August 22, 2014

Building history like building ships

Fore 'n' Aft, May 21, 1943

Contributed by Lincoln Cushing, Archivist and Historian

During World War II, Henry J. Kaiser brought efficiencies to the shipbuilding industry such as prefabrication, vendor collaboration, and just-in-time inventory control. Fast forward to the present era where Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources began digitizing the weekly Richmond shipyard newsletter Fore ‘n’ Aft.

Many of the articles in this blog draw deeply from that well. At the peak of shipyard employment in 1944 some 80,000 copies of the free newsletter were distributed, reaching 90 percent of the workforce. It was a key part of the shipyard community, and the wide range of content included welding suggestions, news of launchings, cartoons, shopping and cooking tips, labor news, classified ads, and a complaint column.

The problem was that our archive only held some of those published, limiting our ability to thoroughly research that vital period. We had 78 issues, and at least 170 more had been produced.

Our solution? Collaboration with community partners and judicious use of specialized vendors.

Fore 'n' Aft, 1945-03-30, RMH
Fore 'n' Aft, March 30, 1945, with article "Family Health Plan Opened Wide"; click on image to see full issue PDF

We knew that the Richmond Museum of History held the most complete set of Fore ‘n’ Afts around, but initial inquiries stumbled over cost and access. However, subsequent negotiations with the RMH yielded a true win-win situation. They would provide us the issues we were missing at no cost, and we’d pay to digitize them. The resultant set of all files would be shared by both. In addition, we agreed to share a research set with a mutual partner, the National Park Service’s Rosie the Riveter WWII Homefront Memorial Park visitor center. Among other gems, the RMH is steward of the S.S. Red Oak Victory, launched on November 9, 1944 and the only remaining Kaiser Richmond shipyard vessel that is being restored.

Fore ‘n’ Aft was printed in two formats between 1941 and 1946; some were saddle stitched magazines and some were larger (and cheaper) tabloid newspapers. The smaller format was sent to a local vendor, and the tabloid issues were digitized at the author’s studio (four years ago I shot 24,000 posters for the Oakland Museum of California). The resulting PDFs were processed for optical character recognition to allow full-text searching.

The resulting digital collection contains almost all of the published issues, and for the first time these materials can be accessed through comprehensive text searching.

Partnership + collaboration = community benefit.