Posts Tagged ‘Kaiser Shipyards’

A heavy tale of Kaiser ships, graveyards, and uncles

posted on November 19, 2014

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer


scrapped Liberty ship bow, Willamette River

Scrapped Liberty ship fore peak, Willamette River, Oregon. [1]

Buried on the banks of the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon, lies an unmarked graveyard of war veterans. And my uncle played a small but important role in their short lives.

At the end of World War II, a parade of proud but battered ships arrived at U.S. scrapyards to be recycled. Many of these were Kaiser-built Liberty and Victory ships completing their destiny after having helped win the war for the Allies. Like spawning salmon, many of these ships were returning to be recycled only miles from the three Portland and Vancouver (Wash.) yards in which they were built. But when workers took cutting torches to these noble vessels, they ran into a problem – solid ballast.

Every ship requires ballast to stay upright, and cargo ships have particularly challenging demands. If ballast is not properly placed fore to aft or side to side, or there’s not enough of it, a ship will not be trimmed properly and risk listing or even capsizing under adverse conditions. In extreme circumstances uneven ballast and cargo loading can break a ship in high seas. And since these vessels are constantly taking on and removing massive quantities of cargo, ballasting is a dynamic problem.

As is typical in large vessels, Liberty ships were built with multiple ballast holds. These included “deep tanks” below the main cargo holds that could contain dry cargo or sea water ballast; even deeper “double bottom” tanks that could carry either fuel oil or seawater ballast; and designated holds for permanent solid ballast.

Liberty ship holdsV3-sm

Diagram of Liberty ship holds, fore peak highlighted. [2]

Solid ballast can be anything from rocks to iron, and has the advantage of being much denser (and thus heavier) than water. Liberty ships were built with a dead weight capacity of 10,800 tons and required 1,500 tons of ballast. The engine was in the center, but to compensate for the aft weight of the rudder, screw, and prop shaft the ship’s lower bow section – the fore peak – was filled with solid ballast. They also produced “movable ballast” cast blocks, usually 9x11x13 inches and weighing about 175 pounds, which could be moved or removed as needs changed. At first pig iron was used, but even that lowly metal was too precious to waste on ballast during the war. Alternatives were sought, and eventually found – in the form of magnetite-infused concrete.

Magnetite is low-grade iron ore, generally unsuitable for manufacturing, with a specific gravity of 5.17. That is less dense than pig iron’s 7.1 but far higher than concrete’s 2.32. The magnetite-concrete mixture was considerably cheaper than metal; a 1948 U.S. Department of the Interior report noted that the substitution saved about $2 million during war production.

Although most of the magnetite used on the Pacific Coast came from California. a major deposit was available from a Lovelock (Nevada) mine controlled by Charles H. Segerstrom, Jr. and John M. Heizer. John was my uncle; my other uncle Robert was working as a steamfitter in the Kaiser Richmond shipyards at the time. As early as October, 1943 rail cars were carrying one carload a day from the mines to ballast fabricators near San Francisco bay. 

This is how it was reported in “Nevada iron deposits provide warship ballast,” published in the Mineral County (Nevada) Independent News, June 13, 1945:

The ore is high-grade magnetite (60 to 65 percent iron) of high specific gravity and is in demand by west coast shipbuilders. Crushed magnetite and Portland cement are mixed with magnetite sands recovered magnetically from beaches in California, and the mixture is placed as concrete in the ship bottoms to set as a permanent ballast…

Heizer and Segerstrom have subleased the property to the Dodge Construction company of Fallon to fulfill a contract in excess of 10,000 tons of magnetite iron ore to be used by Kaiser shipyards of Richmond, California. Production of the magnetite started in early July, 1944.

Magnetite iron ore has been used successfully for permanent ship ballast and the Kaiser shipyards have contracted for an additional tonnage. Meanwhile, the shipyards at Portland, Oregon, have also negotiated for a substantial tonnage.


Bows on riverside-sm

Scrapped fore peaks, Willamette River [3]

The ballast was a great solution for shipbuilding, but later on it posed a problem for postwar shipbreaking. The concrete could not be easily separated from the valuable steel, so the fore peaks were deposited at the edge of the river as erosion-control landfill.

Portland shipbreakers at yards such as Zidell tackled more than 183 Liberty ships, buttressing the Willamette River shore with more than 100 fore peaks and other ballast blocks. In 1991, the Naito family created the Portland Liberty Ship Memorial Park, setting it on property they had purchased. In 2006 this park was redeveloped into a high-end condo community, literally built on top of the bows of a marvelous wartime achievement.

Plans are being made to honor this past with an outdoor maritime display on the Willamette River Greenway. Perhaps these battered remnants of the World War II Home Front merchant marine fleet will once again raise their peaks and proclaim “We can do it!”


Short link to this article:

[1] Photo from “Portland South Waterfront Greenway: Conceptual Schematic Design Phase,” August, 2004, Buster Simpson; also photo #3.

[2] Liberty ship schematic adapted from Sawyer, L. A., & Mitchell, W. H. (1970). The Liberty ships: The history of the “emergency” type cargo ships constructed in the United States during World War II. Cambridge, Md: Cornell Maritime Press.


