Image of Visitor Education Center Exhibit
Start Your Visit Here!

Learn more about the history behind the WWII Home Front by arriving first to the Visitor Education Center in Richmond, CA.

Directions and Maps
Directions and Maps

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History and Culture
History and Culture

Looking to learn more about the WWII Home Front? Start by clicking here.


Why Richmond California?

Richmond, California was chosen as the site for this National Historical Park because it has so many surviving sites and structures from the World War II years that can help tell the diverse stories of the home front. These stories include the mobilization of America’s industry and the changes in production techniques; the struggle for women’s and minority rights; the labor movement; the growth of pre-paid medical care; advances in early childhood education and day care; recycling and rationing; major shifts in population; and changes in arts and culture.

Richmond played a significant and nationally recognized part in the World War II home front. The four Richmond shipyards produced 747 ships, more than any other shipyard complex in the country. Richmond was also home to over 56 different war industries, more than any other city of its size in the United States. The city grew from less than 24,000 people in 1940 to nearly 100,000 people by 1943, overwhelming the available housing, roads, schools, businesses and community services. At the same time, Executive Order 9066 forcibly removed Japanese and Japanese-American residents from the area, disrupting Richmond’s thriving cut-flower industry. The war truly touched every aspect of civilian life on the home front. Through historic structures, museum collections, interpretive exhibits, and programs, the park tells the diverse and fascinating story of the WWII home front.


The legislation establishing the park recognizes the national significance of the historic sites and structures within the City of Richmond. The importance of these resources is discussed in this section. While these historic resources are owned by different public and private entities, and not by the park, they all help tell the story of Rosie the Riveter and America's WWII home front.

Front of visitor center. Brick building with entrance door and park sign.
Visitor Education Center for Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park.

NPS photo, Luther Bailey.

Historic Oil House - Home of the Visitor Education Center

The remodeled Oil House sits on the edge of San Francisco Bay, adjacent to the Craneway. Its fuel once powered assembly lines for Ford automobiles, and later WWII assembly of jeeps and tanks. As part of the development of Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park, the Oil House was renovated to become the home for the park’s visitor education center in 2012.

The Visitor Education Center (Oil House) for the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park is your first stop if you're just now learning abour our park and plan to explore WWII history in Richmond, CA. The Visitor Center is located at 1414 Harbour Way South, Suite 3000 in Richmond, California, at the Ford Assembly Plant complex.

Large brick entrance sign and large brick building.
Entrance to the historic Ford Assembly Plant and the Visitor Education Center for the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park.

NPS photo, Luther Bailey.

Ford Assembly Plant

Out of the three wartime tank depots in the United States, the Ford Assembly Building is the only surviving structure.

The Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant in Richmond, California, was the largest assembly plant to be built on the West Coast and its conversion to wartime production during World War II aided the Nation's war effort.

The 500,000-square-foot Ford Assembly Building was built in 1931 to produce the new Ford Model A. The factory was a major stimulant to the local and regional economy during the Great Depression and was an important development in Richmond's inner harbor and port plan. Ford became Richmond's third largest employer, behind Standard Oil and the Santa Fe Railroad. It is also an outstanding example of 20th-century industrial architecture designed by architect Albert Kahn, known for his "daylight factory" design, which employed extensive window openings that became his trademark. The main building is comprised of a two-story section, a single-story section, a craneway, a boiler house and a shed canopy structure over the railroad track.

To ensure that America prepared for total war by mobilizing all the industrial might of the United States, President Franklin D. Roosevelt banned the production of civilian automobiles during WWII. The Richmond Ford Assembly Plant switched to assembling jeeps and to putting the finishing touches on tanks, half-tracked armored personnel carriers, armored cars and other military vehicles destined for the Pacific Theater. By July of 1942, military combat vehicles began flowing into the Richmond Ford plant to get final processing before being transported out the deep-water channel to the war zones.

The Ford Assembly Plant assembled 49,000 jeeps, but it's "claim to fame" was becoming one of only three tank depots in the entire United States. Every combat vehicle used in WWII was processed by one of these three depots. Here the finishing touches were put on 91,000 tanks, half-tracks, armored cars, and other military vehicles destined for combat. This Assembly Plant was one cog in that mobilization of the "Arsenal of Democracy" and a historical part of what is today's industrial culture of the United States.

