Friday, February 18, 2011

Henry J. Kaiser - Out to Launch

You can learn a lot from cartoons.

Case in point: the 1944 Warner Bros. cartoon The Weakly Reporter.  This particular Merrie Melody was a send-up of life on the home front during World War II, and featured numerous situations and references that are near indecipherable to many modern viewers.  One must literally reach to the bookshelf or search engine to even be able to understand the meaning and context of many of the short's gags.

The closing sequence of the cartoon pokes fun at the very rapid production of warships at American shipyards at the height of the war.  The closing shot of the film zooms in on a small shack in a shipyard.  A sign on the door says "HENRY J. KAISER - PRIVATE."  A smaller sign, hanging from a nail, proclaims, "BACK IN 2 MINUTES - OUT TO LAUNCH."  So of course it begs the question, who is, or was, Henry J. Kaiser?

Kaiser was a very well know American industrialist throughout much of the mid-20th century.  Prior to World War II, his construction firm worked on such high profile projects as the Hoover Dam and the Grand Coulee Dam.  He began building ships just prior to the war.  He became famous in the field for being a master of mass production.  According to Wikipedia:
He became most famous for the Kaiser Shipyard in Richmond, California during World War II, adopting production techniques that generated cargo ships on the average of one every 45 days. These ships became known as Liberty ships. He became world renowned when his teams built a ship in 4 days. The keel for the 10,500 ton Robert E. Peary was laid on Sunday, November 8, 1942, and the ship was launched in California from the Richmond Shipyard #2 on Thursday, November 12, four days and 15½ hours later. The previous record had been 10 days for the Liberty ship Joseph M. Teal.
His most famous and lasting legacy is likely Kaiser Permanente, considered to be the first health maintenance organization.  Kaiser passed away in 1967.