This Week’s Book Review – Liberty Factory

Looking for a good read? Here is a recommendation. I have an unusual approach to reviewing books. I review books I feel merit a review. Each review is an opportunity to recommend a book. If I do not think a book is worth reading, I find another book to review. You do not have to agree with everything every author has written (I do not), but the fiction I review is entertaining (and often thought-provoking) and the non-fiction contain ideas worth reading.

Book Review

When Portland Built Ships by the Score

Reviewed by Mark Lardas
February 28, 2021

“Liberty Factory: The untold story of Henry Kaiser’s Oregon shipyards,” by Peter J. Marsh, Naval Institute Press, 2021, 192 pages $59.95 (Hardcover)

Before Portland, Oregon became the upscale city mocked in Portlandia, it was a down-at-the-heels lumber town and port hard hit by the Great Depression. Its transformation began in World War II, when Portland and its cross-river companion, Vancouver, became major shipbuilding centers. Henry Kaiser established shipyards in the two cities.  These produced ships by the score: Liberty ships, Victory ships, escort carriers, troop transports, and tankers. The wartime shipyards turned Portland into an industrial powerhouse, financing its future prosperity.

“Liberty Factory: The untold story of Henry Kaiser’s Oregon shipyards,” by Peter J. Marsh, tells the story of that transformation. Marsh reveals how Portland acquired the shipyards, and chronicles their activities during World War II. Along the way these shipyards produced over 700 ships. Big ships – all displaced over 10,000 tons.

Marsh shows why Henry Kaiser chose Portland for the location of two major shipyards and Vancouver for a third.  Marsh shows how the shipyards were built – all within months. As Marsh shows, this included more than building the manufacturing centers. Kaiser also built the offices these shipyards needed and housing, child care centers, and hospitals for its workers.

Marsh also looks at Henry Kaiser and the industrial empire he built during the 1930s. Marsh shows how Kaiser brought the innovations pioneered building the Hoover Dam and Kaiser’s other large-scale construction projects to shipbuilding. While Kaiser constructed major shipyards in California and Washington as well as in Oregon.

The book focuses on the three Oregon yards. Marsh provides a history of shipbuilding in these yards. The ships built get thorough coverage. He looks at the building process, including the methods used to crank out ships at an ever-increasing rate. (One Liberty ship was built in ten days.) Yet he also spends time looking at the people who worked at these yards, who they were, what they did, and how they lived. He also examines the subcontractors in and around Portland who supplied the engines and fittings going into Kaiser’s ships.

“Liberty Factory” is lavishly illustrated. Many photos come from the collection of Larry Barber, who was the maritime editor of Portland newspaper, The Oregonian, for much of the mid-twentieth century. Marsh used Barber’s archives to research this book.

“Liberty Factory” is a fascinating industrial history, one as much about people as ships. It offers an absorbing look at Home Front America during World War II, and perfectly captures mid-20th  century America.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is

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  1. My father had a Liberty Ship named after him. Built in Portland. I should write a book about his experiences being the only man alive to have had a Liberty Ship named after him. He was presumed dead in a horrific maritime atrocity, but he was taken below and was a POW in Japan until the end of the war. Long story. He’s long gone now, but a helluva guy. They had to change the name of the ship and then it went into mothballs like the rest. The interesting part is, unfortunately the atrocity that happened when the submarine surfaced and slaughtered most of the survivors on the deck of the sub. Some men survived 3 days in the Indian Ocean and were rescued July 4th 1943(!)
    The other thing that always stuck with me is there was a Japanese-American on board who spoke perfect English. He was a young man who grew up in the US and happened to be studying in Japan when the war broke out. They conscripted him and put him someplace where he would have a hard time deserting or communicating with the Americans.
    The Captain of the sub the I-8 was a madman named Arizumi who later was the Captain of a new sub that had a airplane that could be unfolded and launched via catapult. The plan was to bomb the Panama Canal.

  2. Actually there was at least one other Liberty ship named for living people -although in this case it was named after 1000 of them. Houston Volunteers was named for the 1000 Houstonians who volunteered to replace the crew of the heavy cruiser Houston (CA-30) sunk in the Sundra Strait on the night of Feb 28-Mar 1, 1942. You can read about Houston Volunteers at and about the Cruiser Houston in my book about the Houston (

    Admittedly that is different than having a ship named for a single individual.

  3. From what I have been able to find, they did not change the name of the ship named after your father for over a decade after it was launched. The name change seems to have been occasioned by its conversion to a radar picket ship, rather than due to your father being alive. (They probably did not want the paperwork involved in renaming a ship headed for the reserve fleet.)

    And yes, you should write that book.

  4. Seawriter sez: “And yes, you should write that book.”
    Squidlet concurs!


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