February 13, 2014

Henry Kaiser honored for his role in development of San Francisco's East Bay

Henry and Bess Kaiser addressing Kaiser Shipyard workers during World War II.

Contributed by Lincoln Cushing, Archivist and Historian

The East Bay Economic Development Alliance will present its 2014 Legacy Award to Henry J. Kaiser today (Feb. 13) in a gala event at the Fox Theater in Oakland.

Kaiser is being remembered for the spirit of enterprise and economic development he nurtured during his lifetime in the East Bay community. He is well known for his work on Western dam projects, including the Hoover Dam in Nevada and the Bonneville and Grand Coulee dams built in Washington State in the 1930s.

But he is best known as co-founder with Sidney Garfield, MD, of the Kaiser Permanente Health Plan.

Barbara Crawford, Vice President, Quality & Regulatory Services in Northern California will accept the award on behalf of Kaiser Permanente.

Industrial giant of the mid-20th century

Henry Kaiser is one of America's great business leaders of the 20th century. In name recognition he ranks among the likes of steel man Andrew Carnegie, oil magnate John D. Rockefeller and auto industry pioneer Henry Ford.

A man “greatly restless and restlessly great, one of America’s last real Horatio Algers,” the Oakland Tribune said of Kaiser in 1958.

In the 1940s, Kaiser was called the "patriot in pinstripes" for revolutionizing shipbuilding during World War II. His global enterprises included automobiles, steel, cement, aluminum, engineering and mining, to name a few.

Today, he's remembered most for his socially responsible approach to business, better wages and pensions, a collegial approach to working with labor unions, one of the 20th century's greatest experiments in workplace childcare, a devotion to honesty in business, and the health care delivery system that bears his name.

He was inducted into Modern Healthcare’s Health Care Hall of Fame in 2011.

"He was a powerful and complex man who charged full bore and seemingly without rest through the best part of the 20th century, generating big ideas, mastering big projects and projecting an endless supply of big dreams,” wrote Michael Dobrin, curator of a 2004 Oakland Museum of California exhibit on Kaiser's life.

"Henry Kaiser was a pioneer in the new breed of responsible businessmen," is how President Lyndon Johnson described him. "I was constantly startled at the adventure and compassion and the social consciousness and (his) willingness to extend a hand to the working man."

Henry Kaiser’s health care legacy

Henry Kaiser was a champion of prepaid, group practice medicine at a time when innovation in health care delivery was frowned on by the American medical establishment.

With Dr. Sidney Garfield as the visionary of the Health Plan, the program was conceived to serve Kaiser’s workforce during the hardscrabble years of the Great Depression at the Grand Coulee Dam construction site in Washington State.

The Health Plan matured in Kaiser’s World War II shipyards and was converted to a public plan in 1945 with 27,000 members.

Today Kaiser Permanente has more than 9 million members and 17,000 physicians and operates in eight regions around the country.

Follow this link to view a video on the growth and development of Kaiser Permanente:

Henry J. Kaiser, Sidney Garfield, MD, and Their Shared Vision for Total Health