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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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Shipyard life portrayed in creative installations at Home Front park

posted on May 21, 2014

National Park Service to open historical
exhibits following 10 a.m. ceremony
Saturday, May 24, on waterfront in Richmond, Calif.

Click on any image to see a slideshow.
To close the slideshow and return to this page, click on “X” in upper
left of slideshow page.

Photos by Ginny McPartland

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VP Biden plays host to women who worked in wartime shipyards

posted on March 27, 2014

By Ginny McPartland
Heritage writer

Marian and Loyd Wynn, 1944

Marian and Loyd Wynn, 1944. Marian worked as a pipe welder in the Kaiser Richmond Shipyards during WWII.

Six San Francisco Bay Area women will represent female World War II defense workers across the nation when they travel next week to Washington, D.C., to be honored by Vice President Joe Biden.

Thousands of American women, as teenagers and young adults 70 years ago, stepped out of their traditional roles during World War II to build ships, aircraft and other war materiel crucial to Allied victory in 1945. Like the men who fought the war, the ranks of defense workers are thinning out more every day.

Phyllis Gould, 92, a welder in the Richmond Kaiser Shipyards in the 1940s, resolved six years ago to arrange for a group of Rosies to go to the White House. Following Gould’s relentless letter-writing campaign, they’re leaving Saturday and will meet Biden in his office on Monday.

Here are brief biographies of the women making the trip:

Priscilla Elder, 93, an electrician in the Richmond Kaiser Shipyards, was the third of 11 children raised in Iowa. Priscilla followed her older sister to Richmond after her husband was drafted and sent to fight in Europe with the Third Army under Gen. George S. Patton.

Her twin sister followed Priscilla to California, and they both were hired as electricians to wire circuit boxes on troop transport ships built at Kaiser Shipyard No. 3. Priscilla’s 22-month-old son attended the Maritime Child Development Center, which was renovated in 2010 and reopened as a preschool.

Journeyman welder Kay Morrison, 2014

Journeyman welder Kay Morrison, 2014

Kay Morrison, 90, a native of Chico, Calif., came to Richmond with her carpenter husband in 1941 to find work. Her husband Ray was hired right away in Shipyard No. 2. She wanted to become a welder but at first she couldn’t get a job because the Boilermakers Union was not yet accepting women.

In 1943, she was hired as a welder and worked the graveyard shift in Shipyard No. 3 with her husband. The couple lived in San Francisco and commuted to Richmond by ferry. After three months, she took the test to become a journeyman (proficient) welder.

After the war, Ray continued his work in shipbuilding and Kay eventually went to work at Bank of America where she was employed for 30 years and retired in 1984 as bank manager.


Priscilla Elder, electrician in Kaiser Richmond Shipyards during World War II.

Marian Sousa, 88, a draftsman in the Engineering Department, is Phyllis Gould’s younger sister. She came down to Richmond from Eugene, Ore., to take care of Phyllis’s young son. After graduating from high school, she took a drafting course at UC Berkeley and was hired to make blueprint revisions at Shipyard No. 2.

Another sister, Marge, arrived later and got a job as a welder; the girls’ mother, Mildred, followed later when her husband, a career military man, was posted to Camp Stoneman near Pittsburg, Calif.  She put her youngest daughter in child care and went to work at the shipyards as a painter.

Phyllis and her husband bought a house in San Pablo that, though small, housed the whole extended family. The beds were in use around the clock as family members alternately slept and worked a shift at the shipyards.

Marian Wynn, 87, like Priscilla Elder, was the third child in a family of 11 raised in the Midwest. Her father migrated from Minnesota to Richmond, Calif., in 1942 to become an electrician lead man in Kaiser Shipyard No. 3. She wanted to follow her father right away but agreed to wait until she finished high school.

After graduation, she traveled by bus to Richmond and was hired as a pipe welder in West Storage in Shipyard No. 3. After the war, she didn’t return to Minnesota because she met and married her husband, a Navy man stationed at Treasure Island near San Francisco.

Journeyman welder Agnes Moore, 2014

Journeyman welder Agnes Moore, 2014

Agnes Moore, 94, grew up on a farm in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, the sixth of seven children. She came to California in 1942 to visit her brother and sister. While driving in San Francisco, she heard a radio advertisement for shipyard workers.

“Women, do something for your country. Go to Richmond shipyard and become a welder,” she recalls the radio announcer saying. The ad spurred her to drive over to Richmond and apply. She was hired in 1942, and in 1943 she passed the test to become a journeyman welder. Agnes worked in the shipyard until the end of the war in 1945, longer than the average Rosie.

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Interned Japanese artist’s work shown at Rosie the Riveter national park

posted on February 19, 2014
Sunset, Water Tower, Topaz, March 10, 1943, by Chiura Obata

Sunset, Water Tower, Topaz, March 10, 1943, by Chiura Obata

Kimi Kodani Hill, granddaughter of artist Chiura Obata and author of a book of his paintings, will show Obata’s work and tell his story in a special event at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park this Saturday, Feb. 22.

