Posts Tagged ‘Kaiser Aluminum’

Kaiser’s geodesic dome clinic

posted on October 12, 2016

Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer


Copy of plans for "Medical office building for Kaiser Foundation hospitals with Kaiser Aluminum dome" by Clarence Mayhew, with Sidney Garfield as consultant.1957-12-18. [TPMG P1283]

Plans for “Medical office building for Kaiser Foundation hospitals with Kaiser Aluminum dome.”

There are hospital rounds, and there are round hospitals.

While researching an earlier article on the Kaiser Permanente hospital designs created by founding physician Sidney Garfield and the architect Clarence Mayhew, I was looking through folders of drawings for the amazing 1962 Panorama City hospital.

Panorama City featured seven double circular floors, the best example of Dr. Garfield’s “circles of service” concept. But one set of plans didn’t quite look right.

We know that Henry J. Kaiser was a geodesic dome pioneer. Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corporation built two of the first civilian domes in 1957, one in Virginia and one in Hawaii. Geodesic domes are self-supported spherical structures composed of rigid triangles, which became very popular during the 1960s and 1970s as modernists and the counterculture embraced their (literally) “out of the box” features of openness and strength.

Fourth floor plan of tower, Kaiser Foundation Hospital at Panorama City. 1961 [circa]. [TPMG P1283]

Fourth floor plan of tower, Kaiser Foundation Hospital at Panorama City, circa 1961.

We also know that in the 1960s Dr. Garfield was intrigued by (but never followed through on) an innovative project called the Atomedic Hospital, based on a dome structure.

But this 1957 plan, by Mayhew (with Dr. Garfield as “medical consultant”) clearly says “Medical office building for the Kaiser Foundation Hospitals with Kaiser Aluminum dome.” It was to be 18,500 square feet, with 20 physicians on two floors.

As a round design, it had been misfiled with Panorama City. We don’t know why it was never built, but at least we now know that in the infancy of geodesic dome innovation Henry J. Kaiser and Dr. Sidney Garfield were creatively thinking outside the box.

Copy of plans for "Medical office building for Kaiser Foundation hospitals with Kaiser Aluminum dome" by Clarence Mayhew, with Sidney Garfield as consultant.1957-12-18. [TPMG P1283]

Plan credits, “Medical office building for Kaiser Foundation hospitals with Kaiser Aluminum dome,” by Clarence Mayhew, with Dr. Sidney Garfield as consultant. 12/18/1957.

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Kaiser Aluminum no lightweight in 1952 Indy 500

posted on March 1, 2016

Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer


Cummins Diesel ad, 1952-05-24

“Cummins Diesel Shatters Records” newspaper ad, May 24, 1952

The 100th Indianapolis 500 will be held Sunday May 29, 2016, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway –modestly described as “The greatest spectacle in racing” at “The Racing Capital of the World.” This is one of the most iconic of American events, with drivers racing 200 laps around a 2.5-mile oval circuit.

All that noise and danger may seem a far stretch from the “total health” mission of Kaiser Permanente, but industrialist founder Henry J. Kaiser loved vehicles, and one of his companies played a role in the history of the Indy 500.


Few people associate diesel engines with high performance. These utilitarian engines are the workhorses of industry, thumping along forever with little need for maintenance. But diesels were initially designed for stationary use, and later were adapted for marine applications. However, their fuel injectors were notoriously prone to fouling, so operating them when exposed to dusty outdoor conditions was beyond their intended application.

"No. 1 Shipbuilder" profile on Henry J. Kaiser, LIFE magazine, 1942-06-29

Henry J. Kaiser standing on a diesel-fitted Caterpillar tractor, 1942.

But Henry J. Kaiser was always pushing boundaries. When building roads during the late 1920s, young contractor Kaiser tried to convince the Caterpillar Tractor Company to put diesel engines in their crawler tractors because the fuel was so much cheaper. When they declined, Kaiser bought three Caterpillar Model 60 and three Monarch 75 tractors (Monarch operated between 1916-1928, when it was bought out by Allis-Chalmers; Caterpillar is still in business) and replaced their gasoline engines with 65 horsepower marine diesels made by the Atlas-Imperial Company of Oakland, Calif.

They were heavier than gas engines, and came with problems of their own which Kaiser discovered while using them on a levee restoration project along the Mississippi River in the late 1920s. A 1942 Life magazine profile on Henry J. Kaiser noted that “At first, they stripped transmissions, twisted driveshafts and generally knocked apart the machines he put them in.” But Kaiser and fellow earth mover Bob LeTorneau worked out the kinks, and eventually diesels would become the standard for heavy equipment.


