Allied Forces would plot more D-Days to invade Pacific islands fiercely defended by the Japanese – Saipan, Guam, Iwo Jima, Okinawa  – before the war could finally end in August 1945.

Days in the shipyards were charged with excitement in June 1944 as workers realized their sustained hard and speedy work was turning the tide of the war. But their work had to continue to supply ships for the brutal battle for the Pacific.

A “Fore ‘N ‘Aft” writer put it this way: “It’s this: the faster and better we build our ships, the quicker these sons of guns will get back to their girlfriends or their wives and kids. That’s the truth.”


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Henry J. Kaiser sticks up for union labor at Brewster Aeronautical

posted on May 13, 2014

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer 

On Jan. 29, 1954, Henry J. Kaiser delivered the keynote address at the Seminar on Human Relations in San Bernardino, Calif.

This conference, sponsored by the University of California and the United Steelworkers of America, brought together labor leaders, anthropologists, educators, and other intellectuals to explore productive and creative ways to work.

Kaiser’s speech was titled “Human Relations: The Key to Abundant Happiness,” and one of the lessons he drew upon was his wartime management of Brewster Aeronautical Corporation, which had plants in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.


Brewster F3A-1 Corsair landing on a WWII aircraft carrier.

Brewster was manufacturing F3A-1 Corsair fighters but had been ineptly managed and inefficiently run.  In 1943, as a favor to Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, Kaiser agreed to try and turn the company around.

Kaiser displayed a remarkable sensitivity to the role of organized labor and to the practical mechanisms of management’s role:

“The blame for the atrocious situation was heaped by the government and the press upon the union leader, Tom DeLorenzo, who was called a liar, a criminal, and worse.

“I shall never forget my first meeting with De Lorenzo, the accused troublemaker. His attitude was that all managements were dishonest, unreliable and untruthful, and only outright battle would handle management.

“I said to De Lorenzo, ‘Can’t you and I work on the basis of being truthful with each other?’

“‘No,’ he answered, ‘it won’t work. I’ve tried it too many times and always get double-crossed.’

“Quietly I said, ‘Well, Tom, do you think this would work? Suppose when you come in to see me from day to day and you are going to lie, you say, ‘I’m going to lie to you today.’ But on the other hand, when you are telling me the truth you say, ‘Now I’m telling you the truth today.’

“Much to my surprise, he said, ‘That might work. I’m willing to try it.’ Many times when he came in amid the nightmare of problems, he would say, ‘I’m going to lie like hell to you today! But this is my position!’

“As time went on, more often he’d come into conferences and say, ‘I’m going to tell you the truth today.’ Tom DeLorenzo had left in him some of the spark of decency that is in every human being and when appealed to, is released.

“The thrilling sequel is that Tom DeLorenzo pitched in shoulder to shoulder with management to do the patriotic job of cleaning up the Brewster mess. Man-hours per plane were slashed to one-third; the padded work force was cut in half; yet the production of planes was multiplied nearly 30 times.”


HJK speaking at Fontana, Calif., blast furnace dedication, 1942

Despite Kaiser’s success, this productive relationship was ridiculed by anti-labor forces in the U.S. Government. House Resolution 30, “Authorizing and Directing and Investigation of the Progress of the War Effort,” had begun in 1941 and resulted in a series of hearings.

Congressman Melvin J. Maas (Minnesota) was the principal interrogator during a heated hearing Nov. 30, 1943. Maas was a tough Marine, a veteran of both WWI and WWII, and had little tolerance for anything that smacked of war profiteering. He lit into Kaiser, but Kaiser gave as well as he got[i]:

Mr. Maas: “Mr. Kaiser, [you wrote that] ‘the responsible union leaders at the Brewster plant assure management of their desire that we should continue, and give assurance that we will receive the support and cooperation of labor in order to achieve an increase in plane production for the maintenance of the war effort.’

“They have opposed every other manager, but they do endorse your management. Why? What makes you think that they endorse your management while they opposed every other management at Brewster?”

Mr. Kaiser: “I guess I have confidence and faith and trust.”