The free event begins at 3 p.m. at the Visitors Education Center at the former site of the Kaiser Shipyards on the waterfront in Richmond, Calif.

Obata and his family were among the Japanese-Americans removed from their homes and incarcerated during World War II under Executive Order 9066 signed by President Roosevelt on Feb. 19, 1942.  The Obata family was interned at the Topaz War Relocation Center in Central Utah.

The national park event was scheduled to coincide with the 72nd anniversary of the Executive Order’s issuance, marked as the annual “Day of Remembrance” for the Japanese-American community.

Obata taught art at UC Berkeley

The artist was trained in Japan in the traditional form of sumi-e (ink painting). He came to California in 1903 at the age of 18 and made his home in the San Francisco Bay Area. He taught in the art department at the University of California at Berkeley beginning in 1932 and after the war until 1955.

Obata cultivated a life-long reverence for nature as a powerful spiritual force that inspired both his art and his life. He has gained recognition among art lovers and art historians, especially during the past several years.

His paintings are in collections of the De Young Museum in San Francisco, the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento and in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

His two distinct bodies of work have been published in “Obata’s Yosemite” (1993) and “Topaz Moon: Chiura Obata’s Art of the Internment” (2000). Executive Order 9066 empowered the Secretary of War to “prescribe military areas . . . from which any or all persons may be excluded. . . .”

This broad power enabled the forced removal of more than 110,000 people of Japanese descent living in California and much of Oregon, Washington and Arizona.

Immigrants from Japan, as well as their American-born children who were citizens, were subjected to forced incarceration in desolate camps for the duration of the war.

The Rosie the Riveter Visitor Education Center is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The center is located at 1414 Harbour Way South, Suite 3000, Richmond.

For more information and directions, you may call (510) 232-5050, ext. 0 or visit our Web site.

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Bay Area Home Front Festival focuses on children of World War II

posted on October 10, 2013
Children had a home away from home in the World War II Kaiser West Coast Shipyards.
Children had a home away from home in the World War II Kaiser West Coast Shipyards.

By Ginny McPartland, Heritage writer

Shipyard history show must go on despite national park shutdown

Americans were worried about the health and welfare of their children during World War II. Dubbed the “Eight-Hour Orphans” because many of their mothers were at work in war industries, young children had to endure the harshness of the Home Front like their parents did.

Special programs for children – many transplanted by parents’ job opportunities – sprung up during the war to minimize the psychological and physical effects brought on by hostilities abroad.

The federal government sponsored child care centers at war production worksites like the Kaiser West Coast Shipyards where the best minds in the country were engaged to develop the curriculum (including art and music) and the environment.

“Failure to provide adequate care for the children of working mothers . . . is probably the gravest home problem we face.  For it would be folly to win the war—and find that we had lost our children,” the Kaiser Richmond Shipyard newsletter Fore ‘N’ Aft asserted in May 1943.

So it’s appropriate that this year’s Home Front Festival should adopt the theme “Kids Can Do It!” to set the tone for this Saturday’s event at the historic Kaiser Shipyards site in Richmond, California. The event in the Craneway Pavilion at the end of South Harbour Way will be from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free.

Kids were fed well in the World War II Kaiser Shipyards child care centers.
Kids were fed well in the World War II Kaiser Shipyards child care centers.

Sponsored by the Richmond Chamber of Commerce, the festival will go on despite the federal government shutdown that has kept the National Park Service employees at the Rosie the Riveter park away from work since Oct. 1.

NPS activities planned for the festival, including the opening of “Kids in WWII: Imagination & Reality” in the Visitors Center, have been cancelled. This exhibit will open when the shutdown ends and run through March 2014.

The chamber is sponsoring the Kids Zone that will feature a video game truck, jump-houses, face painting, art projects, games and interactive activities for family members of all ages.

The festival will also feature: rides on 1940s buses to the historic SS Red Oak Victory Ship, live music by five different bands throughout the day, free duck boat tours of Marina Bay, food and drink, and a cornucopia of historical exhibits and commercial booths.

Women and men who worked in war industries during World War II are invited to join the festivities and participate in the annual Rosie the Riveter reunion and photo shoot.


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Labor unions offer early support for nascent Permanente Health Plan

posted on July 16, 2013
"Kaiser launches 747th - and last- wartime ship," article in the Oakland Tribune, August 13, 1945. Expanding the shipyard workers' health care plan to the public would be the birth of the Kaiser Permanente program.
“Kaiser launches 747th – and last- wartime ship,” article in the Oakland Tribune, August 13, 1945. Expanding the shipyard workers’ health care plan to the public sparked the birth of the Kaiser Permanente program.

by Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer

As World War II neared an end, the Permanente Health Plan was looking at a dramatic shift in its member base. Wartime shipyard closures loomed, and the future of the plan during peacetime would hinge on attracting new members in the community.

Given Henry J. Kaiser’s support for labor, it was not surprising that labor unions were among the early member groups. Bay Area workers – Oakland city employees, union typographers, street car drivers and carpenters – embraced the Permanente Health Plan and its emphasis on preventive medicine.

