Henry John Kaiser (May 9, 1882 – August 24, 1967) was an American industrialist who became known as the father of modern American shipbuilding. He established the Kaiser Shipyard which built Liberty ships during World War II, after which he formed Kaiser Aluminum and Kaiser Steel. Kaiser organized Kaiser Permanente health care for his workers and their families. He led Kaiser-Frazer followed by Kaiser Motors, automobile companies known for the safety of their designs. Kaiser was involved in large construction projects such as civic centers and dams, and invested in real estate. With his acquired wealth, he initiated the Kaiser Family Foundation, a charitable organization.
Visit the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation website.
He worked as an apprentice photographer early in life, and was running the studio by the age of twenty. He used his saved earnings to move to Washington state where he started a construction company that fulfilled government contracts.
After moving to the West Coast in 1906, he founded in 1914 a paving company, one of the first to use heavy construction machinery. His firm expanded significantly in 1927 when it received a $20-million contract to build roads in Cuba. In 1931 his firm was one of the prime contractors in building the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River, and the Bonneville and Grand Coulee Dams on the Columbia River.
He had never built a ship before, but he set up shipyards in Seattle and Tacoma where he began using mass-production techniques, such as using welding instead of rivets.
World War II
Henry Kaiser became most famous for the Kaiser Shipyard in Richmond, California during World War II, adopting production techniques that built cargo ships on the average of one every 45 days. These ships became known as Liberty ships. He became world renowned when his teams built a ship in 4 days. The keel for the 10,500 ton Robert E. Peary was laid on Sunday, November 8, 1942, and the ship was launched in California from the Richmond Shipyard #2 on Thursday, November 12, four days and 15½ hours later. The previous record had been 10 days for the Liberty ship Joseph M. Teal.
A visit to a Ford assembly plant by one of his associates led to the decision to use welding instead of riveting for shipbuilding. Welding was advantageous in that it took less strength and it was easier to teach thousands of employees, mostly unskilled laborers and many of them women. Kaiser also adopted the use of subassemblies in ship construction; formerly, hundreds of laborers crowded together to complete a ship. Though this practice had been tried on the east coast and in Britain, Kaiser was able to take full advantage of the process by constructing new shipyards with this in mind.
Other Kaiser Shipyards were located in Ryan Point (Vancouver) on the Columbia River in Washington state and on Swan Island in Portland, Oregon. A smaller vessel was turned out in 71 hours and 40 minutes from the Vancouver yard on November 16, 1942. The concepts he developed for the mass production of commercial and military ships remain in use today. It was at the Richmond Kaiser Shipyards where he financed the pioneering idea of Dr. Sydney Garfield, the Kaiser Permanente HMO. The Kaiser hulls also became America's escort carriers, over one hundred small aircraft carriers employed in both the Pacific and the Atlantic theaters.
One problem with welded hulls, unknown at that time, was the issue of 'brittle fracture.' This caused the loss of some liberty ships in cold seas as the welds failed and the hulls would crack - sometimes completely in two. Constance Tipper was one of the first people to discover why the liberty ships were breaking in two. Minor changes in design and more rigid welding control enforced in 1947 eliminated liberty ship losses until 1955.
Through his membership in a group called the Six Companies, Kaiser also had a major role in the Joshua Hendy Iron Works of Sunnyvale, California which built the EC-2 triple expansion steam engines for the Liberty ships.
Kaiser and his associates organized the California Shipbuilding Corporation.
The Kaiser Richmond Field Hospital for the Kaiser Shipyards was also financed by the U.S. Maritime Commission, and opened on August 10, 1942. Sponsored by Henry J. Kaiser's Permanente Foundation, it was run by Medical Director Sidney R. Garfield, M.D. The Field Hospital served as the mid-level component of a three-tier medical care system that included six well-equipped First Aid Stations at the shipyards, and the main Permanente Hospital in Oakland, where the most critical cases were treated.
By August 1944, 92.2 percent of all Richmond shipyard employees had joined the plan, the first voluntary group plan in the country to feature group medical practice, prepayment and substantial medical facilities on such a large scale. After the war ended, the Health Plan was expanded to include workers' families. By 1990, Kaiser Permanente was still the country's largest nonprofit HMO.
In part due to wartime materials rationing, the Field Hospital is a single-story wood frame structure designed in a simple modernist mode. Originally intended for use primarily as an emergency facility, the Field Hospital opened with only 10 beds. Later additions increased its capacity to 160 beds by 1944. The Field Hospital operated as a Kaiser Permanente hospital until closing in 1995.