Mr. Maas: “Of course, if you give (him) all the candy he wants, he’s (on your side), isn’t he?

Mr. Kaiser: “That isn’t what I said. You are making a statement that I am giving them the candy; I am not . . .  I told [DeLorenzo], if you are [interested in the well-being of your union members], it is necessary to make them so efficient that . . . when we are going into the postwar era, they can exist and live, produce and create in a competitive market and make a living for themselves and their families. Tom, the sooner you start moving in that direction the greater will be your service to your members.’ ”

Truly, Henry J. Kaiser believed in his motto, “Together we build.”

Short link to this story:

[i] Henry J. Kaiser – Western Colossus,  Heiner, 1991, pp162-164

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Henry J. Kaiser takes a page from Ford’s book

posted on April 28, 2014

Concept of welding rather than riveting in ship production borrowed from Henry Ford’s manufacturing process

By Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer


Richmond, California – Ford Assembly plant surrounded by four Kaiser shipyards, 1944

Willow Run plant, circa 1951; from The Kaiser Story, page 41

Kaiser-Frazer Willow Run plant, circa 1951. The “arched eyebrow” split windshield indicates that these are likely Kaiser Deluxes.

Henry J. Kaiser had admired the mass-production advances that allowed Henry Ford to make cars more efficiently.

In late 1940, before Kaiser embarked on the largest shipbuilding project in world history, he sent a close associate to survey a Ford assembly plant.

Results of that visit opened Kaiser’s eyes to the advantages of welding over riveting. That insight, along with the pre-assembly of ship parts and streamlining the flow of materials, was crucial to the breathtaking output of Kaiser’s new shipyards.

Kaiser wasted little time maintaining his momentum as a major American industrialist after the end of World War II.

With his massive West Coast shipyards closing down, and his nascent health care program that would eventually blossom as Kaiser Permanente just beginning, he turned his attention to automobiles.


Henry Ford II, wife Anne Ford, Henry J. Kaiser, wife Bess Kaiser; Oakland train station, 1946

On Aug. 9, 1945, Kaiser formally announced a partnership with veteran automobile industry executive Joseph Frazer to form the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation.

Kaiser was particularly interested in producing affordable transportation for the American public. Kaiser-Frazer leased the Willow Run manufacturing plant near Ypsilanti,  Michigan, built by Ford in 1942 to build World War II bombers. Within nine months workers in the plant were breaking records for the number of newly built cars.

K-F’s labor relations were good, which helped them to pump out cars in 1946 during the GM strike and the stalled Ford and Chrysler contract negotiations. And in 1949, Kaiser and Ford were on opposite sides of labor law regarding a Taft-Hartley Act representation interpretation.

The National Labor Relations Board’s first decision under Taft-Hartley in 1947 excluded foremen from collective bargaining rights. This ruling was challenged: Kaiser felt that foremen should be included in bargaining units; Ford did not. But the Senate-revised 1949 Labor-Management Relations Act affirmed that foremen could not have collective bargaining rights.

While Henry J. Kaiser and Henry Ford II (president of the Ford Motor Company from 1945 to 1960) may have been business rivals, their relationship was not antagonistic. Newspaper photos of the two with their spouses projected a message of collegiality.

By the late 1950s Kaiser’s automobile venture was grinding to a halt, and all that remained were overseas plants and the Jeep line of rugged vehicles (under Kaiser from 1953-1969). Ford bought out Kaiser-Frazer’s operations in Brazil in 1967, the year Henry Kaiser died.

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Injured on the job! The history of Kaiser Workers’ Compensation care

posted on April 16, 2014

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

Part one of a two-part series

Unless one has the unfortunate experience of being injured on the job, one is usually unaware of a parallel health care system – the medical treatment provided as a benefit through the Workers’ Compensation Insurance system.

Regular health issues (diseases or injuries suffered while not at work) are handled through fee-for-service doctors or their insurance/health plan counterparts. But if something bad happens on the job, another set of rules apply. Employers are legally required to provide benefits to employees, including medical coverage, and treatment for these injuries is carried out by a separate system of insurance or self-insurance. Care is usually delivered by physicians specializing in Occupational Medicine. 