One of the first and largest unions to endorse the plan was The International Longshoremen and Warehousemen Union.

On June 7, 1945, the Stewards and Executive Council of the ILWU’s Oakland unit voted unanimously to make coverage in the health insurance plan of the Permanente Foundation a part of its future negotiations with employers.  The executive council also requested that employers pay for the plan’s premiums.

We want our Permanente!

An article in the ILWU’s The Dispatcher explained:

“. . . Permanente operates on three principles: prepayment . . . group practice of medicine (the hospital has 84 doctors on its staff, many of them specialists . . . and adequate facilities.)”

Related to adequate facilities, the article noted that a group practice health plan like Permanente could afford the latest medical equipment, which individual, fee-for-service physicians did not have.

Preventive care takes center stage

“The most important provision of the plan . . . is that the first two visits to the hospital are included in the insurance.”

“A spokesman for (Permanente) explained that the hospital was interested in really affording the worker medical security. If the patient had to pay for the first two visits, he would be deterred from using the plan until an ailment became necessarily serious.”

“The hospital’s facilities are open to all groups with no segregation of patients because of creed or color,” the article reported.

Within five years, by 1950, ILWU president Harry Bridges had brought all 6,000 union members working up and down the West Coast into the Permanente Health Plan.

The union’s agreement with Permanente leader Sidney Garfield, MD, included opening a medical facility in San Pedro near Long Beach. Up to that point, the health plan had only one Southern California hospital, which provided care for the workers at the Kaiser Steel Plant in Fontana.

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Healthy lifestyles: tough to achieve, worth the effort

posted on May 31, 2013

By Ginny McPartland, Heritage writer

Kaiser Permanente’s Northwest Region initiated its Freedom from Fat program in 1989. Exercise was an integral part of the healthy living program. This photo of Donna Dean, a Health Plan member, William Cooper, associate regional manager of the Northwest Region, and Chris Overton, health education staff member, appeared on the cover of the Spring 1989 Spectrum, a magazine for Kaiser Permanente employees.

Kaiser Permanente founding physician Sidney Garfield caught on early that changing people’s habits would have positive results for their health. Urging his patients to avoid accidents by following safety guidelines and eating right to avoid health problems was a no-brainer for Garfield. Everyone would be happier and healthier, and the need for costly medical care could be minimized.

Voila! Prepaid care with an emphasis on prevention. Garfield adopted this theme in 1933, and Kaiser Permanente leaders have held this as a predominant tenet ever since.

Garfield’s interest in nutrition and exercise programs for shipyard workers in the 1940s, multiphasic examinations (annual physicals) in the 1950s, data processing of patient records in the 1960s, health education centers in the 1970s and the Total Health Project in the 1980s all fed into the push to promote healthy lifestyles and prevent illness.

Newsletters in the World War II Kaiser shipyards constantly reminded workers to eat three square meals a day and avoid too much fat and sugar. “Are you starving?” one article asked. “You can be starved without being hungry. . . Are you aware: 24 million man-hours per month (nationally) are lost through minor illnesses preventable by better nutrition?”

‘Are You Starving’ article in the Oct. 6, 1944, issue of the Kaiser Richmond Shipyard newsletter Fore ‘N Aft. The message: Eat healthy food and stay fit.

The Kaiser child care centers served healthy meals, and parents could buy nutritious family dinners to take home when they collected their offspring at the end of the day. Shipyard management sponsored intramural sports teams to help workers blow off steam and stay fit.

Screening workers for unhealthy habits

In 1950 Dr. Garfield responded to labor leader Harry Bridges’ request for a preventive care screening program for the members of his longshoremen’s and warehousemen’s union. The examinations, union-mandated for all workers, highlighted lifestyle problems and educated the men on how to avoid heart disease and other chronic illness.

In the 1960s, the first computer technology recorded the examination results so physicians could track their patients’ progress electronically and identify trends that could aid in the care and treatment of other patients, even in subsequent decades.

The 1970s saw the debut of the health education centers in which patients could seek disease prevention information and partake in groundbreaking programs to help them maintain healthy lifestyles and a healthy weight. (This was the beginning of Kaiser Permanente’s Healthy Living centers that offer a myriad of programs designed to preserve good physical and mental health and help patients manage chronic conditions.)

Health appraisal gains momentum

Health appraisal programs were established in a number of Kaiser Permanente locations, and healthy members were encouraged to visit the clinic when they were well, not just when illness struck. They filled out questionnaires and discussed their health status with practitioners who tracked their lifestyles and gave advice on staying well.

The transparent woman was a prominent exhibit in the first Oakland Health Education Center. Instructors could light up various parts of the body and describe the functions for visitors to the center. This photo appeared on the cover of the Kaiser Permanente’s 1967 annual report.

In the 1980s, Dr. Garfield conducted the Total Health research project in which he expanded the health assessment theme and had new well members diverted to a Total Health Center in which the emphasis was on promoting healthy lifestyles.

In the 1990s, Kaiser Permanente researchers participated in studies to test the success of a dietary regimen meant to reduce blood pressure and help prevent heart attacks and strokes. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension approach called for a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, fish, poultry and nuts.

