Boeing, William Edward

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Boeing, William Edward

The Boeing Company


William Edward Boeing was an aviation pioneer and supplier of the B-17, B-29, and B-52 airplanes to the United States military. The powerful company he built through mergers and acquisitions eventually included manufacturing, supplier operations, and a passenger airline service. By the mid-1930s, the U.S. government had begun antitrust action, causing the company to be broken up. Boeing was very displeased by this action and withdrew from active participation in his company. At this time, he pursued his interests in deep-sea cruising, fishing, and raising thoroughbred horses and cattle. To pursue his leisure activities, he purchased the Aldarra Farms estate in Fall City, Washington, in 1946. Upon the purchase of Aldarra Farms, Boeing donated his mansion in Seattle to the Children's Orthopedic hospital. In the fall of 1956, after struggling with failing health for several years, he died aboard his yacht Taconite in the Puget Sound waters of Washington state.

Personal Life

William Edward Boeing was born October 1, 1881, in Detroit, Michigan. The only son of Wilhelm and Marie (Ortman) Boeing, the family was wealthy and owned substantial timber and mining interests in Michigan and Minnesota. His German-born father died when he was eight years old, leaving him to be raised by his Austrian-born mother. While growing up he attended private schools in the United States and Western Europe. His college career at the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale University lasted three years before he left without graduating in 1902 to start a lumber business in the Pacific Northwest. In 1908 he established a permanent residence in Seattle. Around 1910, Boeing became interested in aviation and in 1915 he learned to fly at Glenn L. Martin's flying school in Los Angeles. Soon thereafter, he purchased his first aircraft, a Martin seaplane. Eventually his aviation interests led him to found his own aircraft manufacturing company.

On September 27, 1921, he married Bertha Porter Paschall, and the couple had one child.

Career Details

In 1916, William Boeing and Conrad Westervelt, an officer in the U.S. Navy, established the Pacific Aero Products Company. This was soon to become the Boeing Airplane Company. Initially they built experimental seaplanes under the name B and W. During World War I, they were awarded a contract to build Curtiss flying boats for the United States military. Armistice was reached before any of the boats were completed and the contract was canceled, however. The resultant lack of work left his company, like others in the industry, in difficult financial times. To increase revenue, the Boeing firm built furniture and sea sleds. The company built, in 1919, a flying boat, the B-1, which carried mail for several years between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia. The competition from war surplus planes, however, resulted in production being scaled back. With the move to private carriers by the Post Office, Boeing began to produce commercial transport planes. In addition, they were fortunate to receive orders for reconditioning army planes. The company's first major manufacturing contract came in 1920 to build 200 Thomas-Morse MB-3 fighter planes. This deal was reached under a new system that allowed aircraft manufacturers to bid on each other's designs for military orders. In July 1927, Boeing Air Transport began flying mail and passengers on its M-40 plane between San Francisco and Chicago. Still, the company's major business during the 1920s was derived from the production of fighter planes for the army.

In a move to integrate transport and manufacturing activities, Boeing along with Fred Rentschler, president of aircraft engine maker Pratt & Whitney, and his brother Gordon, president of National City Bank, created the United Aircraft and Transport Company. Merging firms included Pratt & Whitney, Hamilton Standard Propeller, and the Stearman, Chance, Vought and Sikorsky supplier operations. The new operation also provided passenger service to New York, the Pacific Northwest, and San Diego. This combination became the most far-reaching and profitable aviation operation of its time. United enjoyed continued success as a commercial airline. The company also produced the Monomail 200, which introduced the all-metal, low wing design and was further updated to the innovative twin-engine 247, in 1933. This plane was so superior to others that the competition had to quickly play catch up to survive. The all-metal, low-wing design was also incorporated into Boeing's military aircraft, including the B-9.

Boeing became less involved with aircraft design as he began handling the company's chief executive duties. During the Hoover administration, Boeing with reservations agreed to the Postmaster General's plan to use air mail contracts to create a stable and financially sound postal system. The company had continued to be a supplier to the Post Office but when allegations of improper business conduct surfaced, under the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, Boeing canceled all airmail contracts. After investigation of the industry by a U.S. Senate committee, Congress passed the Air Mail Act of 1934. One of its major directives was to separate the manufacturing and transport activities of the industry. United Aircraft and Transport was divided into Boeing Aircraft, United Aircraft, and United Airlines.

The breakup of the United Aircraft and Air Transport marked one of the major antitrust actions in the history of the United States. William Boeing argued that attempts to limit the scope of his activities and his ambitions were illegal, unfair, unnecessary and against the best interests of the nation.

The antitrust activity left Boeing quite embittered and led him to resign from active participation in the company. Ironically, in the same year he was awarded the Guggenheim Medal for successful pioneering in aircraft manufacturing and air transport.

During the late 1930s, the Boeing Company capitalized on technological innovations and expanded operations in anticipation of war. In 1938, the company employed 2,960 persons expanding to 28,840 at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The United States military used three Boeing planes during the war: the B-17 (designed in 1934), the B-29 (designed in 1938), and the Kaydet trainer. Both the B-17 Flying Fortress and B-29 Superfortress were instrumental in winning the war. The B-29 carried the first atomic bomb dropped on Japan. During the 1950s, the company continued to prosper focusing on the expanding commercial airline travel market with the Boeing 707 passenger plane. Since then the Boeing 727, 747, and, most recently, 777 passenger airplanes have been popular with commercial airlines. Military orders during the Cold War also continued to contribute to the company's success and resulted in the development of the B-52 jet bomber.

Chronology: William Edward Boeing

1881: Born.

1916: Founded Pacific Aero Products Company (soon renamed Boeing Airplane Company).

1920: Won first major order from United States military for 200 MB-3 fighter planes.

1921: Married Bertha Porter Paschall.

1929: Merged company to form United Aircraft and Transport.

1934: Introduced B-17 plane for U.S. military.

1934: United was divided into Boeing Aircraft, United Aircraft, and United Airlines.

1938: Introduced B-29 plane for U.S. military.

1956: Died after several years of failing health.

Social and Economic Impact

William Edward Boeing's innovations in aircraft design and manufacturing set the standard for both military and commercial aircraft use. The company continues to be the world's largest commercial aircraft manufacturer and a leading producer of military and specialized aircraft as well. Historically, its development of bomber planes for the United States military played a key role in winning World War II and the United States remaining a dominant superpower. The company's passenger planes have also proved reliable and are in use around the world.

Sources of Information

Contact at: The Boeing Company
7755 E. Marginal Way S
Seattle, WA 98108
Business Phone: (206)655-2121


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Byers, Paula K., and Suzanne Bourgoin, eds. Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998.

Garraty, John Arthur, ed. Dictionary of American Biography. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1980.

Who's Who in American History. Chicago: Marquis Who's Who, 1966.