September 6, 2013

Henry J. Kaiser and more on the building of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge

Part 2 of 2: silent film of bridge construction

As described in our previous blog, Henry J. Kaiser and his construction companies participated in several significant aspects of building the original San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge: helping secure funding for the project and handling the piers on the East Bay side. Perhaps less glamorous but certainly no less important were two additional projects — providing concrete for the other bridge components beyond the East Bay piers and painting the bridge. In addition to the role of Bridge Builders, Inc. (the consortium assembled with Henry Kaiser and partners in 1931–1932 to bid on work on the Golden Gate Bridge) several other Kaiser-related entities were part of the Bay Bridge.

Providing concrete for the bridge in addition to East Bay footings

Subcontracts were awarded to Kaiser Construction (AKA Henry J. Kaiser Company) for barge rentals and mixing concrete for pouring — a significant “subcontract” involving some 1,250,000 barrels of Portland cement  and a substantially larger amount of aggregate. This was accomplished through a complex web of interlocking companies.

Field and Office Organization of Bridge Builders, Inc.; article on building the Oakland-SF Bay Bridge, Western Construction News, July, 1934, p. 222

Field and Office Organization of Bridge Builders, Inc: (Front Row, Left to Right) Charles Cameron, Carpenter Foreman, Sec. 4; M. L. Wagner, Superintendent, Sec. 4; C. B. Jansen, General Superintendent; J. Thompson, Superintendent, Sec. 4A; Ray LeWan, Carpenter Foreman, Sec. 4A; Orval Auhl, Assistant to General Superintendent; Frank Harrison, Engineer of Design; William Nosman, Office Manager; AI Holmes, Chief Timekeeper; Russell Quick, Cost Engineer; Hugh Pendleton, Field Engineer. (Back Row, Left to Right) Assistant Superintendents H. Brandt and A. Windom, Sec. 4; B. Durfee, Sec. 4A; J. Kuhn, Sec. 4; B. Begg and J. O’Leary, Sec. 4A; Frank Connor, Fleet Boss; Harry Lutz, Master Mechanic. Charles Nourse, Master Electrician; Jack White, Concrete Expediter; Fred Ramsey, Auditor; Joe Deveney, Material Clerk. Photo from Western Construction News, July, 1934,

Henry J. Kaiser Company — formed June 22, 1933, to subcontract for work on the Bay Bridge. HJK Co. was never directly a contractor on this project, but they did build a “central batching plant” on Yerba Buena Island that distributed concrete needed throughout the project.  It was a success — a summary report by Eugene Trefethen to the Director of Highways, Southern Pacific Mole Bay Bridge Unit, boasted:[i]

“The best evidence of the soundness of their decision is to be found in the unprecedented speed with which the Substructure has been completed, low cost…and the unparalleled results obtained by the State of California in the strength and consistency of all concrete batched and mixed by the method finally adopted by the Henry J. Kaiser Company.”

Trans-Bay Construction Company — Contract #2, West Bay substructureTrans-Bay was a consortium composed of General Construction Company, Seattle; Morrison-Knudsen Company, Boise; McDonald and Kahn, San Francisco; Pacific Bridge Company, Portland; and J. F. Shea Company, Portland. In addition to these contractors, an undated contract between TBCC and HJK Co. outlines the details of their relationship regarding the provision of mixed concrete for the bridge.

Concrete Products Sales Company — formed in Oakland May 22, 1930. Documents between CPSC and Henry J. Kaiser Company affirmed that HJK Co. had been carrying on Bay Bridge concrete operations in its own name but was actually as agent for CPSC. CPSC employed HJK Co. to continue as its agent,[ii] and on November 22, 1933, a formal agreement was signed between CPSC and HJK Co. Henry J. Kaiser himself would be listed as president of CPSC and A.B. Ordway his second in command. After the bridge was finished, CPSC sold its business to W.A. Bechtel Co., Henry J. Kaiser Co., and the Southern California Roads Company.

Clinton Construction Company — Contract #5, Yerba Buena Island tunnel and anchorage; Contract #8, Oakland approaches. Clinton Construction was founded around 1916, and among their many regional projects were California Memorial Stadium at U.C. Berkeley (opened 1923) and the Richmond Civic Auditorium and Arts Center (Richmond Memorial Convention Center) in 1949. CCC subcontracted much of the work on these two large bridge contracts, far more than was the case with the major contractors. On November 30, 1933, a contract was signed between CPSC and CCC detailing the sale of mixed concrete between the two companies. Some of the provisions of that contract included:[iii]

Article 7. Transbay to pay $4.59 per cubic yard for all concrete of normal cement content of 1.5 bbls. per cubic yard of concrete. Variation of 1% either way is permitted.

Article 12. Transbay to use every effort to unload concrete promptly as soon as Kaiser’s barges are tied to anchorages to prevent delay to Kaiser’s barges.

Davis Brothers and Sheik; an agreement dated November 20, 1933, between CPSC and DB&S outlined subcontracting details of the barges, towing arrangements, and mixing plant.

Advertisement for sale of surplus Bay Bridge construction equipment from 1934.
Advertisement for sale of surplus Bay Bridge construction equipment, Western Construction News, July 1934.

Painting the bridge

Bridge Builders, Inc. also won “Painting contract #9” for part of priming the fresh metal of the bridge. This used 143,000 tons of paint; the last two coats on the West Bay Towers and “cable pasting” plus 4 coats on cables and accessories. This was completed January 11, 1934.

By July 1934 Kaiser’s role was done and they were selling off equipment. The Bay Bridge opened to the public on November 12, 1936, and Henry J. Kaiser would continue to make history in the Bay Are and beyond.




[i] Documents about the Henry J. Kaiser Company and the Oakland Bay Bridge, 2/17/1935; BANC83-42c-4-9-2.pdf

[ii] “Essential dates involved in Bender v. Clinton Construction Company, et. al,” circa 1933. BANC83-42c-3-13.pdf

[iii] “Agreement between Transbay Construction Co. and Henry J. Kaiser Co. regarding Bay Bridge construction,” circa 1933. BANC83-42c-3-13.pdf