The participants who followed DASH experienced a significant reduction in 24-hour blood pressure. The others, who continued to eat red meat, sweets and sugary soda, saw no improvement in blood pressure. Following the study, the DASH approach became the basis of Kaiser Permanente’s teaching about the prevention of hypertension and related conditions.

Also in the 1990s, Kaiser Permanente physician Vincent Felitti discovered while running a health appraisal clinic in the San Diego area that some patients needed help overcoming childhood trauma before they could change unhealthy behavior. Felitti conducted the Adverse Childhood Experience study and urged the consideration of psychological as well as physical issues in assessing a patient’s ability to adopt a healthy lifestyle.

Thriving in the 21st century

Kaiser Permanente offers a wide variety of healthy living classes at its facilities in all regions. Here, students enjoy an exercise class in Oakland, Calif.

In 2004 Kaiser Permanente launched its Thrive advertising campaign, which spotlighted the health plan’s continuing emphasis on healthy living to help patients stay well. In the 20-Teens, the organization gave birth to other behavior change modalities, including online healthy lifestyle programs, Healthy Eating and Active Living community programs and free classes open to the public.

In 2012, Kaiser Permanente launched “Every Body Walk!” a campaign to get literally everyone up on their feet to take the first small steps that can lead to success in achieving a healthy lifestyle.

Today, patients who choose to alter their habits to achieve better health can get help in Kaiser Permanente’s Healthy Living classes, by enrolling in online Healthy Lifestyle programs, and by accessing the bonanza of health information on

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Prevention of worker injuries a Kaiser Permanente tradition

posted on January 2, 2013

By Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer

Kaiser wartime shipyard dress code poster. Henry Kaiser archives image.

In 1930s America, manual labor of all types– farming, construction, and manufacturing – was dangerous. In those depressed and troubled times, anxious workers were glad to have a job despite the risk of injury or death. Statistics of the decade told the story: workers were killed at an annual rate of 37 per 100,000 employees.

It was in this environment that Sidney R. Garfield began to offer industrial medical care for some of the 5,000 men working on the Colorado River Aqueduct Project in 1933. Garfield addressed the problem head-on by encouraging safe work habits and identifying and eliminating hazards. Garfield, bent on keeping the workers well, actively nurtured a culture of safety awareness and accident prevention.

Garfield’s vigilance to ensure a safe workplace – key to his early preventive care philosophy – remains a vital part of the Kaiser Permanente Health Plan he started with Henry Kaiser almost 70 years ago.

Garfield and Kaiser found synergy in providing health care for Kaiser’s 8,000 workers at the Grand Coulee Dam project in Washington state starting in 1938. That was practice for the real test they faced in maintaining the health of shipyard workers during World War II.

No time to plan for war industries

This safety cartoon was in the Richmond Shipyard No. 3 employee handbook in 1943. From the Lisa Killen Collection.

With almost no time for preparation or planning, Kaiser hired almost 200,000 new employees to toil nonstop to support American and Allied war efforts. Henry Kaiser ran seven West Coast shipyards and a steel mill in Fontana, Calif. His workforce was not composed of the usual sturdy males with experience in the trades – those men were serving in the military. Most shipyard workers were migrants from the South and Midwest, and about a third of them were women. Many were disabled. Few had held industrial jobs before.

The Kaiser Shipyards managers instituted several measures to reduce workplace risk.

One approach was to take care to assign people to the right job when they were first hired. In early 1944, the War Manpower Commission contracted with Permanente Foundation Hospitals to compile data about the physical requirements of each job in the shipyard. This study resulted in a 627-page reference guide called the Physical Demands and Capacities Analysis.

This illustration was published in the Bo’s’ns Whistle, the Portland shipyard employee newsletter, 1943

After workers were hired, they were not placed in a job until managers could fully understand their physical capabilities. The job placement guide helped avoid assigning someone to a job they couldn’t physically handle.

The “Plate Acetylene Burner” job description in the guide reads: “Climbs 6 steps to and from assembly platform twice daily, and walks within 500’ x 65’ area to stand, stoop, reach down, grasp, lift, and carry up to 35 pounds of “burning” equipment (women), and up to 75 pounds (men) to place where burning is to be done (25% of job).”

An article in the June 1, 1944, San Francisco Call Bulletin noted the study’s long-term importance. The manpower commission’s regional director told the paper: “The technique (methodology) on which (the research) is based will be invaluable in the postwar period when thousands of returning service men and women will have to be fitted into new jobs.”

Another strategy was to conduct ongoing worker education about occupational hazards. The weekly shipyard newsletters regularly featured cartoons, articles, contests, and photos about the right and wrong way to perform any task. The Richmond newsletter Fore ‘n’ Aft published a “Safety Boner Contest” cartoon created in the nearby Marinship yard (Sausalito) asking readers to identify hazards. Although 112 errors were intentionally drawn in, a zealous reader in a Vancouver (Washington) yard found 118.