“Agabashian rolls No. 28 in the coveted pole position,” Kaiser Aluminum News, March 1953.

Fast forward to 1952. Really, really fast forward.

This was the year that Kaiser Aluminum paired up with the Cummins Engine Company to produce a diesel race car, #28, driven by “Flying” Freddie Agabashian (1913-1989). It wasn’t the first diesel to whip around the Indianapolis track – that happened in 1931, when a Cummins-powered car was the first to run the entire race nonstop – but it was the first to use a turbocharger.

Turbocharging is relatively common now, but back then it was innovative to use an engine’s exhaust gases to pressurize the intake charge and provide more power without increasing engine size. Number 28’s specially designed engine lay on its side 5 degrees from flat, to lower the car’s center of gravity and handle better on Indy’s left-only banked turns. It displaced 401 cubic inches (6.6 liters), the maximum allowed by Indy rules, and pumped out 350 horsepower.

At least one newspaper account called it a “Freak diesel job.” But this “freak” was fast. #28 captured the pole (the first starting position, which holds high prestige at Indianapolis) with the fastest single-lap time (139.104 mph) and four-lap time (138.010 mph) in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history. And it was the first diesel to do so. It was also the first Indy car ever tested for aerodynamics in a wind tunnel.

Alas, in the race the Kaiser-Cummins Diesel Special ended up only placing 27th. The engine was retired midway through when the turbocharger inlet became clogged with tire rubber debris from the track.


“Inspectors check aluminum block of the mighty 350 horsepower ‘pancake’ diesel,” Kaiser Aluminum News, March, 1953.

The March 1953 issue of Kaiser Aluminum, published by the Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corporation, featured this story:

A blazing-fast crystal ball on wheels stole the show last year at the Indianapolis Speedway classic . . . and U.S. automotive engineers are still taking looks into it. They’re analyzing performance figures on the powerful Cummins Diesel race car and predicting startling advances in motor power on future American highways.

They see today’s high rpm Diesel engines transformed into even lighter weight units, with even higher speeds, powering more trucks up hill and down with equal ease. And they even see the day when easy-on-the fuel Diesels will possibly compete with gasoline engines in the passenger car market.

Cummins engineers knew that in order to compete with the higher rotative speeds of the gasoline engine, it would be necessary to reduce the weight which the heavier Diesel had to pull. By their extensive use of aluminum (and magnesium), they were able to give Agabashian a sleek, slim beauty of only 2,100 pounds (dry).

Even without a win, the car was such a threat to the racing status quo that soon afterwards the rules were changed to discourage large diesels.  But there is always a relationship between racing and the advancement of the general public good; in this case, the dream of using diesel engines and aluminum components to produce faster and more fuel-efficient civilian vehicles. The KA News article posed the question about what might be next – “…A hundred-mile-per-hour truck?”

Indeed – with Henry J. Kaiser, one was never sure what could come next.


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Courting Health at Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical

posted on August 5, 2015

Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer


Barry Wills, Katharine Baird, Kaiser Aluminum - Trentwood basketball team (men's and women's), Spokane Valley, WA, 1979-1980; scanned from photo lent by Barry Wills

Barry Wills, Kathy Baird, Kaiser Aluminum – Trentwood basketball team (men’s and women’s), Spokane Valley, Wash., 1979-1980.

The American economy at the end of World War II faced a huge challenge. We’d won the war, but now returning GI’s needed everything from jobs and housing to cars and refrigerators. The postwar demobilization was monumental, with over 10 million servicemen returning to civilian life by 1947. Sensing an opportunity and an obligation, Henry J. Kaiser turned his shipbuilding skills to domestic production.

That included making aluminum.

In March, 1946, the Board of Directors of Permanente Metals – originally formed to produce ships and magnesium – voted to go into the aluminum business. Leases were signed for war surplus plants in eastern Washington State at Mead and Trentwood. Mead was an aluminum reduction plant (where the mineral alumina is refined into metallic aluminum) and Trentwood was a sheet and plate-rolling mill.

The business was very successful. In 1949 the company was renamed Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corporation and the next year it purchased those two plants as well as others. KACC became the nation’s third largest aluminum producer. But during the 1980s the aluminum market tanked, and by the end of that decade the Kaiser family had divested itself of KACC. The new corporation continues under the Kaiser Aluminum Corporation name.

Kaiser Aluminum men's basketball team, Trentwood, WA, "Spokane County champs AA division" 1978; coach Barry Wills #19; image from photo loaned by Barry Wills

Kaiser Aluminum men’s basketball team, Trentwood, Wash., “Spokane County champs AA division” 1978; coach Barry Wills #19.

