October 27, 2016

Movember in the wartime Kaiser shipyards — no launch, no shave

Bos'n's Whistle, 11/26/1942.

Movember (the “mo” is for moustache) is an international charity campaign to raise awareness about men’s health during the month of November. Started in 2003 by two Australians, it has been a huge success. But a hairy face has been a sign of healthy competition long before that.

An article in the Portland, Ore., Kaiser shipyard newspaper The Bos’n’s Whistle on November 5, 1942, was boldly titled “Toil and sweat, steel and whiskers.” The curious headline was not explained until the last sentence:

The launching of the Schenectady was given a pioneer days atmosphere through another idea of Swan Island workmen, who vowed that they wouldn't shave until the second tanker is launched from their yard. Many a crop of facial foliage is blooming on the old island airport.

Bos'n's Whistle, OSC, 1942-12-10, OHS
Bos'n's Whistle, 12/10/1942.

A follow up article November 26, 1942, was “Whiskers measure tanker progress.”

Some shipyards get the boys to make bigger and better records with pep talks. But at Swan Island they go native — no launch, no shave. You ought to see it! Thousands of Rip Van Winkles on their island, toiling into the night surrounded by whiskers. Brunettes with red beards, blondes with black beards, goatees, Van Dykes, sheriff's mustaches, and stubble. The ban on shaving is ruthlessly enforced. In two different kangaroo court sessions fines were levied for failure to comply.

At [a] trial on November 9, Edgar Kaiser [shipyard manager and son of Henry J. Kaiser] was fined a total of $37.10 for failure to comply with the ordinance. His heavy fine included $10 for filing a motion in bad faith, 10c for contempt of court, $20 for failure to grow a beard, and $7 court costs.

Bos'n's Whistle, OSC, 1942-12-10, OHS
Bos'n's Whistle, 12/10/1942.

The campaign’s end December 10, 1942 was headlined “Swan Island Shaves!”

At Swan Island they literally "work up a lather" over a tanker-launching. When work began on the Quebec the Islanders resolved not to shave until the ship was launched. The Quebec and her Swan Island sisters are the biggest ships ever built in these parts.

Wartime shipbuilding in the 1940s and men’s health today — noble causes that benefit from healthy (and furry) competition.

Bos'n's Whistle, OSC, 1942-11-26, OHS
Bos'n's Whistle, 11/26/1942.