Henry J. Kaiser was once described as "America`s boldest, most spectacular entrepreneur." He applied his business acumen to a vast array of industrial undertakings, ranging from dams to dishwashers, but Kaiser is probably best known for his mass-produced Liberty ships during World War II and the founding of Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, the forerunner of modern HMOs.
His name appears on an elite list of the "Most Influential Businessmen of All Time" and he has been referred to as the "Western Colossus."
Kaiser was born May 9, 1882, in Sprout Brook, New York, and left school at the age of 13 to go to work. His first construction company was formed in Oakland, California, in 1913, in which he entered the road-paving phase of his career.
By 1931, he was named as chairman of the executive committee overseeing the construction of Hoover Dam. Other dams he was involved with were the Grand Coulee, Bonneville, and Shasta. Kaiser was also involved with the construction of the Bay Bridge linking San Francisco and Oakland.
In the late 1930s, Kaiser established the first organized health care program for the employees of his construction, shipbuilding, and steel mill enterprises, and it was well thought of by his employees.
His legacy, the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, rose from the humble beginnings of a 12-bed desert field hospital to reach more than eight million subscribers as America`s largest not-for-profit health care organization.
As its founder, Kaiser worked with partnerships of physicians, built hospitals and clinics, established a nursing school, and contributed to medical education.
During World War II, Kaiser became known as "the father of modern shipbuilding." His Liberty design was used for ships built by the United States Maritime Commission. They used his shipyards in Richmond, California, to manufacture more than 1,500 cargo ships built to a standardized, mass-produced, modular design. To this day, his ideas are still widely used by nearly all shipyards.
Literature of the day, magazines, comic books, cartoons, and movie posters portrayed Kaiser as "Hurry Up Henry," a "can-do" industrialist.
In 1945, he established Kaiser Industries, of which he was chairman until his death in 1967. That umbrella company held majority interests in numerous other industires, including Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corporation, Kaiser-Fleetwings, which produced dishwashers and other items; magnesium, real estate, and tourism.
Kaiser made significant contributions to the automobile industry as well, by forming a partnership with Joseph Frazer to produce about 750,000 cars. Two of his vehicles, a 1953 Henry J. Corsair Sedan and a 1954 Kaiser Darrin sports car, were part of an exhibition presented by the Oakland Museum in 2004. The Kaiser Darrin, one of only 435 produced, was the first automobile to have a fiberglass body.
Kaiser spent many of his later years in Hawaii, establishing the Honolulu suburb of Hawaii Kai, changing the urban landscape throughout the area by developing civic centers, roads, and schools. He also developed the Kaiser Hawaiian Village Hotel, now one of the most famous Hilton resorts in the world.
Kaiser also developed the Los Angeles suburb of Panorama City.
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