December 2, 2015

Henry J. Kaiser’s wartime speeches book: Industry meets art

Unquestionably, the most beautiful document in the Kaiser Permanente heritage archives is a handmade book printed in November 1945, Twenty-Six Addresses Delivered During the War Years by Henry J. Kaiser: September Thirteenth, Nineteen Hundred and Forty-Two to July Nineteenth, Nineteen Hundred and Forty Five.

These speeches covered a wide range of subjects, including “Management Looks at the Post War World: An Address before the Forty-Seventh Annual Congress of American Industry, New York City, December 4, 1942,” “Launching the First Aircraft Carrier at Vancouver, Washington, April 5, 1943,” “Building the Future: An Address before the Conference of the National Committee on Housing, Chicago, Illinois, March 9, 1944,” and a speech before the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union at Times Hall, New York City, January 26, 1945.

But impressive though the speeches were, the book itself is a remarkable and beautiful object.

t was printed by Edwin and Robert Grabhorn from type designed by the American typographer Frederic W. Goudy (1865–1947) who created 116 typefaces and published 59 books and whose typefaces have remained a standard to this day. The type was hand set by Jane Grabhorn. The luscious deckle-edged (untrimmed) paper was made by Canson et Montgolfier in France.

The Grabhorn brothers came to San Francisco from the Midwest in 1919 and immediately established themselves as creative and talented fine book printers. California-born Jane Bissell married Robert Grabhorn in 1923, and in 1938 she and William Mo Roth started the Colt Press, an independent commercial publishing venture.

Grabhorn Press closed in 1965 and re-emerged in 1974 as the Arion Press under the direction of Andrew Hoyem. It remains one of San Francisco’s preeminent craft presses.

Upon opening the book one is struck by ornate, golden drop capital letters drawn by painter, printmaker, muralist, and illustrator Harold Mallette Dean (1907–1975). During the Great Depression Dean worked on the Works Progress Administration’s Mural Project and was one of 26 artists selected to paint murals at San Francisco's Coit Tower. In 1935 he began a 15-year career illustrating books for Grabhorn Press.

he 2-inch square drop caps illustrating each speech are sublime. A single red letter is surrounded by a gold foil stamped image, all relating to some subject of the speech.

An “I” is an I-beam with geometric drawings and a small helicopter. Another “I,” for a speech on the 10th anniversary of American-Soviet diplomatic relations, shows the American eagle paired with a Soviet Union hammer and sickle over the Kremlin.

“A’s” highlight two of the famous whirley cranes as well as the classic clasped hands of labor-management partnership.

“M” shows the distinctive profile of a Victory ship. An “O” features a mass of workers engaged in the various defense industry trades. Interestingly, another “O” shows the distinctive bow of a C2-F class freighter — none of which were ever built in Kaiser shipyards.

One “T” has billowing smokestacks of the Fontana steel mill; another a crouched miner with a headlamp.

illustrates a speech given at the launching of the S.S. Berry Victory at the Kaiser Richmond shipyards on May 19, 1945. The image is of two Czechoslovakian citizens in traditional dress; tucked into the upper corner a heraldic lion from the Czechoslovakian coat of arms gently drops its paw on the letter’s top edge. The Berry Victory was sponsored by the wife of Vladimir Hurban, a member of the CzechoSlovak National Council, which served as their government in exile.

Through this book, Industry met Art and clasped hands — an appropriate testament to Henry J. Kaiser’s contributions to victory in World War II.

To come: Excerpts from these speeches.