Seven major shipbuilding yards were known as the Kaiser Shipyards. They were located mostly on the west coast of the United States at the time of World War II. In 1939, Henry J. Kaiser, a well-known American industrialist, created the Kaiser Shipbuilding Company to meet the maritime shipping construction goals set by the U.S. Maritime Commission.
Kaiser partnered with Todd Pacific Shipyards and Bath Iron Works during the 1930s while building cargo ships for the Maritime Commission. He seized the opportunity for growth when ship orders came from the British government, which was at war with Germany. From these events came his first Richmond, California, shipyard, established in December, 1940. A special request from the Maritime Commission in April 1941 led to another Kaiser shipyard for building the Liberty Ship. After the Pearl Harbor attack, Kaiser began his third and fourth shipyards where the building of tank landing ships and troop transports took place.
Out of the seven shipyards, four were located in the San Francisco Bay area and produced more than 740 ships, including the widely-known Victory ships and Liberty ships. They actually produced more ships than any of the other shipyards in the U.S., though only one of these ships – the Red Oak Victory – still survives. The other three shipyards were situated at Ryan Point in Vancouver, Washington, and at Swan Island and the St. Johns area of Portland, Oregon. The Kaiser Shipyards also built Casablanca-class escort carriers.
Kaiser’s innovative shipbuilding techniques allowed him to outproduce the other shipbuilding facilities and accounted for 27 percent of the Maritime Commission’s total construction with 1,490 ships. The Kaiser ships were built in much less time and were less costly than at other yards. For instance, the Liberty ships could be built in just over two weeks. One of these, the SS Robert E. Peary, was actually built in less than five days during a competition between shipyards.
By the end of the war, Kaiser Shipyards were shut down. October 25, 2000, was the dedication of Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park on the site of one of the Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond.