September 23, 2014

Shhhh! Franklin D. Roosevelt visits Kaiser shipyard

Watching the launch of the S.S. Joseph N. Teal - [l to r] Oregon Governor Charles Sprague, Henry J. Kaiser, Edgar F. Kaiser, Franklin D. Roosevelt; 9/23/1942

Contributed by Lincoln Cushing, Archivist and Historian

In late summer of 1942 president Franklin Delano Roosevelt took a “stealth” coast-to-coast tour of wartime America.

On September 23, 1942, he visited the Kaiser Oregon Shipbuilding shipyard in St. Johns, Oregon, near Portland. He proudly observed his daughter Anna (Mrs. John Boettiger) launch the Liberty-class S.S. Joseph N. Teal, a ship built in a remarkably short 10 days.

Pressed by the crowd of 14,000 eager workers, FDR said some words from his seat in the front of his convertible limousine. FDR’s last personal secretary, Grace Tully, captured his impromptu speech:

"I have been very much inspired by what I have seen and I wish that every man, woman and child in the United States could have been here today to see that launching and realize what it means in the winning of this war.

You know I am not supposed to be here today (laughter) (the crowd really went wild), so you are the possessors of a secret which even the newspapers of the United states don't know, and I hope you will keep the secret because I am under military and naval orders, and like the ship that we have just seen go overboard, my motions and movements are supposed to be secret. I do not know whether they are or not.

You are doing a wonderful piece of work for your country and for our civilization, and with the help of God we are going to, see this thing through together."

And we did.

Also see related stories "Eleanor Roosevelt visits the Kaiser Shipyards and Hospital" and “Typist bounces with the Kaisers to New York, Northwest and back.”