Changes in law, technology curb hazards

Death and injury from industrial hazards such as coal dust, explosions, and asbestos have declined markedly in the past century, partly due to changing modes of production and partly due to progressive legislation.

One key step was the enactment of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970, which helped accelerate an already improving work environment. In the 22-year period prior to OSHA’s existence, death rates dropped by 38 percent from the 1948 rate; in the first 22 years following its creation rates dropped by more than 61 percent.[i]

Hazards change. The most significant workplace health problem emerging in the late 20th century was the array of musculoskeletal disorders caused by repetitive stress. And today, in the health care field, other dangers lurk, such as needle sticks, exposure to contaminated human fluids, and getting injured while repositioning and lifting patients.

LMP works for reduction of KP workplace injuries

This is one of KP Northwest Region’s series of posters highlighting how employees can make a difference in workplace safety.

With the 1997 birth of Kaiser Permanente’s Labor Management Partnership, worker safety programs took a huge leap forward. The LMP’s Workplace Safety Initiative, launched June 21, 2001, was the most comprehensive and ambitious effort to date, with a goal of reducing the number of workplace-related illnesses and injuries by 50 percent over the next four years.

“Too many people in our organization are being hurt on the job today,” said Dick Pettingill, then-president of the Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Health Plan in California. “This is unacceptable to me, and it should be unacceptable to all of us.”[ii]

The next year newly appointed KP Chairman and CEO George Halvorson and AFL-CIO President John Sweeney called on employees, managers, and physicians nationwide to make their workplaces safer. “There is no reason why we should accept an environment in which accidents are occurring,” Halvorson said. “We’re all going to work together, in Partnership teams, to improve the safety of our workplace.”[iii]

Hundreds of trained two-person teams from labor and management toured medical centers and regional operations facilities in “Broad Engagement Walk-throughs” sponsored by Southern California Region’s Workplace Safety group. The teams talked to unit staff who also responded to surveys to help identify workplace safety issues.[iv]

KP HealthConnect® joins safety campaign

“My name is CONROY. I was created for the sole purpose of getting you to watch for me and my important safety messages.” KP Northwest Region campaign graphic, 2011

New technologies also demanded workplace safety planning. In 2004, the Kaiser Permanente HealthConnect® workplace safety team partnered with stakeholders in Northern California to minimize any negative ergonomic consequences of the new national electronic health record system. Equipment at 34,000 workstations and hundreds of nursing stations and exam rooms had been modified or replaced, so the workplace safety team developed customized carts, wall mounts, and other adjustments to make sure that the upgrades were safe for physicians and staff.[v]

One way the LMP plays a valuable role is through the site-specific unit-based teams and other natural clusters of workers with similar jobs. In 2004 the Los Angeles Medical Center’s Lift Teams (specially trained staff members who help nurses and physicians lift and move patients safely) reduced the number of workplace injuries by nearly 45 percent over a three-month period.[vi]

By the end of 2005, the Southern California injury rate had declined 29 percent – short of the 50 percent reduction goal but still a significant achievement. Northern California met its goal of 50 percent reduction one year later.

Safety pin graphic created for KP Northern California’s “Speak Up for Safety” campaign, 2011.

Another major effort is the KP Workplace Safety Program, which seeks to reduce injury on the job for all employees of Kaiser Permanente, from office workers to nurses to couriers. Planning and implementation is coordinated by a national leadership team with regional representation.

In Northern California, the WPS Program serves all represented employees, including those in non-LMP unions such as the California Nurses Association, Stationary Engineers Local 39, and the Guild for Professional Pharmacists.

The challenge continues. In 2011 Northern California WPS Program Executive Director Helen Archer-Duste, RN, MS, reiterated KP’s goal: “Working in health care is dangerous. I want to make us the safest place in health care . . . Our ultimate goal is to have a workplace with no injuries. I believe that can happen.”[vii]

Thanks to Kathy Gerwig (vice president, KP Employee Safety), Helen Archer-Duste (executive director, KP Workplace Safety and Care Experience), Patricia Hansen (KP regional workplace safety practice leader), and Maureen Anderson (Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions) for contributing to this article.


[ii]California Wire, “Workplace Safety Initiative: KP and Labor Partners Put Safety First,” Aug. 6, 2001.
[iii] California Wire, “U.S. Labor Leader, KP CEO, Employees, and Managers Launch Programwide LMP Workplace Safety Plans,” Nov. 4, 2002
[iv] California Wire, “Labor Management Partnership Reaches Staff in Workplace Safety ‘Walk-throughs’,” Nov. 11, 2002.
[v] California Wire, “Safety Is Key in KP HealthConnect® Deployment,” July 19, 2004.
[vi] California Wire, “Los Angeles Lift Team Wins LMP Award,” July 26, 2004.
[vii] “Workplace Injuries Plummet,” Inside KP, Nov. 8, 2011.

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Kaiser Permanente was about fitness before fitness was cool

posted on May 9, 2012

By Wendy Edelstein
Heritage associate

Third in a series

The Kaiser company sponsored a women’s basketball team during the Richmond Shipyard days. Bancroft Library photo.