The "Richmond Tank Depot" as the Ford plant was then called, helped keep American fighting men supplied with up-to-the-minute improvements in their battle equipment. In mobilizing the wartime production effort to its full potential, Federal military authorities and private industry began to work closely together on a scale never seen before in American history. This laid the groundwork for what became known as the "Military Industrial Complex" during the Cold War years. This Assembly Plant was one cog in the mobilization of the "Arsenal of Democracy" and a historic part of what is today's industrial culture of the United States.

After the war, the devastation to the local economy as a result of the closing of the Kaiser shipyards would have been crippling had it not been for the continued production of the Ford Plant. The last Ford was assembled in February 1953, with the plant being closed in 1956 because of the inability to accommodate increased productivity demands. In 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake severely damaged the plant.

The City of Richmond repaired and prepared the Ford Assembly Plant for use. Title to the building was then passed to Orton Development and most of the building is now leased to various businesses. Currently, the building has a new owner.

close up of abstract metal art structure for the memorial. Structure houses historic photos of shipyard workers.
Part of the Rosie the Riveter Memorial.

NPS photo, Luther Bailey.

Rosie the Riveter Memorial

The Rosie the Riveter Memorial began as a public art project for the City of Richmond in the 1990's. During the creation of the memorial, the National Park Service was invited to participate, and this partnership led to the founding of the National Park in Richmond, California.

Designed by visual artist Susan Schwartzenberg and landscape architect/environmental sculptor Cheryl Barton, the Rosie the Riveter Memorial: Honoring American Women's Labor During WWII is the first in the nation to honor and describe this important chapter of American history. Chairwoman Donna Powers led the campaign to establish the Memorial and the sculpture was commissioned by the City of Richmond and the Richmond Redevelopment Agency.

The principal component is a walkway, the length of a ship's keel, which slopes toward the San Francisco Bay and aligns with the Golden Gate Bridge. The path is inscribed with a timeline about the home front and quotes from women workers sandblasted into white granite. Sculptural elements of stainless steel encountered on the walkway are drawn from ship's blueprints and suggest the unfinished forms of hull, stack and stern under construction. Two gardens - one of rockrose and one of dune grass - occupy the location of the ship's fore and aft hatches. Porcelain enamel panels on the hull and stack reproduce memorabilia and letters gathered from former shipyard workers during the course of the Memorial project, along with photographs of women at work in jobs across the nation.

The panels, quotes and timeline illustrate the complex opportunities, challenges and hardships faced by women during the war years, including gender discrimination, hazardous working conditions, food rationing, and shortages of housing and childcare.

Donna Powers was inspired to create the Memorial by two women in her family. Her mother-in-law Ruth Powers was a teacher at the Richmond shipyards daycare centers and her great aunt Clarissa Hicks was a riveter at Douglas Aircraft in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Their wonderful stories led her to ask other women around Richmond what their jobs and lives were like during WWII, and the project grew under the leadership of historian and cultural planner Donna Graves.


Shipyard No. 3

Richmond shipyards built 747 ships, including 519 Liberty Ships, which represented almost a quarter of the total U.S. Liberty Ship production. New methods of ship construction were developed and perfected in these shipyards, including prefabrication and intense labor specialization, which allowed the production of new vessels at a record pace.

The Richmond Shipyard complex consisted of four yards constructed for the Henry J. Kaiser company in 1941 and 1942. The Kaiser Richmond Shipyards were immense, covering around 880 acres, and became the largest wartime shipyards on the West Coast. They were also the town's biggest employer, recruiting thousands of workers from across the country.

As you drive to the SS Red Oak Victory, you will see the remaining historic buildings of WWII Shipyard No. 3. These include the cafeteria, first aid station, forge, machine shop, warehouse and paint shop. You will be able to also get a glimpse of the 5 dry docks where the ships were assembled. Henry Kaiser applied mass assembly line techniques to buildings the ships. This production line technique, bringing pre-made parts together and moving them into place with huge cranes and having them welded together by "Rosies" allowed unskilled laborers to do repetitive jobs requiring relatively little training to accomplish. This not only increased the speed of construction but also opened up jobs to women and people of color. Shipyard No. 3 is one of the locations where this concept of new opportunities thrived.