Just as the Kaiser shipyards encouraged “healthy competition” through sports and wellness programs, so did KACC.

Barry Wills and his future wife Kathy Baird worked at the Trentwood plant. Barry started in 1976, was briefly transferred to the Kaiser Refractories plant in Plymouth Meeting, Penn., and then continued working at Trentwood until 1981. Kathy worked there from 1972 to 1981. They played on Kaiser Aluminum sponsored softball and basketball teams (where they met) as well as participating in the popular “wellness” programs that encouraged healthy activities between 1975 and 1981. They loved it. In a recent interview, Barry recalled some of the highlights:

Kaiser Aluminum - Mead Ingots Men’s softball team, Spokane, WA, 1975. Scanned from color xerox provided by Barry Wills.

Kaiser Aluminum – Mead Ingots Men’s softball team, Spokane, Wash., 1975.

We played in the Spokane County Parks and Recreation Adult Recreation League. I believe we played at the AA level (AAA was the highest level). Typically, all the players on a AAA team played college ball at some level (NCAA or NAIA, Division II). We had one player that played basketball at a Junior College.

We were very competitive and won most of our games. Some of our opponents were Bob’s Barber Shop, Whitworth Alums, E & J Meats, Kaiser – Mead, and the Freeman Thrills.

First Kaiser Aluminum women's basketball team, Trentwood, WA, 1977; coach Harold Vigue; scan from photo loaned by Barry Wills

First Kaiser Aluminum women’s basketball team, Trentwood, Wash., 1977; coach Harold Vigue.

Our biggest thrill was an invitation to play in a pre-game [exhibition] at the “Kennel” at Gonzaga University. Gonzaga played Oregon. We were excited to have a full house of Gonzaga fans halfway through our game.

The women’s basketball team enjoyed success in Regional and State tournaments.

This was healthy competition and thriving, one of the hallmarks of Henry J. Kaiser’s many former industries. It remains a hallmark at Kaiser Permanente.


All images courtesy Barry Wills.

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T-shirt given to Kaiser – Trentwood employees if they participated in the Wellness Program, owned by Katharine Baird, 1980. Shot from Barry Wills collection.

T-shirt given to Kaiser-Trentwood employees for participating in the Wellness Program, owned by Kathy Baird, 1980.

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Henry J. Kaiser, geodesic dome pioneer

posted on December 11, 2014

Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer


Completed Hawaii dome, circa 1960

Kaiser Hawaii geodesic dome, circa 1960

Geodesic domes are self-supported spherical structures composed of rigid triangles. Everyone’s seen them, but may not know what they are called. Domes became very popular during the 1960s and 1970s as modernists and the counterculture embraced their (literally) “out of the box” features of openness and strength.

But as a matter of historical record, who built the first civilian geodesic dome in the United States?

It’s a double trick question – because Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corporation built two in 1957, one in Virginia and one in Hawaii – and the latter wouldn’t become a state until August 1959.

In 1942 Henry J. Kaiser entered the automotive field and commissioned noted industrial designer Richard Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller (1895-1983) to design a car. That venture didn’t work out, but the two collaborated again several years later to explore the commercial potential of geodesic structures as a project of Kaiser Aluminum. Kaiser dabbled in light metals during World War II, but it wasn’t until 1951 that he jumped into the industry by building an aluminum plant in Chalmette, Louisiana. Postwar demand for aluminum was huge, and new markets for the materials were sought. Buckminster Fuller’s domes offered an opportunity.

Fuller did not invent the concept of a dome– German engineers were exploring them in the early 1920s – but he thoughtfully engineered the combination of tension and compression elements into something that allowed scalable replication of these spaces in a variety of materials. The earliest large-scale application of Fuller’s design was a series of U.S. military “Distant Early Warning Line” radar domes built in Canada and Alaska in 1956.

Kaiser Hawaii dome construction photo - "By lunch time the dome was two-thirds complete."

Kaiser Hawaii dome construction photo – “By lunch time the dome was two-thirds complete.”

The next year Henry J. Kaiser installed a geodesic dome at the entrance to his Hawaiian Village Hotel on Kalia Road in Waikiki. It was built in a remarkable 20 hours, starting at 7 a.m. Saturday, January 12, 1957. The dome’s construction efficiency was predicated on the benefits of prefabrication – a process perfected by Kaiser and his workers in the World War II shipyards. The unconventional assembly process worked smoothly beyond expectations. Although five days were allocated, the crew took advantage of low winds (unmoored, the dome could become a giant frisbee) and began ahead of schedule. They finished before Henry Kaiser was able to fly out from California to see it being built. Despite missing the action, he was proud of the workers and commented, “Why those dirty pups, they did it without me.”