Early in the 20th century industrial injuries were rising, organized labor was becoming more powerful, and legislation was sought to mitigate the medical and legal consequences of on-the-job accidents. California’s first workers’ compensation law was the voluntary Compensation Act in 1911, followed by the Workers’ Compensation, Insurance and Safety Act of 1913 (the Boynton Act). For the first time, employers were required to provide benefits for all employees injured on the job. The employers benefited from expanded limitations on their legal liability. The Act also established a competitive state insurance fund, and it remains the foundation for workers’ compensation in California today.

Dr. Sidney Garfield’s desert experience

Worker-patient at Contractors General Hospital, under the care of Dr. Sidney Garfield, circa 1934.

Worker-patient at Contractors General Hospital, under the care of Dr. Sidney Garfield, circa 1934.

When Kaiser Permanente founding physician Dr. Sidney Garfield (along with partner Dr. Gene Morris) first set up his 12-bed Contractors General Hospital way out in the Mojave Desert in 1933, he wasn’t trying to revolutionize health care practice in America. He was simply a young doctor taking on a reasonably safe business opportunity, serving the medical needs of some of the 5,000 men working on the Colorado River Aqueduct Project who were insured through workers’ compensation.

Dr. Garfield soon found his practice foundering because the workers’ compensation insurance companies handling industrial injuries were sending the most serious – and most profitable – cases to favored Los Angeles hospitals. They also challenged many charges as unnecessary and were often late in paying. In addition, the remote setting of the work camps meant that these hospitals were the only place the workers could be treated for non-industrial diseases – something for which they could rarely afford to pay full fee.

Industrial Indemnity Exchange (which was one-third owned by Henry J. Kaiser) was the largest insurance company affiliated with the aqueduct project, and underwriter Harold Hatch offered a creative and mutually beneficial solution. In exchange for half of the 25 percent insurance premium that Industrial would have paid out for treatment, Industrial would pay that up front to Garfield and he’d promise to provide the requisite industrial care.

Garfield figured out that he could get the workers to also prepay a small, affordable amount (five cents a day), and he’d extend his services to cover comprehensive medical care.[i] 60 percent of Garfield’s income would eventually come from payroll deduction, 40 percent from workers’ compensation. The plan worked very well, and became one of the cornerstones of the Kaiser Permanente model.

Caring for wartime workers

Ambulances at Kaiser Richmond shipyard first-aid station, circa 1944.

Ambulances at Kaiser Richmond shipyard first-aid station, circa 1944.

This unusual integration of industrial and non-industrial medical care under one roof continued when Garfield directly partnered with Kaiser and operated the hospital at Grand Coulee Dam (1938-1941) and later at the seven West coast shipyards and one steel mill (Fontana) during World War II employing almost 200,000 workers.

Health care posed a significant challenge in operating the yards; because most of the able-bodied healthy men (the typical demographic for this industry) were serving in the military, those available for homefront needed job training and medical care.[ii] The option of affordable comprehensive health care was extremely attractive to the new workforce, and demand outstripped availability. Permanente Health Plan organizers struggled to add enough staff and facilities to handle new members.

Despite the superficial appearance to the end user that it was a single health plan, under the hood it still involved the bureaucracy and bookkeeping of two separate entities. The Health Plan Manual for the staff of Sidney R. Garfield, M.D., (circa 1942) clearly stated:

 Q. If a member is hurt while working on the job is he covered under the Health Plan?

A. No. The Health Plan does not cover Industrial accidents. These are covered under Workman’s Compensation.

Q. What is meant by Workman’s Compensation and how are we connected with it?

A. Under the Workman’s Compensation Act of California, most employers are required to provide medical and hospital care as well as weekly compensation to employees injured while working. The shipyards contracted with private insurance companies to provide and administer these benefits to the employees. We in turn made arrangements with the insurance companies to provide the medical and hospital services for a certain fee.

