Henry J. Kaiser: First in war, first in peace
People tend to regard the great American titans of the past as robber barons, men who made their fortunes off the backs of the oppressed, flaunting laws and morals with abandon and living like nabobs while others had to scratch for a living. Yet these titans arguably accomplished the unthinkable, from transcontinental railroads and transoceanic cables, to unearthing the earth's treasures, ultimately changing and taming the land. Some of the titans were creative and farsighted men with relatively unblemished careers who were not only remarkably successful, but left a proud legacy of their accomplishments. Henry J. Kaiser is a prime example of such a man, a consummate salesman and visionary who built some of the world’s largest dams, thousands of ships, millions of automobiles, hotels, aluminum plants, even cities, and provided his employees with health care that is known today as Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation’s largest health providers. Born in 1882 in Sprout Brook, a tiny village in upstate New York, Kaiser was raised by his mother and three sisters, with whom he maintained a close relationship for the rest of his life. If his father, a shoemaker, played a role in his upbringing Kaiser never spoke of it; the few utterances about his father were as clinical and cold as a surgeon's scalpel.