Getting regular exercise plays a key role in staying physically and mentally healthy. A given in 2012, the relationship between physical activity and good health has only been well understood for the past few decades.

While work once involved physical labor for a majority of Americans, early 20th century technological advances changed most jobs into something requiring much less exertion. Henry Ford introduced the assembly line into his Detroit factory to produce cars more rapidly, and mechanization spread to other industries, including farming.

Getting workers into ship-shape

The man behind California’s Richmond Kaiser Shipyards understood the value of good health. Industrialist Henry J. Kaiser knew that keeping workers and their families healthy and happy was vital for the success of his business. Competition among Kaiser teams to produce the most ships at the fastest pace was intense.

To keep workers fit, and to boost morale, the Kaiser Shipyard management provided many opportunities for employees to be active. Softball and basketball games were scheduled so that day, swing, and graveyard workers could participate. And bowling, skating, swimming, tennis and horseshoes were available any time.

Most able-bodied American men were away fighting on the war front, so women workers (who became collectively known as “Rosie the Riveter” and “Wendy the Welder”) took on jobs that in peaceful times would have been considered men’s work. The work was demanding – and early on women found their jobs requiring more strength and stamina than they could muster.

Richmond Shipyards shopfitters baseball team during World War II. Bancroft Library photo.

When shipyard gynecologist Hannah Peters recognized many of the women were resigning because the work was too hard, the yard began providing them with strength training.  The women learned how to climb ladders, lift loads, and how to combine the two skills to climb with loads.

A mid-century check-up

By the early 1950s, the effect of industrialization began to show, and Americans were judged to be less physically fit than previous generations. “Muscular Fitness and Health,” a 1953 article published in the Journal of the American Association for Health, Physical Education, and Recreation, asserted that the sedentary 20th century American lifestyle had led to a loss of muscle tone in this country’s citizens.

Co-authors Hans Kraus, MD, and Bonnie Prudden cautioned that Americans needed to adopt physical fitness regimens to regain the level of fitness of earlier generations who used their feet to get around and sweated through their work day.

Kraus and Prudden’s message gained traction when mainstream publications such as Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report and Sports Illustrated picked up on a study Kraus had done that showed American youth to be significantly less fit than their European counterparts.

In the early 1950s Kraus studied students between the ages of 6 and 16 and measured their strength and flexibility as they performed sit-ups, leg lifts and toe touches.

A startling 56 percent of the 4,400 American students tested by Kraus and his colleague Sonja Weber, MD, failed at least one of the fitness components. In contrast, only 8 percent of the 3,000 European students (who hailed from Switzerland, Italy or Austria) failed even one part of the test.

Kraus blamed the American students’ poor showing on their pampered lifestyles: Their parents typically drove them to school, and they did only light chores and played within their own neighborhoods. Their European peers, on the other hand, typically walked miles to school, rode bicycles and performed strenuous chores such as chopping wood.

John and Jackie Kennedy on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Dec. 26, 1960

When President Dwight D. Eisenhower suffered a heart attack in 1954, America received a lesson in preventive care from Dr. Paul Dudley White, the president’s physician. Dr. White used television – 65 percent of Americans had a TV at home by 1955 – to tell Americans they could stave off heart attacks by exercising more, giving up cigarettes, and by eating healthier food, and less of it. President Eisenhower followed his doctor’s advice and went on to establish the President’s Council on Youth Fitness in 1956.

Sowing the seeds of a fitness revolution

In December 1960, then President-elect John F. Kennedy spearheaded a public awareness campaign promoting physical fitness. In “The Soft American,” an article he wrote that appeared in Sports Illustrated, Kennedy cited the results of the Kraus-Weber Test as well as an annual physical fitness exam at Yale University: 51% of the class passed in 1951, 43 percent passed in 1956 and 38 percent passed in 1960.

“Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body; it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity,” wrote Kennedy. “The relationship between the soundness of the body and the activities of the mind is subtle and complex. Much is not yet understood. But we do know what the Greeks knew: that intelligence and skill can only function at the peak of their capacity when the body is healthy and strong; that hardy spirits and tough minds usually inhabit sound bodies.”

Once he took office, President Kennedy’s message reached an even wider audience via a public awareness campaign, President’s Council-sponsored pilot projects to test children’s fitness levels, clinics and educational films and booklets.

Outdoor aerobics class led by registered nurses in Hawaii, 1982

When Kaiser Permanente (KP) opened the doors of its Health Education Research Center in Oakland in 1969, its overarching educational theme was, “You have only one life to live – live it in good health.” The experimental center featured a patient health library and health exhibits. “Story of Life,” one of the most popular displays about human reproduction and family planning, used life-size, three-dimensional models and color slides.

Another area of the center presented information about health hazards: weight problems, smoking, venereal disease, cancer, and alcohol and drug abuse. The “Pathway to Positive Health” exhibit focused on how visitors could stay well by paying attention to nutrition, dental hygiene and the physical, mental, emotional and social aspects of good health.

The Health Education Research Center was an outgrowth of a pilot project that explored education’s role in increasing the effectiveness of preventive care. This was a new approach to prevention; it spread through the Kaiser Permanente system and beyond. By 1987, 85 percent of all U.S. hospitals offered health education programs.