Chronology of SS Red Oak Victory Ship

August 15, 1944
The SS Red Oak Victory started its’ existence known as hull #544 in Kaiser-Richmond Shipyard #1. Built in 87 days, she was the 558th of the 747 ships built in Richmond, a Boulder Class Victory ship built to serve as a cargo vessel for WWII.

November 9, 1944
#544 was launched as the SS Red Oak Victory and final outfitting begins.

December 5, 1944
Final outfitting is complete and the ship is turned over to the US Navy, commissioned as USS Red Oak Victory (AK-235), and assigned as a fleet ammunition carrier.

December 14 – 23, 1944
Sea trials (“Shake-down cruise”)

January 9 – 11, 1945
Loaded with ammunition at Port Chicago in Suisun Bay

January 10, 1945
Departed San Francisco for Pearl Harbor

February 10, 1945
Departed Pearl Harbor for the Marshall Islands / Eniwetok Atoll

February 23 – 28, 1945
Steamed toward the Ulithi Atoll in the Western Caroline Islands in preparation for the invasion of Okinawa

March 3 – May 26, 1945
At Ulithi: Ammunition replenishment of numerous Allied vessels of the Pacific Fleet, notably the USS Missouri

May 8, 1945
Germany Surrenders, Hostilities in the European Theater of Operations are over.

August 6, 1945
Atomic Bomb dropped on the city of Hiroshima, Japan.

August 9, 1945
Atomic Bomb dropped on the city of Nagasaki, Japan.

August 15, 1945
WWII hostilities end.

September 2, 1945
Aboard the USS Missouri Japan surrenders unconditionally.  Hostilities in the China, Burma, India Theater of Operations are finished. World War Two is officially over.

May 21, 1946
USS RED OAK VICTORY (AK-235) decommissioned from the United States Navy at 2:54 pm.

June 12, 1946 – April 4, 1947
In temporary storage at the Olympia Ready Reserve Fleet, Olympia, Washington.

1947 – 1968
For the Merchant Marine in the Caribbean and Pacific she carried cargo and served as a relief ship carrying emergency grain shipments to Pakistan and India in 1947.

February 10, 1950 – May 5, 1951
Records indicate Military cargo voyages in support of the Korean Conflict

November 20 – December 31, 1956
Records indicate humanitarian grain cargo voyages to India and Pakistan

September 24 – October 3, 1957
De-activation and preparation for temporary storage performed by Pacific-Atlantic Steamship Company, Portland, Oregon.

October 3, 1957  – December 21, 1965
In temporary storage at the Astoria Ready Reserve Fleet, Astoria, Washington.

January 27, 1966 – September 16, 1968
Records indicate numerous Military cargo voyages in support of the Vietnam Conflict from Pacific Northwest ports to Southeast Asian ports. Captains R. Blood, N. Carlson, C. Englestone, R. Gundersen and M. Dale as ships Masters.

October 10 – December 16, 1968
Final voyage to Viet Nam and back to San Francisco Bay.

January 1968
Transferred to the Ready Reserve Fleet (Mothball Fleet) in Suisun Bay

January 12, 1970 – September 18, 1998
In permanent storage at the Suisun Bay Ready Reserve Fleet, Suisun Bay, California.

Title to the SS Red Oak Victory conveyed to the Richmond Museum Association by the U.S. Maritime Administration

September 18, 1998
Transferred to Mare Island Naval Shipyard for transport to Richmond, California

September 20, 1998
Relocated to the shipyard area in Richmond, California that originally built the Red Oak Victory to be restored back to original launch condition.

August 20, 1998
The SS Red Oak Victory was moved to Pier #1 in Richmond.