The combined health plans proved to be a powerful medical and economic engine. In August of 1943, A.B. Ordway, Vice President of the Richmond Shipyards, sent a report to B.K. Ogden, Director of the Division of Insurance, United States Maritime Commission, in Washington, D.C. He observed:

The shipyard management further realized that the type of medical and hospital care necessary to secure and maintain the best morale and productive results for shipbuilding could not be made available from the possible income that could be derived from industrial cases only.

Therefore, early in 1941 a plan was devised for offering to the employees of the above yards a Medical Health Plan at a fixed price per week. The possible income that could be secured through an Industrial medical plan and a medical Health plan was of sufficient size to justify expenditures of large amounts of money for buildings and equipment and to better enable the holder of the medical contracts to secure the large staff of doctors and nurses needed to adequately provide the best medical and surgical attention possible.

…Medical costs on industrial cases are lower than would be possible were it not for the fact that one organization handles industrial and non-industrial cases, and the industrial costs are controlled through one contract method.

Kaiser Richmond shipyard first aid station, circa 1944

Kaiser Richmond shipyard first aid station, circa 1944

In terms of running a huge industrial network, the advantages of a healthy workforce were obvious and quantifiable. Henry J. Kaiser himself noted:

In 1943, the average male industrial worker lost 11.4 days and the average female industrial worker 13.3 days of work due to sickness and injury. By far the greater proportion of this loss – 80 percent in men and 90 percent in women – was believed to be due to common ailments. This means that in the U.S. today there is a loss of more than 600,000 man-days annually. This is 47 times the amount of time lost through strikes and lock-outs of all kinds during 1943.[iii]

Kaiser used the above argument – and his successful experience with running industrial medical care programs – as the basis for a bold proposal for a nationwide pre-paid medical plan as the war waned in 1945. Dr. Paul Cadman, in an addendum to the proposal, laid out the premise:

The Health Insurance Plan follows the general pattern of the Workman’s Compensation Law, a law which has been in effect for over thirty years and has been found to be practical and workable.

Alas, the proposal never went anywhere, but Henry J. Kaiser’s health plan continued to grow bigger and better.

Next: Postwar evolution of Kaiser Permanente’s worker health care

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Special thanks to Dr. Doug Benner, Coordinator of Regional Occupational Medicine Services (1993 to 2011) and Connie Chiulli (Director of Operations, Occupational Health Service Line, Regional Occupational Health, TPMG) for help with this article.

[i] A slightly different percentage is described by Rickey Hendricks in A Model for National Health Care: “Since Garfield was losing money yet providing needed services and model facilities, Hatch proposed that Industrial Indemnity prepay Garfield 17.5 percent of premiums, or $1.50 per worker per month, to treat industrial injuries.”

[ii] “…In 1944, with the [shipbuilding] program in full swing, it was rare to find a yard of five thousand employees or more who could boast of more than 5 per cent of workers with previous experience in shipbuilding.” “Health and Safety in Contract Shipyards During the War,” by Philip Drinker, Ch.E., in Occupational Medicine, April, 1947.

[iii] “Proposal for a Nation-Wide Pre-Paid Medical Plan Based on Experience of the Permanente Foundation Hospitals” Henry J. Kaiser, March 3, 1945.

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Henry Kaiser and merchant sailors union: the curious case of the SS Pho Pho

posted on April 8, 2014

By Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

Kaiser Gypsum's Harry Lundeberg

Kaiser Gypsum’s second S.S. Harry Lundeberg, 1958, with Lundeberg’s wife Ida and children Gunnar, Erik, and Alette. Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources archive.

After World War II ended and Henry J. Kaiser’s shipyards closed, he continued to be active in the shipping trade. One example of his support for sailors was the curious case of the freighter Pho Pho.

In 1950, members of the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific picketed the Panamanian-flagged SS Pho Pho, owned by a Greek-American, at the port of Redwood City in Northern California.

The Kaiser Gypsum Company had entered into a six-year shipping contract with the vessel owner because it was retiring its own ship, the SS Permanente Silverbow.

