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Finding aid to the Henry J. Kaiser papers, 1873-1982
BANC MSS 83/42 c  
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Collection Details
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  • Collection Summary
  • Information for Researchers
  • Administrative Information
  • Biographical Chronology
  • Scope and Content

  • Collection Summary

    Collection Title: Henry J. Kaiser Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1873-1982
    Collection Number: BANC MSS 83/42 c
    Creator: Kaiser, Henry J., 1882-
    Extent: Number of containers: 329 cartons, 194 volumes, 2 oversize boxes, 139 oversize folders Linear feet: ca.480
    Repository: The Bancroft Library.
    Berkeley, California 94720-6000
    Physical Location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
    Abstract: The Henry J. Kaiser papers contain personal and business correspondence, memoranda, speeches, and papers, covering the Oakland, New York, and Hawaii offices, principally from the period after World War II. Includes material on the Kaiser Industries Corporation, the Kaiser-Permanente Medical Care Program, the Kaiser Shipyards at Richmond, Calif., other Kaiser industries, and Kaiser's closest associate, Eugene E. Trefethen.
    Languages Represented: English

    Information for Researchers


    Collection is open for use, with the following exception: Carton 20, folder 32 b, Richmond Shipyards Industrial Relations Report, 1943, sections 8-13, is restricted until 2019.

    Publication Rights

    All requests to reproduce, publish, quote from or otherwise use collection materials must be submitted in writing to the Head of Public Services, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 94720-6000. Consent is given on behalf of The Bancroft Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission from the copyright owner. Such permission must be obtained from the copyright owner. See: http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/reference/permissions.html .
    Restrictions also apply to digital representations of the original materials. Use of digital files is restricted to research and educational purposes.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Henry J. Kaiser papers, BANC MSS 83/42 c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

    Alternate Forms Available

    Selections from this collection are available on microfilm as call numbers BANC FILM 2571, BANC FILM 3167, BANC FILM 3168, and BANC FILM 3171. See catalog record or container list for contents.

    Related Collections

    Title: Edgar F. Kaiser, Sr. Papers,
    Identifier/Call Number: BANC MSS 85/61 c
    Title: Eugene E. Trefethen, Jr. Papers,
    Identifier/Call Number: BANC MSS 87/35 c
    Title: Henry J. Kaiser, Jr. Papers,
    Identifier/Call Number: BANC MSS 88/205 c
    Title: Henry J. Kaiser, Sr. Scrapbooks - Hawaii Activities,
    Date (inclusive): 1955-1956,
    Identifier/Call Number: BANC MSS 85/155 cp
    Title: Kaiser Foundation Hospitals - Hawaii Region Collection,
    Date (inclusive): 1958-1985,
    Identifier/Call Number: BANC MSS 87/131 cp
    Title: Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program,
    Identifier/Call Number: BANC MSS 91/12 c

    Material Cataloged Separately

    • Selected printed materials have been transferred to the book collection of The Bancroft Library.
    • Photographs have been transferred to Pictorial Collections of The Bancroft Library.
    • Films and sound recordings have been transferred to the Microforms Division of The Bancroft Library.
    • Selected maps have been transferred to the Map Room.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
    Kaiser, Henry J., 1882--Archives
    Trefethen, Eugene E. (Eugene Edgar), 1909-
    Kaiser Industries Corporation
    Kaiser-Permanente Medical Care Program
    Kaiser Shipyards (Richmond, Calif.)
    Industrialists--United States
    Industries--New York (State)
    Industries--West (U.S.)

    Administrative Information

    Acquisition Information

    The Henry J. Kaiser Papers were given to The Bancroft Library by Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. in 1983, with additions in 1985 and 1986.

    Processing Information

    Processed by Regan Bresnahan, Project Archivist. Additions processed by Lauren Lassleben and Rosemary Evetts; finding aid completed by Mary Morganti, with assistance from Robin Tremblay-McGaw, Elizabeth Stephens, and others.

