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Saber and Scroll

Abstract

During World War II, the American population mobilized on an unprecedented scale for a common purpose—victory over fascism in Germany, Italy, and Japan. Enter industrialist and construction magnate Henry J. Kaiser and his revolutionary prefabricated shipbuilding techniques; with them, Kaiser could build ships in weeks instead of years, as the task had previously taken. By 1945, Kaiser, with partner Todd-California Shipyards, had built 1,490 ships at its California, Oregon, and Washington shipyards from a budget of $4 billion, or $55.4 billion 2018 dollars. Kaiser’s manufacturing innovation coupled with vastly improved antisubmarine warfare techniques meant that in the fall of 1943, the tonnage of new ships built each month exceeded allied losses. World War II was a powerful agent of geographical, economic, and social change in the San Francisco East Bay communities of Richmond and Oakland. As one of the primary shipbuilding regions in the nation, its wartime experience permanently transformed the East Bay.

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