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Richmond Shipyards

Questions to Consider

What does a shipyard look like and what happens there?

What does building a ship look like?

What kinds of jobs exist in a shipyard?

Who works there?

What was life like for the shipyard workers and their families?

About the images

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.

California Content Standards

English-Language Arts

Grade 4:

1.0 Writing Strategies: Research and Technology

2.0 Writing Applications
2.3 Write information reports.

2.0 Speaking Applications
2.2 Make informational presentations.

Grade 11:

1.0 Writing Strategies: Research and Technology

2.0 Writing Applications
2.4 Write historical investigation reports.

2.0 Speaking Applications
2.2 Deliver oral reports on historical investigations.
2.4 Delivery multimedia presentations.

History-Social Science

Grade 4:

4.4 Students explain how California became an agricultural and industrial power, tracing the transformation of the California economy and its political and cultural development since the 1850s. (4.4.5)

Grade 11:
11.7 Students analyze America's participation in World War II.

Visual Arts

3.0 Historical and Cultural Context Understanding the Historical Contributions and Cultural Dimensions of the Visual Arts. Students analyze the role and development of the visual arts in past and present cultures throughout the world, noting human diversity as it relates to the visual arts and artists.

Workers at launching of C-4 Troop Transport 2 from the unique vantage point of another ship 'Fare Thee Well', workers after launching, November 12, 1942 Workers
Workers Welder Work people; African American woman, ca. 1943
Workers and recruiting poster Woman worker Health plan recruitment poster
Woman worker Yard and shipworkers. April 16, 1942 Riggers on deck. February 28, 1945
Construction of the Prefab Ship Robert E. Peary Unidentified workers Woman worker with eye protective gear
End of Shift 3:30, September 1943 Boats for Sale. Home for shipyard workers. Walk to work. Permanently berthed. Richmond Yacht Service. [ad for boat sale] Interior view of outmoded bus, now home for a family of six. This shipyard worker's wife wants 'a kitchen'.
Said one mechanic, 'I brought my tools along. If we're still without a house by the time winter comes, I'll show my wife how to make coffee and fry eggs in the car, using my blowtorch. But I'd rather not. Family in tent, two men work in shipyards Man sleeping on ground by car
Woman outside trailer washing clothes in washtub

Analysis Tools

6C's of Primary Source Analysis (PDF) (Source: UCI History Project)
Photographs (PDF) (Source: Library of Congress)
Posters/Visuals (PDF) (Source: Bringing History Home)
Primary Source Activity (PDF) (Source: Library of Congress)

Who was Dorothea Lange?

Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), a great American photographer, is perhaps best known for her photographs of Dust Bowl migrants during the Great Depression.

General note about Lange’s images

Due to the limits of technology and the scanning process used, the digitized versions of Dorothea Lange’s photographs in some cases do not accurately represent the high quality of the original images.