Richmond Shipyard #3 at Point Portrero on the west side of Harbor Channel consists of five historic buildings (machine shop, general warehouse, sheet metal shop, first-aid station and cafeteria) and its five graving/dry docks are still intact. The dry dock basins and buildings are little changed from World War II.
Richmond Shipyard #3 was designed and constructed by Henry J. Kaiser’s Firm as a permanent shipyard, which is one reason it is still relatively intact.
People came from all over the country to Richmond to work in the shipyards during the war. This led to explosive growth of the city, and a dramatic exchange between people of diverse ethnicities and cultures. Men and women of different backgrounds worked and lived side-by-side here. Although gender and racial discrimination did not end after the war, this experience dramatically redefined American society, and planted the seeds for the civil rights and women’s rights movements.
Miles of undeveloped shoreline and access to the deep waters of the bay made Richmond the location of choice for the largest and most productive shipyards during World War II. The US government and private industrialists became partners in new ways, laying the groundwork for what President Einsenhower later called the “Military/Industrial Complex.” Together they created innovative plants and production methods designed to rapidly supply the war effort.
As World War II approached, Richmond was a sleepy city of some 23,000 residents. Beginning in early 1941, however, the town underwent a radical transformation. This was a prime site for wartime production: the Santa Fe Rail line was already here, the expansive waterfront offered a deep water port, and there was plenty of available land. As shipyards were constructed, the population boomed to over 100,000. People came from all over the country to find jobs and to support the war effort.
This section of the Bay Trail winds through the former site of Kaiser Shipyard #3, now the Port of Richmond and a part of the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park. Along the trail, you will see evidence of the war’s shipbuilding past: dry docks for ship assembly, rail lines, maritime machinery, a whirley crane, as well as historic ships. As you traverse the trail, imagine this place during World War II–thousands of people working day and night with the constant thundering noise of shipbuilding activity.
His contemporaries often described Henry J. Kaiser as someone who "never knows what he cannot do." New to shipbuilding, he revolutionized the industry. Kaiser shipbuilding applied, in an unprecedented manner and scale, mass production techniques such as pre-fabrication, which segmented job tasks and trained unskilled labor. Kaiser industries designed shipyards with more space for assembly lines and welding plates together. Using these innovative methods, workers built a total of 747 ships during the war here in Richmond.
These shipyards hold memories and untold stories of women who were part of the workforce during World War II. As they went to work in great numbers during these years, women juggled work and domestic responsibilities. Theirs are stories of success, sacrifice, and family. Some women were able to place their children in government sponsored daycare facilities. Most benefited from employee health care. However, at the end of the war, many faced unemployment or underemployment.
Sixty years ago, workers—some 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, move, and put into place the massive prefabricated sheets of iron that eventually became cruisers and battleships. After the war, this crane sat rusting on a pier for decades. The Levin-Richmond Terminal Corporation eventually donated it to the City of Richmond after a coalition of Rosie the Riveter National Historical Park organizers lobbied to include the crane as an important artifact from the shipbuilding past.