The sailors’ union demanded that “. . . The owners of the Pho Pho negotiate an agreement bringing wages and conditions [of the foreign crew] to the same level as (that of) American vessels.”[i]

Permanente Silverbow-sm

S.S. Permanente Silverbow, one of two steamships that carried bulk cement shipments to ports along the Pacific Coast and in Hawaii.
Image circa 1944.

Instead of digging in his heels and fighting the labor action, Kaiser saw the long-term value of labor peace and made a friendly bet with union president Harry Lundeberg. As the ship was idled for 10 weeks, Kaiser reportedly told Lundeberg “If you win this beef, Harry, I’ll name the ship after you.”

The union campaign was successful, and the vessel became the first to be crewed entirely by union members. Kaiser honored his word, bought the ship, and the SS Pho Pho became the SS Harry Lundeberg on July 20, 1950. She ran aground off the Mexican coast at Cape San Lucas (near San Marcos Island in Baja California, where gypsum was being mined) in 1955, and was replaced with a second ship in 1958.

After the Pho Pho victory, Sailors’ union members also operated two subsequent Kaiser Gypsum ships, the SS Ocean Carrier and the SS Western Ocean.

Short link to this article:

[i] “Forty Pickets Block Greek Ship Unloading,” San Mateo Times, April 10, 1950.

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Thousands of merchant seamen lost lives in World War II

posted on March 24, 2014

By Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

“The first Liberty ship was named after Patrick Henry. The last 100 have been named for merchant seamen who died in wartime service.” –Fore ‘n’ Aft, Kaiser Richmond shipyard newsletter, May 18, 1945.[i]

Almost 1,500 World War II Liberty and Victory ships were built in the Kaiser shipyards. What most people do not realize is that they were not produced for the U.S. Navy – they were made for the United States Maritime Commission, an independent federal agency created by the Merchant Marine Act of 1936.[ii]

These ships were vital to winning the war. General Dwight D. Eisenhower issued a message congratulating those who built the ships:

“This headquarters has just heard the glorious news that American shipyards have produced more than 2,100 merchant vessels in the past two years.

WPA poster recruiting for US Maritime Service, 1942; image courtesy Library of Congress

WPA poster recruiting for U.S. Maritime Service, 1942; image courtesy Library of Congress

“This remarkable record, unequaled in history, will bring confidence and encouragement to every soldier, sailor and airman in the Allied Forces, for they are most keenly aware that their ability to carry on the fight, indeed, their ability to survive, is completely dependent on ships . . . Ships, still more ships, and ever more ships will help smash the enemy.”[iii]

But ships don’t run by themselves. Merchant seamen staffed those vessels and thus served a vital – and dangerous – function during World War II. Although usually thought of as civilians, these seamen were “military” according to International Law because their ships were armed – albeit lightly. The merchant mariners were trained to shoot and could fire on the enemy if threatened.

President Roosevelt lauds seamen

President Roosevelt declared in 1944: “It seems to me particularly appropriate that Victory Fleet Day this year should honor the men and management of the American Merchant Marine.

“The operators in this war have written one of its most brilliant chapters. They have delivered the goods when and where needed in every theater of operations and across every ocean in the biggest, the most difficult and dangerous transportation job ever undertaken.

“As time goes on, there will be greater public understanding of our merchant fleet’s record during this war,” Roosevelt said.[iv]

"Back the invasion- Get the oil to the tanks" shipyard progress infographic billboard, Kaiser Swan Island shipyard (Oregon), 1944

“Back the invasion – Get the oil to the tanks” shipyard progress infographic billboard, Kaiser Swan Island Shipyard (Oregon), 1944

Legislation to equalize benefits for merchant seamen with those afforded members of the armed services under the GI Bill languished in Congress, despite the president’s endorsement and support from Admiral Emory S. Land, chairman of the Maritime Commission.

On the advice of his labor relations lawyer, Harry F. Morton, Henry Kaiser pushed for the legislation. Morton wrote to Kaiser:[v]

“I cannot see how this endorsement could possibly affect our dealings with the various unions since the purpose of the bill is to compensate the seamen for the personal risks these men take daily while in the service.