From aerobics to yoga – 1970s ushered in fitness craze

Unofficial estimates in the early 1980s suggested that more than half of all Americans pursued some sort of recreational exercise, such as bicycling, swimming, tennis or running.  This new dedication to physical activity signaled a change.

“Until recently, modern generations of Americans by and large failed to act on a compelling accumulation of knowledge linking individual lifestyle with individual health. As a nation, our eating habits violated accepted standards of nutrition. We shunned devoting our leisure time to regular physical exercise,” declared the writers of Kaiser Permanente’s 1984 annual report.

Fitness guru Richard Simmons leads a class in aerobics.

During the 1970s and 1980s many Americans got swept up in the fitness craze. Wearing leotards, neon spandex and leg warmers, they headed to health clubs and performed leg lifts and side bends and hoisted dumbbells to upbeat music. Or they popped Jane Fonda’s Workout in the video cassette recorder (VCR) and worked up a sweat at home. Others jogged their way to good health after reading Jim Fixx’s 1977 bestseller The Complete Book of Running.

Americans had different motivations to exercise, according to a 1978 Harris poll. Twenty-four percent of regular exercisers cited their reason was to strengthen their heart and/or lungs, 41 percent sought to lose weight, 24 percent wanted to become healthier, and 45 percent hoped to stay healthy.

A 1976 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of the 10 leading causes of death in the United States looked at the importance of four factors. Lifestyle, including exercise and diet, figured most prominently at 51 percent, followed by heredity (20 percent), environment (19 percent) and inadequate access to health care (10 percent).

Garfield’s Prescient Total Health Care Project

KP founding physician Sidney Garfield’s crowning achievement, the Total Health Care Project, came towards the end of his life in 1984. Among the Total Health Care Project’s goals was “to provide comprehensive primary care services for both wellness and illness and to provide incentives to professional staff to keep members well rather than just treating them when they are sick.”

An aggressive outreach plan to new members encouraged them to schedule a health evaluation appointment to review their current health and to develop a personalized Health Improvement Plan (HIP).

Colorado KP employees and members participate in an aerobics class. Kaiser Permanente 1984 Annual Report photo.

Members received a mailing with the instructions: “If you are feeling fine, we also want to see you to make sure you are in good health and assist you in preventing future problems. We really think the BEST time for you to get acquainted with us is when you’re feeling good, without the pressure of illness.”

Members who visited the Total Health Care Center for initial and periodic examinations assessed their own health via a questionnaire. They were asked about their eating habits, their lifestyle and how frequently and intensely they exercised. Part of the assessment was a treadmill endurance test to determine cardiovascular fitness.

Through the Total Health program, the center staff guided members in their quest for good health. Handouts offered tips such as how to select an activity that you will stick with as well as how to take your own pulse.

In the 1980s, popular health books included Pritikin Program for Diet & Exercise, Better Homes & Gardens’ Good Food & Fitness and Covert Bailey’s Fit or Fat? Fitness programs and initiatives began to take root throughout Kaiser Permanente’s regions. For instance, in 1984, the Ohio Region launched its “Annual Frost Belt Classic,” a series of five-, 10-, and 15-kilometer cross-country ski races. The race drew 500 skiers in 1987.

In the early 1980s, every KP region sponsored or supported a race or fun run. As part of its Dr. Wizardwise health education program, the Hawaii region sponsored a run for children.

Also in the 1980s, Kaiser Permanente’s Northern California Region established partnerships with about 15 local health clubs, enabling its members to join for a low or no initiation fee and a reduced monthly rate.

The current picture of health

Members of the Kaiser Permanente Dragon Boat Team, the KP Dragons. KP 2007 Annual Report photo.

Today medical assistants in Kaiser Permanente’s Southern California, Northern California, Colorado and Northwest regions ask patients about their exercise habits as a matter of course. Exercise as a Vital Sign was launched in Kaiser Permanente’s Southern California region first in 2009 to capture information about members’ physical activity.

Medical assistants routinely ask two questions: 1) On average, how many days a week do you engage in moderate or greater physical activity (like a brisk walk)? 2) On those days, how many minutes do you engage in activity at that level? Those answers are entered into the KP member’s computerized health record, and his or her physician can view that information along with the rest of the patient’s vital signs.

Kaiser Permanente also promotes healthy living through its Every Body Walk!, Thrive Across America, Healthy Eating Active Living and KP Healthworks programs and by sponsoring walks, runs and cycling events and offering an array of fitness classes at its medical centers.

Weight of the Nation - HBO series on obesity

Home Box Office series premiers May 14

With Exercise as a Vital sign in the exam room and a broad array of healthy living initiatives, Kaiser Permanente’s longtime fitness message endures: regular exercise is one of the cornerstones of preventive care and ultimate good health.

Kaiser Permanente is one of the sponsors of the Home Box Office (HBO) upcoming documentary series “Weight of the Nation,” which covers the issue of obesity in America. The four-part series will be aired May 14 and 15. For more information about KP’s involvement in the fight against obesity:

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