November 2002
State TEA grant awarded for restoration work. $1.3M was spent on the overhaul to paint the deck and superstructure and install 480 V AC power system

February 2011
National Park Service awarded $700,000 grant

September 2011
The ship was towed to BAE dry dock in San Francisco by Foss Maritime for inspection and repair of hull steel plates, hull cleaning, repainting, tail shaft repair and installation of new propeller

October 2011
Ship returned to Richmond from BAE dry dock

March 4, 2016
SS Red Oak Victory towed to nearby Basin 5 in order to provide unobstructed waterfront views for  Rigger’s Loft winery grand opening.

July 9 – August 16 2018
SS Red Oak Victory towed from her berth in Richmond, California to the California Maritime Academy (CMA) in Vallejo, California. The boilers were successfully lit off nearly 20 times over the five-week duration, testing the auxiliary systems in the process as steam pressures were gradually raised to maximum levels. One turbine generator was put online, enabling the Red Oak Victory to run on ship’s power.  After being towed back to Richmond, the ship re-opened to the public on September 1, 2018.

Large historic ship tied up at waterfront.
SS Red Oak Victory Ship.

NPS photo, Luther Bailey.

SS Red Oak Victory

The SS Red Oak Victory is the last surviving ship built in the Kaiser Shipyards, and is owned by the non-profit Richmond Museum Association. Today, the Red Oak Victory remains a monument to the men and women who worked in war related industries as part of the World War II Home Front. In 1998, the ship was saved from the Naval Reserve Fleet in Suisun Bay by a courageous group of men and women and has been under restoration since that time. When visiting, take the time to talk to the volunteers on boards the ship. If you are lucky enough to find one who actually served on Merchant Marine vessels during the war, find out what that life was like - ask them how they felt to be on board ships built by women.

For more information about hours, please visit:

Please note:
The SS Red Oak Victory ship is now in a different orientation and is not anchored to the dock as depicted in the photo.

A large crane shown against the sky. Black and white photo.
Whirley Crane at Shipyard No. 3.

NPS photo/Luther Bailey

Whirley Crane

Location: Shipyard No.3
Boom Length -- 110 feet
Weight -- 229,000 lbs.
Lifting Capacity -- 166,000 lbs.
Original Cost -- $32,000

The Whirley Crane, named for its ability to turn 360 degrees, currently sits next to the SS Red Oak Victory ship. At a weight of close to 230 thousand pounds, this crane is the only one left of dozens that were used to help build ships at record speed. The scale of it, is enormous, like a revolving boxcar sitting on massive legs as tall as a 10-story building. Whirley cranes were used to move very large and heavy components from place to place in the shipyard. The cranes could work alone or in unison and could manage enormous amounts of steel while lifting and moving large, prefabricated components into place during the assembly of ships. A single Whirley crane could lift up to 166 thousand pounds, alone.

Today, Shipyard No. 3 is the only remaining shipyard of the four constructed in Richmond. This shipyard facilitated mass production of wartime ships and retained its exemplary resources in part because it was built to be a permanent facility.


More Historic Sites and Places to Visit in Richmond

Some of the following sites are either reservations only, closed to the public, active neighborhoods or only accessible by walking. These sites are significant to the history of the city. Spend some time driving by the following locations to explore more about Richmond's Home Front story! If you have a question about a specific site, you can contact the Visitor Education Center at 510-232-5050 ext. 0.

Entrance sign and corner of building.
Maritime Child Development Center

NPS photo, Luther Bailey.

Maritime Child Development Center

In addition to health care, Henry J. Kaiser provided child care for families working in his four Richmond shipyards during WWII. The child care centers he built with funding provided by the United States Maritime Commission incorporated progressive educational programming, and innovative curriculum and services including art classes, well-balanced hot meals, health care, and family counseling.

One of the largest facilities in Richmond was the Maritime Child Development Center, opened in 1943. Completely restored and reopened as a multi-use building in 2011, today it houses a small exhibit by the National Park Service of a wartime preschool classroom. On regularly scheduled guided tours, visitors have the opportunity to explore the vital role of federally funded childcare in bringing women into the WWII work force. Tours are available by appointment as well.

Last updated: May 19, 2023

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Mailing Address:

1414 Harbour Way South, Suite 3000
Richmond, CA 94804


510 232-5050

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