“As Admiral Land points out . . . more than 5,700 merchant seamen have lost their lives or have been reported missing in action, and over 500 of them are prisoners of war.

“True enough, merchant seamen receive considerably more pay than do the men in the Armed Services, but that alone does not warrant the conclusion that they are not entitled to the added protection recommended by Admiral Land.

“ . . . [it is] my conclusion that you should join with the President and Admiral Land in recommending this legislation (because) any other course would be inconsistent with your advocacy of merchant seamen’s needs in the past. I recommend this even though it is a departure from your standard position regarding endorsements of proposed legislation.”

Yet with Roosevelt’s untimely death on April 12, 1945, political support for extending basic benefits to merchant seamen for their wartime service vanished until Congress awarded them veterans’ status 40-plus years later in 1988 – too late for half of those who served.


Special thanks to Toni Horodysky, historian behind the American Merchant Marine at War website, for help with this article.

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[i] Not only were 100 ships thusly named, an additional 20 were named for merchant mariners who received the Distinguished Service Medal. Only one of these – the SS Samuel L. Cobb, launched May 27, 1944, named for a seaman lost April 17, 1942, aboard the SS Alcoa Guide – was built in a Kaiser shipyard.

[ii] Although building merchant ships was its top priority, until the Maritime Commission became the Federal Maritime Commission in 1950 it was also responsible for training ship’s officers under the U.S. Maritime Service.

[iii] General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Commander in Chief of Allied Forces in the Mediterranean area, message to home front workers, Fore ‘n’ Aft, 10/22/1943

[iv] Franklin D. Roosevelt, public address 9/19/1944.

[v] Inter-Office memo from Harry F. Morton to Henry J. Kaiser, 12/23/1944; Henry J. Kaiser papers, UC Berkeley Bancroft Library, BANC 26:25-4

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Kaiser’s first labor attorney in the thick of union battles

posted on January 23, 2014

By Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

Second in a series

In 1941, before the United States entered World War II, Henry J. Kaiser was already building cargo ships for the British war effort. Early on, labor jurisdiction issues loomed large, and Kaiser’s labor man Harry F. Morton had his hands full.

Before the shipyards opened, Kaiser representatives signed a closed-shop agreement with American Federation of Labor-affiliated unions and hired a handful of workers; when the yards began full operation, the thousands of new workers were required to join the AFL.

Because many of them were already members of Congress of Industrial Organizations-affiliated unions, they were subsequently discharged. The CIO filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board.


Aerial photo, Todd-California Shipyard in Richmond, CA (later Permanente Metals shipyard #1), circa 1941

In a letter dated Dec. 6, 1941, the day before Pearl Harbor, Morton reported to Kaiser’s shipyard managers, Edgar Kaiser in Portland and Clay Bedford in Richmond, on this issue.

The “industry” side proposed a formal proportional allocation among the unions for journeyman jobs for welders, but this did not sit well with the nine AFL unions whose members included welders.

Eventually a compromise was reached in which welders in the shipyards would not be required to maintain membership in more than one union and that employment would not require purchase of a permit fee.[i]

Morton aligns with the AFL in closed shop fight

When the jurisdiction wars erupted again in 1943, Morton fought alongside the shipyard craft unions and received a landmark favorable ruling.

The U.S. government had charged that the Kaiser shipyards in Portland had acted unfairly in favoring the American Federation of Labor over the emerging, competitive, and radical CIO.

This time Congress’ help was called upon and passed what is known as the “Frey amendment” (named for head of the AFL Metal Trades Department, John P. Frey). The CIO lost on a technicality.

This ruling was crucial because it meant Henry J. Kaiser could run a closed shop in his shipyards, and production of ships for the war would not be jeopardized by struggles over workforce representation.

Morton read his victory telegram at a Metal Trades conference and declared: “And thus endeth another chapter in the history of the attempt of the National Labor Relations Board to break the union shop.”[ii]

Labor man tapped for aircraft plant

Corsairs in production line at Brewster Aviation.