Hawaii dome construction photo

Hawaii dome construction photo

A Kaiser Aluminum publication described the project in the glowing 1950s futuristic sales-speak:

All of the information to date is based on our experience with the first Kaiser Aluminum Dome. Bear in mind that it was designed as an auditorium. It might have been a supermarket, a sports arena, or any one of many other applications. Size and design were dictated by ultimate use. Variations of this first Dome are not only practical …they are immediately possible.

This Dome could be duplicated for approximately $4 per square foot of area covered. This is substantially lower than conventional buildings which might be constructed for the same purpose.

The Hawaiian Village Dome has 16, 500 square feet of covered area. It is 45 feet in diameter and is 49 1/2 feet high.

"Kaiser dome application - school gymnasium"

“Kaiser dome application – school gymnasium”

The April, 1957 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine hailed the remarkable construction process:

Made of diamond-shaped aluminum panels, geometrically arranged and bolted together at their edges, a revolutionary domed auditorium looks like a silver patchwork quilt tossed over a giant mushroom…The panels were fabricated at the Kaiser plant in Permanente, Calif. [unlikely; this is the site of the Kaiser cement plant], shipped to Hawaii and preassembled at the site. The dome was erected around a 96-foot-high portable mast equipped with rigging. The top ring of aluminum panels was assembled around the mast and then lifted a sufficient height off the concrete floor to allow another perimeter of panels to be installed. This process was repeated until the entire dome was completed. The panels are held together by special aluminum bolts.

The completed dome was christened with a showing of Michael Todd’s Around the World in Eighty Days in early November 1957. Todd appeared with his wife, Elizabeth Taylor, and other celebrities. The dome was demolished in 1999 to make way for the Kalia Tower, which opened in 2001.


A geodesic structure can be fabricated with panels (as in Hawaii) or with struts (as were the DEW Line radar domes). After building the Hawaii dome, Fuller and Kaiser put together a prototype strut dome that still remains in use today, less than a mile from Kaiser’s headquarters. The Oakland Tribune reported the story May 31, 1957:

A geodesic dome, used as a flight cage for birds and wildfowl visiting Lake Merritt, will be erected Wednesday at the duck feeding area in Lakeside Park by the Oakland Park Department. The dome will be the first on the Pacific Coast. It will be put together starting at 8:30 a.m. and expected to be completed by 4 p.m.

Gordon Tully, one of the five University of California architectural students who prepared plans for the cage last summer, will be present to help supervise its erection. The dome will be 36 feet in diameter, 29 feet high, and weigh 3,000 pounds.


Kaiser Dome, Virginia Beach, VA, 1957

Kaiser Dome and model, Virginia Beach, 1957

In late 1957 a second Kaiser Aluminum dome was built in Virginia Beach. Architect and Engineer magazine described the innovative project:

The first stressed-skin aluminum dome auditorium in the United States is scheduled for construction in Virginia Beach, Virginia, according to Henry J. Kaiser, Chairman of the Board and President of Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Corporation. The dome shell, designed by Kaiser Aluminum engineers, will top a new civic center auditorium being designed by the Norfolk architectural firm of Oliver and Smith.

The 15,500 square-foot dome was the centerpiece of the Virginia Beach Convention Center, which was renamed the Alan B. Shepard Convention Center in 1961 after the beloved hometown astronaut. It was razed in 1994 for redevelopment.

Following the success of these projects, Kaiser and Fuller secured contracts for a few domes, and KACC even set up a dome sales office in Chicago in 1958. However, sales — and the personal chemistry between the two — fell flat, and eventually Henry Kaiser moved on to other projects. But his role in turning dreams into reality remains part of the long legacy of Kaiser Permanente.


A personal note – I met Bucky Fuller as an 11-year-old child. My father was the Public Affairs Officer with the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela, and in 1964-1965 he hosted a U.S.-Venezuelan trade fair for which a giant geodesic dome was built (this preceded the 1974 Poliedro dome, still the world’s largest). At a formal reception at our home for Mr. Fuller my parents were perplexed as to where their guest of honor had disappeared. They were surprised to find that he was with me in my room, asking questions about my physics experiments. He was a truly an open-minded and inquisitive human being. Years later my friend Robert Reining and I would build our first dome.

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Typist bounces with the Kaisers to New York, Northwest and back

posted on April 11, 2013

Steve Gilford, consulting historian


First of two parts

Anne Ferreira went to work for Henry J. Kaiser in Oakland in 1939. Photo courtesy of Jill Suico.

