An aerospace giant takes wing in Washington.
If his Martin seaplane had never crashed, William Boeing may have never started the legendary aerospace firm that bears his name today, The Boeing Company. When told that he couldn’t get replacement parts for months, Boeing decided that he could probably build his own plane in the same amount of time. Boeing had made his fortune in the timber industry, so building a plane from wood seemed like a straightforward affair, given his experience with wood structures.
The B&W seaplane was born in a small hangar on the northeast shore of Lake Union, the first of more than 15,000 aircraft to emerge from Boeing plants since 1916.
As with many start-ups, the early days of the company were characterized by a series of ups and downs. While World War I brought business to the small airplane company, Boeing went through some rough times too, even turning to building furniture at one time to make ends meet.
Thankfully, military and mail contracts soon arrived, and the company met the challenge with innovative new designs for aircraft, including the P-12 pursuit fighter and the Model 40, built specifically to ferry mail for the U.S. government.
The company has always had a reputation for firsts and thinking big, from their Model 247 – the first truly modern airliner – and the luxurious 314 Clippers for Pan American World Airways – the largest civilian plane of its time – to the nearly indestructible Boeing B-17 and B-29 bombers, which helped the Allies win World War II.
In the 1950s, Boeing rolled the dice in peacetime, using its own funds to create their first jet airliner demonstrator, the Dash-80, which became the Boeing 707. Hearts stopped as pilot Tex Johnston famously rolled the aircraft over Lake Washington, right in front of the company’s president and potential airline customers. When asked by Boeing President Bill Allen what he was doing, Johnston replied, “I was selling airplanes.”
In 1967, the company bet the farm again, giving the go ahead to the legendary 747, which ushered in the age of the jumbo jet and affordable international air travel.
Innovation, quantum leaps in design and technology and a willingness to take often bold risks, have always been a trademark of The Boeing Company. From creating entirely new classes of intercontinental aircraft to helping man land on the moon, Boeing has revolutionized commercial and military aviation and space exploration.
Perhaps there’s no better example of the company’s spirit of innovation than the new 787 Dreamliner. Built in Everett alongside the 767, 777 and 747, the Dreamliner is the first passenger plane to be built mostly of composite materials, greatly reducing the plane’s weight and increasing fuel efficiency. New generations of the 737 and the 777, the 737 MAX and 777X respectively, have cemented the company’s place in the annals of aviation and space.
Boeing is one of Washington’s biggest success stories and continues to define the aerospace industry, flying millions of passengers around the world annually in comfort and safety, protecting us from harm overseas and reaching for the stars with bold new ideas.
Visit the company’s website for more information.
See the famous barrel roll of the 707 prototype, the Dash 80.