April 17, 2014

The S.S. Permanente Silverbow sails for Oahu

SS Permanente Silverbow sailing out of the San Francisco Bay, April 17, 1950.

Contributed by Lincoln Cushing, Archivist and Historian

Henry J. Kaiser’s Permanente Cement works had just begun operations in 1939 when he learned that the U.S. Navy wanted to improve on deliveries of cement to Hawaii.

Kaiser claimed he could cut loading and unloading times by as much as 80 percent by pumping bulk, dry cement from ship holds into storage silos in Honolulu. Cynics said the cement would be ruined, but Kaiser guaranteed the product “…from our San Jose plant to the wheelbarrow in Hawaii.”

In October 1940, Kaiser & Co. purchased an aging freighter (the SS Ancon) from the Panama Canal Company and converted it to a bulk cement carrier. The ship went into service as the SS Permanente in March 1941 under contract with the U.S. Navy.

The SS Permanente was moored at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed by the Japanese on December 7, 1941. The ship was not damaged and had already offloaded its holds when the attack came. Within a few days the silos holding the offloaded cement were emptied for the emergency rebuild of the harbor.

By 1945 there were newer, faster, surplus freighters available, and the old SS Permanente was scrapped.

Two years later the Permanente Cement Company purchased a Victory-class cargo ship that had entered service in 1944, the SS Silverbow Victory. When this ship was refitted to carry cement, she was given the name, the SS Permanente Silverbow. She bore cement to the isles until Kaiser built a cement plant on Oahu in the 1950s.