    Biographical Chronology

    1882 Henry John Kaiser born in Sprout Brook (near Canajoharie), New York, on May 9, son of Francis J. and Mary Yops Kaiser, German immigrants.
    1895 Left school at age 13, to help support his parents and three sisters, by working in a dry goods store in Utica, New York.
    ca. 1903- 1906 Became a salesman and partner in a photographic business in Lake Placid, New York; bought out his partner, and opened stores in Daytona Beach and Miami, Florida, and Nassau.
    1906 Moved to Spokane, Washington, and worked as a hardware and sand and gravel salesman.
    1907 Married Bessie Fosburgh on April 8 in Boston.
    1912 Began a road paving business in Washington and British Columbia. The Henry J. Kaiser Company, Ltd. established in Vancouver, B.C., in 1914.
    1921 Won his first California paving contract, between Redding and Red Bluff, and established headquarters in Oakland.
    1923 Started sand and gravel quarry at Radum (near Livermore), to supply the Livermore-Pleasanton paving job. This was the beginning of Kaiser Sand and Gravel Company.
    1927 Worked on a 200 -mile, 500 -bridge highway in Cuba.
    1929 Formed a consortium called Six Companies, Inc., with Henry J. Kaiser as chairman of the executive committee, to build Hoover (Boulder) Dam on the Colorado River. Also collaborated on the building of Bonneville, Grand Coulee, and Shasta Dams, natural gas pipelines in the Southwest, Mississippi River levees, and the San Francisco -Oakland Bay Bridge underwater foundations.
    1939 Built the Permanente Cement plant near Los Altos, California, in seven months, to provide cement and aggregates for the construction of Shasta Dam.
    1940-1945 During World War II, coordinated production of liberty ships, "baby flat top" aircraft carriers, aircraft, cement, steel, magnesium for bombs and artillery shells, as well as laying the ground work for post war production of housing, cars and consumer goods.
    1942 Granted loan by the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to build a steel plant at Fontana, California, the first in the western United States. Broke ground in April, and the first blast furnace was blown in on December 30, 1942.
    1944 Considered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as his fourth-term vice presidential running mate.
      Chairman of the Non-Partisan Association for Franchise Education, to promote voting.
    1945 Kaiser-Frazer Corporation incorporated in Nevada, and produced 750,000 automobiles in its ten years of production.
    1945-1946 Served as national chairman of the Victory Clothing Collection, the Civilian Production Administration Emergency Food Collection, and the United States Relief Administration.
    1946 Began making aluminum at five rented plants, and showed a profit of $5.3 million in less than one year.
    1951 Bessie Fosburgh Kaiser died in Oakland. A month later, on April 10, Henry J. Kaiser married Alyce Chester in Santa Barbara.
    1955 Turned over day to day operation of Kaiser Industries Corporation to son Edgar F. Kaiser, and moved to Hawaii. There he developed the Hawaiian Village Hotel, and a $350 million real estate development and resort called Hawaii Kai.
    1958 Opened Kaiser Foundation Hospital in Honolulu.
    1961 Henry J. Kaiser, Jr. died in Oakland.
      Awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by University of California, Berkeley.
    1963 Received the International Broadcast Free Enterprise Award.
    1965 Given the AFL-CIO Murray Green Humanitarian Award, "in recognition of notable accomplishments in voluntary medical care, housing and labor-management relations."
    1967 Died on August 24 in Honolulu. By the time of his death at age 85, Henry J. Kaiser had founded more than 100 companies, which operated 180 major plants in 32 states and 40 foreign countries, employing 90,000 people and making 300 products and services, with assets of $2.5 billion.

    Scope and Content

    The Henry J. Kaiser Papers reflect the multi-faceted career of an American businessman, builder, popular folk hero, and self-made millionaire, who dropped out of school in the eighth grade to help support his family. According to historian Gerald D. Nash, "more than any other individual person, industrialist Henry J. Kaiser was responsible for the wartime industrial boom in the West." Gerald B. Nash, The American West in the Twentieth Century: a Short History of a Cultural Oasis, (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1973), p. 205.
    The bulk of the collection dates from after World War II, by which time the affiliated Kaiser companies were producing an amazing array of building materials, including steel, cement, aluminum, and gypsum; beginning engineering projects all over the world; and, building affordable housing and consumer goods, such as Kaiser-Frazer cars, Willys Jeeps, and even dishwashers. Henry J. Kaiser's papers were not systematically retained until after the war, when he hired newspaperman Robert C. Elliott as his executive assistant. The collection contains papers dating from 1873 to 1982, consisting of both personal papers and corporate records, and including correspondence, memoranda, reports, general office files, advertisements, and financial records, as well as transcripts of speeches and radio talks, articles, honoraria, and obituaries, among other personal papers. Oversize materials include architectural drawings, primarily of Kaiser's housing and resort development in Hawaii, engineering plans and sketches for various other Kaiser projects, including airplanes and boats, newsclippings, and scrapbooks.
    The collection was processed over a number of years, by a handful of individuals working in several locations; therefore, some duplication may continue to exist within the files. In 1991, extensive editing and reworking of the in-process finding aid was undertaken and an attempt made to rectify inaccuracies and errors, both in the random packing of the cartons and in the container listing, which did not include any of the oversize materials. As part of that project, numerous printed materials were removed to the book collection, for separate cataloging, resulting in the elimination of a number of cartons as the collection was repacked and condensed.
    Among the most interesting series are two which document the myriad projects in which Henry J. Kaiser was continually engaged. Series 1: Early Miscellaneous Material, 1924-1952, contains many of the records relating to early paving operations, where Kaiser got his start in the construction business, and joint venture projects, such as pipeline, bridge, jetty, and dam construction projects in the West. Series 5: Projects File, 1940-1945, demonstrates the range of activities which the Kaiser personnel undertook in wartime, in addition to their West Coast steel-making and ship-building operations. Always one to foresee consumer demand, even during the press of manufacturing steel, ships, planes, and magnesium, Kaiser was also experimenting with automobiles, dishwashers, and low-cost housing. The records in these two series, particularly, are supplemented by the materials found in the two additions to the Henry J. Kaiser Papers (Series 16 & 17).
    The collection is rich in potential research topics. Henry J. Kaiser was a key figure in the industrialization of the West: he was the first to manufacture steel on the West Coast (at Fontana, California, where the first blast furnace was named for his wife, Bess). He was a major force in building the Hawaiian economy, overseeing the development of a resort hotel complex and the master-planned community, Hawaii-Kai. It is as a visionary dreamer and doer, one particularly proud of Kaiser Permanente Foundation's extensive pre-paid health maintenance organization, that Henry J. Kaiser wished to be remembered.