Corsairs in production line at Brewster Aeronautical, circa 1943.

In late 1943 Morton moved back East as vice president of Industrial Relations for the Brewster Aeronautical Corporation. Brewster was manufacturing F3A-1 Corsair[iii] fighters, but had been ineptly run.

As a favor to the Navy Secretary, Kaiser agreed to try and turn the company around. Despite cost-cutting and improved output, Kaiser was delighted to turn the plant back over to Navy officials in May 1944.

While at Brewster, Morton continued to advise Kaiser on labor.  After reviewing a report by Industrial Relations Counselors[iv] on the then-new steel mill in Fontana, Calif., Morton sent a telegram to Kaiser executive Eugene Trefethen Jr.:

“I did not advocate a closed shop provision for the Fontana contract, but I did object to IRC’s recommendation that “. . . the company resist any demands of the union for a closed shop or union shop contract.”

“This is so foreign to all of Mr. Kaiser’s fundamental beliefs and public utterances that I could not let it go unchallenged . . . I violently disagree with the fundamental approach of IRC to labor problems.

“It is the approach of AT&T, Bethlehem, DuPont, G.E., General Motors, Standard [Oil] of New Jersey, U.S. Rubber and U.S. Steel, but not of Kaiser.

“It is my conviction that a large part of Brewster’s trouble is the result of IRC thinking and approach, and I am confident that what is needed is less IRC and more Kaiser thinking and approach in labor relations.[v]

Morton active after war ends

In early 1945, Morton briefed Kaiser on a meeting he’d had with Charles MacGowan, president of the Boilermakers union, a group that was influential (and controversial) in Kaiser’s wartime shipyards.

The subject was the merger of the American Federal of Labor with the Congress of Industrial Organizations. MacGowan opposed the merger. Morton advised Kaiser:

“I pass these suggestions on to you for what they may be worth. Personally, I don’t believe they are worth much, as [Philip] Murray and [William] Green had agreed to this once before and the agreement was later repudiated.[vi]

Green (AF of L) and Murray (CIO) both died in 1952; it would not be until 1955 that the two labor organizations would merge under the leadership of George Meany. The AFL-CIO Murray-Green award received by Henry J. Kaiser in 1965 was named for them.


Carl Brown (left), president of the Independent Foremen’s Association of America, confers with Harry F. Morton while representing Kaiser-Frazer. UPI newspaper photo, 2/19/1949.

The last known records of Morton’s career reflect his negotiation with employees at the Kaiser-Frazer automobile plant. One of the provisions of the recently enacted landmark Taft-Hartley Act removed any legal obligation to bargain with foremen; Morton felt that they should keep faith with the foremen, and the Ford Motor Company managers felt they should not.

Harry F. Morton’s full story remains to be told. We lose sight of him in our research after the early 1950s. However, he now is recognized as a significant factor in shaping the climate of positive labor relations that characterizes Henry J. Kaiser’s legacy.


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[i] Harry F. Morton correspondence to Edgar F. Kaiser and Clay Bedford, December 6, 1941; BANC MSS 83/42C, ctn 9, folder 12.

[ii] Speech by Harry F. Morton, in Proceedings of the 35th Annual Convention of the Metal Trades Department, AFL-CIO, September 27, 1943.

[iii] The Brewster F3A was an F4U “Corsair” built by Brewster for the U.S Navy; Chance-Vought created and built the Corsair, which also was built under contract by Goodyear.

[iv] In the wake of the horrific Ludlow Massacre in the Colorado minefields of 1917, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., created a labor-management think tank that today is known as Industrial Relations Counselors, Inc. <>

[v] Telegram from Harry F. Morton to Eugene Trefethen Jr., about IRC report on Fontana, October 1, 1943; BANC MSS 83/42C, ctn 19, folder 25.

[vi] Interoffice memo, Fleetwings Division of Kaiser Cargo [aviation manufacturing, Bristol, PA], from Harry F. Morton to Henry J. Kaiser in New York, January 22, 1945; BANC MSS 83/42C, ctn 151, folder 12.