During the war, Kaiser also served as National Chairman of United Clothing Collection for International War Relief.
Post-World War II
As a real estate magnate, Kaiser was the founder of the Honolulu suburban community of Hawaiʻi Kai in Hawaiʻi (where there is a public high school named in his honor) and Panorama City near Los Angeles.
In 1945, Kaiser partnered with veteran automobile executive Joseph Frazer to establish a new automobile company from the remnants of Graham-Paige, of which Frazer had been president. It would use a surplus Ford Motor Company defense plant at Willow Run, Michigan originally built for World War II aircraft production by Ford. Kaiser Motors produced cars under the Kaiser and Frazer names until 1955, when it abandoned the U.S. market and moved production to plants in Brazil and Argentina. In the late 1960s, these South American operations were sold to a Ford-Renault combine. In 1953, Kaiser purchased Willys-Overland, manufacturer of the Jeep line of utility vehicles, changing its name to Willys Motors. In 1963, the name was changed again to Kaiser-Jeep, which was ultimately sold to American Motors Corporation in 1970. As part of the transaction, Kaiser acquired a 22% interest in AMC, which was later divested.
Kaiser founded Kaiser Aluminum in 1946 with the lease and eventual purchase of three aluminum facilities from the United States Government. Over the ensuing decades, Kaiser Aluminum grew to become involved in virtually all aspects of the aluminum industry, including the mining and refining of bauxite into alumina, the production of primary aluminum from alumina, and the manufacture of fabricated and semi-fabricated aluminum products.
In 1948, Kaiser established the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, (also known as Kaiser Family Foundation), a U.S.-based, non-profit, private operating foundation focusing on the major health care issues facing the nation. The Foundation, not associated with Kaiser Permanente or Kaiser Industries, is an independent voice and source of facts and analysis for policymakers, the media, the health care community, and the general public.
Kaiser Permanente Federal Credit Union was founded in 1952 and served employees of Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, the Permanente Medical Group, Inc. and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. In September 2008, the The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) selected Alliant Credit Union, based in Chicago, Illinois, to purchase the assets of Kaiperm Federal Credit Union of Oakland, California. The purchase and assumption was completed on September 26, 2008.
Kaiser Federal Bank was originally founded in 1953 as a credit union to serve the employees of the Kaiser Foundation Hospitals in Los Angeles, California and converted to a federal mutual savings bank in 1999. Kaiser Federal Financial Group, Inc. is a Maryland corporation that owns all of the outstanding common stock of Kaiser Federal Bank. The stock of Kaiser Federal Financial Group, Inc. is traded on the NASDAQ under the trading symbol "KFFG".
Henry Kaiser spent much of his later years in Honolulu and developed an obsession with perfecting its urban landscape. He founded the Kaiser Hawaiian Village Hotel, today known as the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Kaiser also constructed one of the first commercially practical geodesic domes in the United States at this resort.
In 1967, Kaiser died at the age of 85 in Honolulu, Hawaii. He is buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California.
Kaiser was involved in building civic centers, roads, and schools. He was part of the consortium that constructed the Hoover Dam and Grand Coulee Dam. Kaiser is also noted for advancing medicine with the development and construction of several hospitals, medical centers and medical schools. His mining town of Eagle Mountain, California, part of the West Coast's first integrated mining/processing operation linked by rail to his mill in Fontana, California, was the birthplace of Kaiser Permanente, the first health maintenance organization. Fontana is now home to another public high school named in his honor. His grandson, Edgar F. Kaiser, Jr., was the former President of Kaiser Steel. From 1981–1984, he also owned the Denver Broncos NFL franchise. Another grandson, also named Henry Kaiser, is a widely known experimental guitarist.
In 1984, the Oakland Auditorium was renamed the Kaiser Convention Center in honor of Kaiser after a renovation that year.
A class of 18 United States Navy fleet replenishment oilers built in the 1980s and 1990s is named the Henry J. Kaiser class. Its lead unit, USNS Henry J. Kaiser (T-AO-187), the first U.S. Navy ship named for Kaiser, entered service with the Military Sealift Command on December 19, 1986.
On August 25, 2009, Governor Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver announced that Kaiser would be one of 13 California Hall of Fame inductees in The California Museum's yearlong exhibit. The induction ceremony was on December 1, 2009 in Sacramento, California.