The war in Europe had an enormous impact on American industry. Wartime factory work created new job opportunities, such as building battleships. These photographs, all taken in and around the Richmond Shipyards in Richmond, California, give a sense of what took place at shipyards during World War II.
Industrialist Henry J. Kaiser ran seven shipyards and employed thousands of people. He used an assembly line to build ships, assembling some in less than five days. One image in this collection shows a ship's hull under construction. Another shows a diagram with goals for completing a ship. The workers at the Kaiser shipyards in Richmond, California, produced the most warships in the country during World War II. One photograph shows workers celebrating the launch of one of their ships.
Kaiser was a forward thinker in terms of employee benefits. As the "Be a Healthy Shipbuilder" sign in one of the photographs shows, he was concerned about the welfare of his employees. Kaiser provided his employees with a health care plan by creating the first health maintenance organization, an HMO that exists to this day; and he set up on-site day care centers, where workers could leave their children while they worked their shift.
Several photographs show the masses of workers who came to work each day, and many show women and minorities working at the Richmond Shipyards. A shortage of male workers and the pressing need for labor (as evidenced by the image of the recruiting billboard), created these new opportunities. This need for workers contributed to the migration to California of African Americans, who came in great numbers from the South in search of job opportunities.
The many people who streamed into the shipyards in search of work turned Richmond into a boomtown, even attracting national attention. All of the workers needed a place to live, and makeshift living conditions were cramped and uncomfortable. One photograph shows the wife of worker standing in her home: a cramped bus that housed her family of six. Other photographs show families camping in tents and sleeping on the ground as they waited for housing to be built. Some shipyard workers resorted to living on boats, as you can see from the newspaper advertising "Boats for Sale."
A few of these photographs were taken by photographer Dorothea Lange, who collaborated with photographer Ansel Adams on a wartime photo assignment for Fortune magazine in 1944 focusing on the town of Richmond, California.
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Richmond Shipyards curated by University of California staff, available under a CC BY 4.0 license. © 2005, Regents of the University of California.