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Film of Mason City (Washington) Hospital doctors, nurses, and staff – 1938

posted on November 27, 2013

by Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer


Still from film of doctors, nurses, and staff at Mason City (Washington) Hospital serving the workers at Grand Coulee Dam, circa 1938. Click on photo to see film clip.

This piece is a Thanksgiving offering, a display of our deep appreciation for all the health care professionals who keep us well.

Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources recently digitized some silent film footage of the Mason City (Washington) Hospital circa 1938. It shows doctors and nurses who were proud to serve at America’s largest Depression-era construction project, living under hardship conditions in a remote town with blistering heat and freezing cold.

This facility was the birthplace of the Kaiser Permanente health plan, where Dr. Sidney Garfield was brought up to care for the workers and families at Henry J. Kaiser’s massive Grand Coulee Dam project.

The original hospital at the site had fallen into disrepair and the unions claimed it was insufficient for their members’ health care. In 1938 Kaiser Industries won the contract to finish the dam, and Henry J. Kaiser and his son Edgar (General Manager of the project) spared no expense on a remodel.  Among the many modern amenities installed was air conditioning.

In this clip Kaiser Permanente founding physician Dr. Sidney Garfield is seen exiting the recently-renovated facility to a gathering of doctors and nurses which includes Dr. Cecil Cutting (center of this frame, with a ball in his hand), Dr. Wallace Neighbor, nurse anaesthetist Geraldine “Jerry” Searcy, and RN’s Winifred Wetherill and Evie Sanger. The footage is short clip from recently digitized from Dr. Neighbor’s home movies, which also includes doctors on horseback, the local rodeo, scenes of Mason City, and dam construction.

See them thrive. Then go thrive yourself, and help build thriving communities.

MWAK Hospital 1936-37

Original hospital at Mason City, circa 1936.
(Under original construction consortium of Mason, Walsh, Atkenson-Kier, or MWAK)

File #1020 - Mason City Hospital - Grand Coulee Dam

Renovated hospital at Mason City, circa 1938.
(Kaiser Industries)

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Howard A. “Dutch” Darrin – Kaiser-Frazer car designer

posted on November 22, 2013

Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer

Howard “Dutch” Darrin sculpting clay on model of Kaiser Darrin sports car, circa 1953.

Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources published a story in 2010 on the Kaiser Darrin sports car (“Kaiser-built 1954 sports car delights today’s collectors“), but history never sleeps, and we’ve recently digitized some slides buried in our archive of the designer in the process of creating the prototype.

Howard A. “Dutch” Darrin (1897-1982) was a World War I aviator, inventor, and automobile designer. After WWII, when Henry J. Kaiser entered the automobile industry, Darrin was brought in as a freelance consultant and he worked on several designs. But Kaiser-Frazer’s last automobile gasp was to be a sleek convertible sports car with a fiberglass body and sliding doors – designed by Dutch Darrin.

The predecessor to that vehicle was called the Darrin Motor Car, featured in the October, 1946 issue of Popular Science: “For 20 years crack designer Howard Darrin engineered cars for the big manufacturers – and dreamed of producing his own. Now the dream has come true in a new superlight car of novel design, with a plastic body and hydraulically powered labor-saving gadgets.” That car never happened, but the seed had been planted and it blossomed soon afterwards.

Howard “Dutch” Darrin sculpting clay on model of Kaiser Darrin sports car, circa 1953.

In 1950 the Kaiser-Frazer automobile company asked Darrin in to improve the styling of the “Henry J” budget car. The meagre production budget afforded little latitude, so Darrin’s improvements were minor, but he convinced Henry J. Kaiser to let him create a more attractive car on the Henry J chassis. At first Henry Kaiser didn’t like Darrin’s long, sculpted convertible, but his new wife Alyce (“Ale”) loved it. The project got the green light.

The new Kaiser Darrin on display, unknown auto show, circa 1954.

These photographs show Darrin sculpting the clay on a full-size mockup, most likely in his workshop in Santa Monica, California. For more on Darrin’s long design history, see this article by automotive journalist Mark Theobald.

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