Posts Tagged ‘Kaiser Jeep Corp.’

Ale Kaiser’s Pink Christmas truck

posted on December 19, 2016

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer


FC-170 Jeep truck - Xmas gift for Ale Kaiser, 1958

FC-170 Jeep truck – Henry’s Christmas gift for Ale Kaiser, 1958

Henry J. Kaiser may have been a bold man of action and an international industrialist leader, but he was also a devoted husband. So it should come as no surprise that he was perfectly happy to break with 1950s gender-stereotyped gift giving by buying his wife a pink truck for Christmas.

Kaiser and his second wife Alyce “Ale” moved to Hawaii in 1954, where they enjoyed the island life until Henry died on August 24, 1967 at the age of 85. Alyce’s favorite color was pink, which was the reason why some of the Kaiser facilities in Hawaii are pink. Not just any pink, “Kaiser Pink.”

It had all started when ordering custom-dyed leather for furniture in his Hawaiian Village Hotel. What was supposed to be a mild coral pink showed up a far deeper hue. Too late to change for the opening, the color proved to be a popular hit.

Henry declared that “Pink is a happy color,” and he and Ale proceeded to use it for everything, from building trim, to cement trucks, to catamarans. It was even rumored that Ale once dyed her poodles. And oh, by the way, since it turned out that Ale also liked trucks…

This Christmas story from 1958, written by a Kaiser Industries public affairs person, is a window into their personal life.

Mrs. Henry J. Kaiser started a while back letting the word get back to her industrialist husband that what she wanted most for Christmas this year was – a truck.

At first, Mr. Kaiser couldn’t believe it. One night he exclaimed at dinner table, “I guess I’m being kidded … Everyone in the house seems to think your heart’s desire for Christmas is a powerful truck.”

“But it is – really!” Mrs. Kaiser declared.

Henry J. Kaiser and Ale Kaiser, wedding photo, 1951-04-10. [C10-Oakland Trib - Box 22]

Henry J. Kaiser and Ale Kaiser, wedding photo, 4/10/1951.

“Now what on earth would you do with a truck?” asked Mr. Kaiser, who manufactures Willys Jeep trucks in the United States, Argentina, and Brazil. [The year before moving to Hawaii, the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation had purchased Jeep manufacturer Willys-Overland for approximately $60 million. It would remain under Kaiser Industries control until 1970.]

“It would be great,” Mrs. Kaiser explained, “if I had a truck to haul landscaping plants and gardening supplies when we build our new Portlock Road house. Think of all the uses.”

“Now wouldn’t that be a sight when the family gathers at the Christmas tree and opens packages,” Mr. Kaiser remonstrated, “and I’d say – ‘now come out to the garage, Ale, and see your present’ – and there’d be a pink truck wrapped in cellophane.”

“Just the same,” Mrs. Kaiser replied, “that’s what I want for Christmas.”

So that’s the story-behind-the-story of the Kaiser Pink truck that created something of a sensation among Honolulu people who saw it lowered from the S.S. Leilani, or rolling over to the Von-Hamm-Young Company Jeep distributorship and then out to the Kaiser Kahala avenue house.

FC-170 Jeep truck - Xmas gift for Ale Kaiser, 1958

FC-170 Jeep truck for Ale Kaiser, 1958

The Kaiser gift to his wife is the new Forward Control Jeep FC-170 that can carry 3,500 pounds of cargo on its nine-foot truck body. Mr. Kaiser explained that the 1,700-pound heavy-duty vehicle has nine forward and three reverse power combinations.

Mrs. Kaiser forthwith took the powerful Jeep out for a rigorous drive. She came back beaming.

“It’s a living doll,” she exclaimed. “It’s the most useful Christmas present you could have – simply terrific.”

P.S. – Mr. Kaiser, who thought he was going along with a gag, had another present wrapped and under the Christmas tree for his wife, but decided she wasn’t joking – she obviously was so overjoyed over getting her wish – the pink truck.


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Myth Buster: Henry J. Kaiser and the Jeep

posted on February 3, 2010
By Tom Debley
Director, Heritage Resources, Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser at wheel of a Jeep

Many people think Henry J. Kaiser’s foray into the automobile business after World War II was a failure when his Kaiser automobiles disappeared from America’s roads after only a few years. If you are one of them, think again. Indeed, if you drive a Jeep or the next time you are sitting at a traffic light next to a Jeep, think Henry Kaiser.

The Jeep was Kaiser’s most successful automobile venture when, in 1953, he bought Toledo-based Willys Overland, maker of the Jeep that became world-famous with its service in World War II.

Willys Overland was the maker of engines for Kaiser’s “Henry J,” America’s first compact car. Kaiser had entered automotive manufacturing in 1946, but by 1953 he was losing money.  So when he bought Willys Overland that year for about $70 million in the biggest auto merger in history to date, some argued he was throwing good money after bad.

Kaiser Pink Jeep Surrey was a line of Jeeps in the 1960s

Not the case. As Patrick R. Foster concludes in his book “The Story of Jeep” (Krause Publications, Iola, WI, 1998), “There were several reasons why Kaiser wanted Willys, but the biggest was pride. Henry Kaiser had never failed at anything he tried, but it appeared that the auto business would break that streak.”

What followed was an all-out marketing campaign to capitalize on the public’s fascination with the Jeep. Kaiser’s faith in the Jeep began paying off.  Annual sales volume topped $160 million within two years, with a profit approaching $5 million. It was the first profit for Kaiser’s car manufacturing since 1948.

Designers at work at Kaiser Jeep Corp. in the 1950s.

By 1966, Kaiser Jeep Corp. was building sports and compact cars, stationwagons, and the Jeep Wagoneer, which some say was America’s first SUV. Where there had been one plant in Toledo, manufacture of the Jeep had spread to 32 other countries by the time of Kaiser’s death in 1967.

Five years after Kaiser died, Kaiser Jeep Corp. was sold in 1972 to American Motors. A few years later, Renault Company of France bought American Motors.

In 1987 Chrysler Corporation bought American Motors from Renault for the sole purpose of getting the rights to manufacture the Jeep. Lee lacocca, like Henry Kaiser before him, capitalized on America’s love for the ubiquitous, ‘go-anywhere’ Jeep. 

So while Henry Kaiser is mostly remembered today for co-founding Kaiser Permanente, you can also thank him for making the Jeep a popular American car around the world.

(Photos: The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley and the Kaiser Permanente Heritage Archive)  

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