Deep in the museum basement storage room in Shipstad Hall is a very large World War II-era Autoclave Sterilizer manufactured by the American Sterilizer Company. The hand-made sign reads: Sterilizer Used at the Swan Island Shipyards in World War Two
The curious-minded might wonder the part a sanitizer might play in industrial shipbuilding, during World War II, or even before, or after. How does it fit?
Swan Island names the area below the Bluff. During World War II the Portland airport and the Henry J. Kaiser shipyard were both located on the island. The shipyard operated under the authority of the U.S. Maritime Commission’s Emergency Shipbuilding program. They built war-ships there for the Navy; big ships, armored ships, ships for offense and attack. Rather urgently. The work and workers did not stop but had three-shifts for 24-hour production.
A sterilizer autoclave is not used for industrial battleship production (examination gives no evidence of that sort of wear and tear). However, Kaiser furnished a Child Service Center to provide 24-hour child care while parents (women filled the gaps in the labor shortage) worked at the shipyard. Children using the center were inspected upon arrival and sent immediately to the infirmary for additional care if any signs of illness appeared. An autoclave does sanitize medical instruments. These Child Service Centers operated from November 1943-September 1945.
When the war ended, shipyards declined, and the Child Service Center shuttered its doors; much of their production material was repurposed as well. The University acquired a number of War Surplus items for use in the classrooms, and even as classrooms. The biology department and science programs received quantities of supplies and equipment, the sterilizer a prime specimen, a first-rate industrial-grade laboratory upgrade for biology and science instruction.
“Child Care for Swan Island Shipyard Workers.” Oregon History Project, https://oregonhistoryproject.org/child-care-for-swan-island-shipyard-workers/. Accessed 3 June 2020.
Curd, Mary Bryan. “Child Service Centers, Swan Island Shipyards.” Oregon History Project, 19 Nov. 2019, https://oregonhistoryproject.org/articles/child-service-centers-swan-island-shipyards/
Willingham, William F. “Swan Island.” The Oregon Encyclopedia, 1 June 2018, https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/swan_island/#.XtaA9zpKjI