Anne Ferreira, a 27-year-old native of Oakland, Calif., and a rapid typist, took a secretarial job in 1939 at the Henry J. Kaiser Co., an enterprise that was just beginning to take off.

Little did she imagine that 52 years later she would be looking back on a career with the Kaiser Companies that took her to New York City in 1941, to wartime shipyards in St, Johns, Ore. (near Portland), where she met President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942, and back to Oakland in 1945 where she became the administrative go-to person at the iconic 28-story Kaiser Center, built in 1959.

Anne married Raymond Ferreira, another Oakland native, in 1938. Ray worked for Pan American Airways as a paymaster, and in 1941 he was transferred to New York City. Anne left her job to go east with Ray and landed a job in the Kaiser Companies’ New York office.

Before the couple could get settled, world events intervened and Henry Kaiser’s son Edgar asked for Ray’s help in urgently mustering a wartime workforce to fulfill Kaiser’s contracts to build hundreds of ships on the West Coast.

On Sept. 23, 1942, Ray Ferreira took on the shepherding of 510 newly hired shipyard workers from Hoboken, N.J., to Kaiser shipyards in Vancouver, Wash. Ferreira was in charge of the first “Kaiser Special” or “Kaiser Karavan” that fed the east-to-west migration that would irrevocably alter the nation’s demographics.

On that exact date, Ray’s wife Anne, already working in the Oregon Shipbuilding Corporation office, was taken by surprise when she heard workers shouting that President Roosevelt had arrived. She ran out of the office to join the crowd gathering to see FDR ride by in a white convertible with Secret Service men in suits, hats and trench coats running alongside.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Henry and Edgar Kaiser and Oregon Governor Charles Sprague take a ride through the Kaiser shipyard in 1942.

The beloved wartime president was six days into his unpublicized national tour of wartime production sites when he cruised into the shipyard for the launching of the SS Joseph Teal, a Liberty Ship built in a then-astonishing 10 days. His daughter, Anna, wife of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer publisher John Boettiger, was there to christen the Teal.

Shipyard construction crews had adequately prepared for the president’s visit with a special platform with an automobile ramp erected opposite the launching site. Crippled by polio, Roosevelt could view the festivities from his seat in the limousine. He watched as his daughter crashed a champagne bottle on the bow of the Joseph Teal.

Much to Anne’s amazement, while she was standing among the spectators, Henry Kaiser spotted her and shouted to her to come down to the President’s car. He signaled the guards to let her through the security barriers and alongside FDR’s entourage.

Kaiser, son Edgar, and Oregon Governor Charles Sprague were seated in the President’s limousine talking away and greeting notables along the way. When Anne, “Annie” as Kaiser knew her, reached the convertible, the industrialist introduced her to President Roosevelt who chatted with her a bit, mostly about how she liked working for Henry Kaiser.

Ray and Anne Ferreira, both natives of Oakland, Calif., worked for the Kaisers at the Vancouver Shipyard during World War II. Photo courtesy of Jill Suico.

Recently, after Anne’s death at age 98 in December 2012, her daughter, Jill Suico, summarized her mother’s lifelong affection for the Kaisers, especially Henry: “She loved the man; she loved the company; and she loved her job.”

Over the decades, Anne had many bosses within the Kaiser Companies, including Kaiser Aluminum President Cornell Maier and Dick Spees, public affairs officer for Kaiser Aluminum for 31 years, who was elected to the Oakland City Council in 1979. Anne played the role of Snoopy at the Kaiser Aluminum’s “Salute the A’s Night” in 1980 at the Oakland Coliseum and posed with Maier for an Oakland Tribune photograph.

She was an active critic of Oakland city government, and through the years chided officials for unsafe streets, untidy neighborhoods and at one point urged the addition of a spruce tree to the Oakland city logo, next to the symbol of a mighty oak tree. She pushed that campaign – to no avail – with the donation of 50 spruce trees to the city, trees that had been part of the Kaiser Center landscape.

When Anne retired in 1983, Vice Mayor Dick Spees and the Oakland City Council declared June 15 Anne Ferreira day of appreciation and presented a tongue-in-cheek certificate that read in part: “Anne . . . is duly recognized for her sage advice and persistent admonitions to (the city) to clean its streets, put its youth to work . . . and generally get its act together.”

After her official retirement, Anne returned to Kaiser Aluminum as a contractor filling in for vacationing staffers and coordinating a community service program. She finally retired at age 77 in 1991. In 2009, Anne was honored as the oldest Kaiser Aluminum retiree at age 95.

Next time: More about Anne and Ray Ferreira’s wartime experiences.

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