Henry John Kaiser was born on May 9
in Sprout Brook, NY
. In 1914
, he started his own construction company, and began building highways
. His company had a hand in the Hoover
and Grand Coulee
Dams. Kaiser designed and built Boulder City
to house the Hoover Dam workers. In 1939
, Kaiser created a pioneer prepaid health care
plan for his workers that included coverage for their family members. Today, Kaiser Permanente
is the world's largest HMO
. By the time World War II
broke out, he had earned a reputation as an innovator.
In 1940, the Germans were sinking ships at an alarming rate. With the vast majority of American shipyards occupied building warships, the British approached Kaiser for help. Having never built a ship before, Kaiser went about reinventing the way in which they were constructed. Between 1922 and 1937, the United States built only two freighters. By the end of the war, Kaiser's shipyards were assembling ships in under a week. One of these liberty ships was assembled in just 4 days.
Kaiser's genius was to make it possible for just about anyone to build a ship. At the time, ships were built essentially by hand, and required highly trained craftsmen to put them together. Kaiser introduced the concept of the assembly line to shipbuilding, and soon he had workers assembling the ships in sections. These sections would then be transported to the slip and welded together. Isolating tasks vastly reduced the time it took to train workers. By the end of the war, Kaiser's shipyards had produced over 1,500 liberty ships. A total of 2,710 would be built, but only two survive today.
Kaiser teamed up with Howard Hughes to develop an alternative method of transport, one which would be invulnerable to the U-boat attacks which were sending about twelve million tons of shipping to the bottom of the sea each year. Built from wood to preserve strategic materials such as aluminum and steel, the Spruce Goose project was born. It wouldn't fly until 1947, and then only once.
After the war, Kaiser teamed up with Joseph Frazer to challenge the Big Three in the automotive market. In 1946, Kaiser-Frazer produced 11,000 cars, but company losses brought trouble with investors, and Frazer soon left the company, and in 1953, Kaiser sold out to Willys-Overland.
In all, he founded over 100 companies. Kaiser Industries was involved in construction, shipbuilding, cement, magnesium, aluminum and steel.
Henry Kaiser died on August 24, 1967 in Hawaii.