Richmond, California played a nationally recognized part in the World War II Home Front. The City was home to 56 different war industries including four shipyards. It grew overnight from a small city of 24,000 people to a bustling, and bursting, 100,000 people, overwhelming the available housing stock, roads, schools, businesses and community services.
Recruiters brought people in record numbers, with large migrations from the south and other parts of the US. With the emphasis on jobs for women, young girls from poor families were sent on their own to find jobs or lived with relatives who had already arrived. Mostly, people lived in anything they could find, sometimes in cars, in wagons or trailer camps, or sleeping in movie theater seats, many workers resorted to sharing what was called a “warm bed” where they slept in a bed in their own room for one shift and someone else rented it from them for another 8 hours. As the war effort continued, meeting people’s needs for shelter, food, childcare and medical care became a top priority for more enlightened employers.
The park sites below chronicle the explosive growth of wartime industry, the innovations fostered by visionaries like Henry J. Kaiser and others, and the extraordinary history of people who were challenged as never before and came together to overcome the odds.
Visiting the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park, the Rosie Memorial and all Richmond City public parks are FREE!
1414 Harbour Way South, Suite #3000 (Oil House) Richmond, CA 94804
Open daily: 10am-5pm | (510) 232-5050 x0
(Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day)
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The Kaiser Field Hospital sits on Cutting Boulevard, a short distance from the shipyards and can be seen by taking the Marina Bay exit and continuing toward Richmond. The Field Hospital opened with only ten beds. Later additions increased its capacity to 160 beds by 1944.
It was the second tier of treatment (emergency treatment) for those injured at the yards with the first tier being a clinic on-site that administered first aid. If the patient needed serious care, he or she was taken to the Kaiser Hospital in Oakland. This health system and its availability on a pre-paid basis to workers for a nominal price, represented a visionary innovation at the time and laid the groundwork for the present day Kaiser Permanente health system. It operated as a Kaiser Permanente hospital until closing in 1995.
The cargo ship SS Red Oak Victory - AK235, was launched November 9, 1944 by Permanente Metals Corp., Richmond, California, for the U.S. Maritime Commission, acquired by the U.S. Navy December 5, 1944 and commissioned the same day with Lt. Commander John S. Sayer, USNR in command.
\The Red Oak was loaded with cargo and departed San Francisco for Pearl Harbor January 10, 1945. From then until the end of the war she served as an ammunition ship for various ships in the South Pacific. After many other voyages, operating out of the Philippines, she issued cargo and ammunition to various ships in the fleet through the end of the war in August 1945. During a hazardous tour of duty in the Pacific, the Red Oak Victory handled many tons of ammunition, supplying the fleet without a single casualty.
In 1996, Congress passed legislation authorizing the conveyance of the Red Oak to the Richmond Museum of History. Saved from the scrap heap, the ship was moved from the Ready Reserve Fleet to Richmond on September 20, 1998. Restoration of the ship continues under the direction of the Museum Association and many dedicated volunteers.
Address: 1337 Canal Blvd, Richmond, CA
Directions: South of I-580, Canal Blvd exit, follow south to end, looping around storage yards, to the parking lot next to the ship.
Hours: Tu, Th, Sa, Su 10-3. Rainy day closings. (Call to verify)
The Whirley Crane cannot be missed when touring Shipyard #3. It sits adjacent to the Red Oak Victory ship and across from the restored Rigger’s Loft, a former shipyard building used for fitting out the top part of the completed vessel with masts and other equipment; The scale of the crane is enormous, like a revolving boxcar sitting on massive legs as tall as a 10-story building.
The Whirley Crane got its name not because of the speed of its movement—it probably moved carefully and deliberately because a single error could cost several lives—but because the crane could turn a full 360 degrees, thus allowing the boom to achieve a speed of operation as it went about several tasks. Sixty years ago, workers-many of them women-used to sit in the turret at the top of the Whirley Crane, operating the controls that caused the 110 foot boom to lift and assemble and put into place the massive sheets of iron that eventually became the cruisers and battleships that sailed out into the Pacific and helped win the naval war for the United States.
Shipyard #3 is viewable on the drive to visit aboard the Red Oak Victory ship. It contains several structures, including the Machine Shop, the General Warehouse, and the original Kaiser First Aid Station. Nearby markers describe much of the activity that took place there.
Access to the deep water of the Bay and miles of previously undeveloped shoreline made Richmond the location of choice for a wartime industrial complex dominated by the largest and most productive shipyards in the entire world. Population boomed to over 100,000 to support the war effort with work never stopping-three shifts a day, seven days a week. Hayfields were rapidly converted to the largest public housing project ever constructed in the United States. With millions of men in uniform and out of the workforce for the duration, tens of thousands of women were recruited to do what had been previously considered "men's work." They soon became collectively known as "Rosie the Riveter." A network of schools and childcare centers was thrown up overnight to care for and educate the children of these working women.
The nation's first HMO, now Kaiser Permanente, was founded to keep the shipyard workers healthy. Needing still more workers, Henry Kaiser scoured the country for recruits, finding thousands of willing volunteers in the rural African-American population of the South. Coming to Richmond by the trainload, farm workers and sharecroppers were rapidly retrained as welders and equipment operators. In a matter of days, they were building Liberty and Victory ships. 747 ships were built in Richmond, coming off the ways at a clip of one a week toward the end of the war. One Liberty Ship, the Robert E. Peary was built in just over four days, setting a record that has, to this day, never been surpassed.
The Richmond shipyards produced more ships, faster, and better than had ever been done in any time in the history of the world. In 1945, the shipyards shut down as fast as they had started up four years earlier.
Tens of thousands of shipyard workers, many of whom had relocated permanently to California, were thrown out of work. With returning servicemen re-entering the workforce, women and minorities were no longer welcome, but the seeds had been planted, and many post-war innovations that benefited women and minorities in the workforce, began with the knowledge of just what had been accomplished.
On June 11, 1941, President Roosevelt approved funds for the erection of 450 units of housing for defense industry workers in Richmond, California, pursuant to the "Lanham Act." Richmond was the first city in the US chosen for a Defense Department project. Over time, other worker housing was built and Richmond still has original wartime housing in both the Atchison Village and Nystrom Village developments, with Atchison Village remaining as a designated intact historic site.
Built in 1941 by the U.S. government to house the vanguard of an influx of workers for the burgeoning Kaiser shipyards, the modest 450-unit complex was hailed at the time as a cutting-edge example of worker housing designed following the tenets of the "city beautiful" and "garden city" movements. Atchison Village, built across the street from the former location of the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad depot and yards, was designed with winding streets, spacious yards, simple one and two story wood duplexes and four plexes and a community center and park.
Today it is still a living part of the park, and a viable and a well-planned community. In 1956, it became one of the first housing cooperatives in the US, and residents bought their homes from the Atchison Village Mutual Homes Corporation for as little as $273.