Who Was Henry J. Kaiser, Jr.?


Henry J. Kaiser, Jr.

Henry J. Kaiser, Jr. was born February 18, 1917 at Everett, Washington. He received his early schooling in the Oakland, California public school system. A 1940 graduate of Stanford University, he was a member of the Kaiser organization’s policy-making team, along with his father, Henry, Sr., his brother, Edgar, and Eugene E. Trefethen.

From 1939 through 1951 he moved from one coast to another, largely as demanded by the Kaiser companies tremendous war time efforts. His first job with the Kaiser Companies was in San Jose, California as project engineer during the building of the Permanente Cement Plant. He participated in the largest and fastest production of ships in world history, accomplished by the Kaiser shipyards during World War II. He was administrative manager of one of
these yards at Richmond, California, where 30,000 workers turned out 368 Liberty and Victory ships for the war effort.

During the same war period, he was administrative manager of the Kaiser Steel plant at Fontana, California and later took over direction and reorganization of the Brewster Aeronautical Corporation at Bristol, Pennsylvania. This was at the request of the U.S. Navy, which was striving to unsnarl production lines for its Corsair fighter planes. Although only 26 at the time, Kaiser took charge of the Brewster operation, which had a dismal record of production failures and labor strife. Seven managers had preceded him and total production of the critically needed Navy plane during the previous month was only four aircraft. Under his direction, a total of 127 planes was turned out within the next three months and production rose to a peak of 123 per month in less than a year.

The following year, 1944, an even greater and more personal challenge was dealt him. While in charge of the Kaiser-operated Denver and Fontana artillery shell plants, he was afflicted with multiple sclerosis. Rather than submit to a prescribed program of rest, Henry characteristically plunged into a program of intensive physical therapy, continuing his full work-day schedule.

After the war, Kaiser moved to Los Angeles to manage the Kaiser-Frazier division of Kaiser Motors Corporation. In 1951 he transferred to the Oakland offices of the Kaiser organization to take a more active role in overall management, and in 1954 he assumed responsibility for Kaiser Companies’ worldwide public relations program.

He developed into a popular motivational speaker on a variety of topics–education, public relations, faith, personal and societal values, and, of course, multiple sclerosis. Many of his speeches were published in a variety of magazines, among them Reader’s Digest and Guideposts, or printed as leaflets by the Kaiser Companies for later distribution.

He was a recipient of the 1959 George Washington Honor Medal, presented by the Valley Forge Freedom Foundationsfor his contribution to the nation’s spiritual values. Also in 1959 he was chosen Education Association Layman of the Year by the Alameda County (Calif.) Education Association and in 1960 was named Oakland’s Outstanding Citizen of the Year. He held an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Portland, Oregon.

Henry J. Kaiser, Jr. served as chairman of Oakland’s Public Advisory Committee on Education (PACE). He was a director of the National Safety Council, and the California Safety Foundation, and chairman of the Oakland Workreation Committee. He served as chairman of the Division of Parish Day Schools, Department of Education of the Episcopal Diocese of California. In addition, he was a member of the board of directors of the Oakland Museums
Association. He was western vice-president of the American Public Relations Association and a member of the Public Relations Society of America.He belonged to the Claremont Country Club, San Francisco’s Press & Union Club,and the Jonathan Club of Los Angeles, among others.

Kaiser was married twice. Two daughters, Janie Lee and Marylou resulted from his first marriage to Jane Walkup. Remarried in 1947 to the former Barbara Preininger, they had one son, Henry J. Kaiser III.

Henry J. Kaiser, Jr. died May 3, 1961 in Oakland, California. He was entombed in the Mountain View Cemetery Mausoleum.

Excerpted from the Online Archive of California (OAC)