March 18, 2014

Edgar Kaiser helped LBJ tackle urban challenges

Edgar F. Kaiser, left, then chairman of the Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, and President Lyndon B. Johnson shake hands at a White House reception in 1968.

Contributed by Bryan Culp, Former Heritage Archives director

The occasion was Johnson’s creation of the Urban Institute to serve as the Government’s center for research into the problems of poverty and urban decay in American cities. Johnson saw the Urban Institute as a way to “bridge the gulf between the lonely scholar in search of truth and the decision-maker in search of progress.” Edgar Kaiser, also chairman of Kaiser Industries, Inc., was one of the national leaders appointed to the founding board of trustees of the Urban Institute.

Kaiser was just completing his role as chairman of the President’s Committee on Urban Housing that published “A Decent Home” later that year. Dubbed the Kaiser Committee, it played a major role in helping to address urban housing issues that President Johnson called “the nation’s most urgent domestic task.” The following year, President Johnson honored Kaiser with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civil honor for service to the country.