Boeing Company

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The Boeing Company is a manufacturer of commercial jetliners and military aircraft, and one of the largest aerospace companies in the world. Its primary competitors are: Airbus; Bombardier; Daimler-Benz; Lockheed Martin; Raytheon; Rockwell International, and Thiokol.

Boeing has been the leading aircraft manufacturer in the world for 30 consecutive years. The company's primary businesses are commercial aircraft construction, defense and space, and computer services. The company successfully juggled the continuing need for commercial passenger airliners with its defense contracts, which account for an estimated 30 percent of its business as a result of the company's merger with McDonnell Douglas in 1997. Boeing works with companies such as Lockheed Martin, Sikorsky, and Bell Helicopter Textron, and is the leading contractor for NASA.

The idea for The Boeing Company was born on a lake in Seattle on July 4, l914, when William E. Boeing, a lumber company executive from Michigan, took a ride on a Curtiss seaplane with a barnstormer named Terah Maroney. His friend, Navy Commander Conrad Westervelt, also came along. Neither man knew anything about aircraft design, but both were fascinated with airplanes. Boeing asked Westervelt to design a plane, which Boeing would build. The result was Model 1, the B&W, a utility airplane, which they named after themselves. It was 27 feet 6 inches long. The fuselage was built in a hanger on Seattle's Lake Union. The wings and floats were produced at the Heath Shipyard on Puget Sound's Elliot Bay, which was owned by Boeing to service his yacht. Finally, on July 15, l916, Boeing tested his aircraft and incorporated his company as the Pacific Aero Products Company. The New Zealand government, the company's first customer, bought the plane for mail delivery and pilot training.

Renamed The Boeing Airplane Company in April, l917, it built Curtiss HS-2L flying boats for the Navy in World War I (19141918). After the war ended, the Navy canceled half of its order and Boeing returned to making furniture and cabinets to keep the company afloat. Contracts with the Navy to rebuild the De Havilland DH-4 aircraft and with the army to build a new army designed plane kept the company in business. By 1922 Boeing had successfully negotiated a number of contracts with the military, and the company was financially solvent.

Between world wars, the company embarked on air mail service. When Congress forced the Post Office to pay private companies to fly mail between distant cities, commercial aviation was born. Boeing with his new partner, Edward Hubbard, created Boeing Air Transport Company and got the contract to carry mail between Chicago and San Francisco. Boeing Air Transport Company also established the first international airmail route between Seattle and neighboring British Columbia. Boeing developed a new plane, Model 40, specifically for this market. It could carry four passengers and 1000 pounds of mail. The Kelly Airmail Act of l925 resulted in the formation of a number of companies, which developed airmail routes. Boeing soon bought up a number of these small companies which together formed the basis of the original United Airlines. Bill Boeing and Frederick Rentschler combined their businesses in 1929 into a firm called United Aircraft and Transport. The advent of regulations for airmail services led to the formation of United Airlines, and Boeing Airplane continued as an aircraft manufacturer.

Boeing and Rentschler formed a holding company called the Boeing Aircraft and Transportation Company and Bill Boeing engaged in some serious capital manipulation which made him at least $12 million through stock flotation. Though this was legal, Boeing was incensed at being investigated by the U.S. government and sold all of his aviation stocks. In l934 the Boeing Aircraft and Transportation Company was forced to break up by government regulation. Everything east of the Mississippi became United Aircraft and was run by Fred Rentschler. The Boeing Airplane Company remained in Seattle run by Phil Johnson and exclusively manufactured airplanes. United Airlines was based in Chicago at Old Orchard Airport (later O'Hare) and was run by Pat Patterson. Bill Boeing was never active in the aviation business again.

In the l930's, Boeing developed single-wing airplanes constructed completely of metal, which made them stronger and faster. They also created more efficient aerodynamic designs as well as retractable landing gears and better wings, multiple power plant technology, and directional radios, which allowed for better navigation and night flying.

Boeing was well situated to become a major player in airplane production during World War II (19391945). Some of the most famous planes used during the war came from Boeing, including the B-17 "Flying Fortress." Sixteen B-17's were turned out every 24 hours by June, l944. The B-29 "Super Fortress" was also on line by l944 and one nicknamed the Enola Gay dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, l944. After the war Boeing produced a number of bombers, including the B-47, B-50, and the famous B-52.

Boeing, which changed its name to the Boeing Company in l961, has also seen American consumers through the birth and adolescence of commercial passenger airline travel. The company built many of the most popular commercial airliners between 1935 and 1965 including the PanAm 314 Clipper, the 707, 727, 737, and the 747 Jumbo Jet. The 747 was so expensive to develop that it almost drove the company into bankruptcy. Boeing also brought the first pressurized cabin to market, the Model 307 Stratoliner. The jumbo jets reduced the cost of air travel and made it affordable for everyone. Jeans and sneakers replaced suits and furs and a new era had arrived.

Every American president from Franklin Delano Roosevelt (19331945) to Bill Clinton (1993) flew in Boeing or Douglas airplanes. Roosevelt was the first when the Navy purchased a Douglas Dolphin flying yacht. A DC-54 Skymaster, a military version of the DC-4, replaced the Dolphin with the advent of World War II. Roosevelt, however, preferred to fly a Boeing 314 Clipper to Africa for a 1943 meeting with Allied leaders. Boeing 707's, also known as Air Force One when the President was on board, carried presidents from Dwight D. Eisenhower (19531961) to George Bush (19891993), until two Boeing 747-200's replaced them.

The downsizing and consolidation within the modern aircraft industry affected Boeing, which integrated competitor companies into its operations. Boeing and Rockwell completed a merger of their defense and aerospace units in 1996, and Boeing completed its merger with McDonnell Douglas Corporation on August 1, 1997.

Boeing experienced some difficulties getting approval from Europe on its merger with McDonnell Douglas. The European Union was concerned about Airbus Industrie, a French consortium and Boeing's only major competitor, and its continued viability if the merger went through. Boeing did finally get approval from the European Union Commission. However, the company had to sign nonexclusive contracts with any airlines for the next decade in order to do so.

The aircraft industry has been cyclical in nature from the beginning when Boeing had to return to the furniture business after World War 1 to keep afloat. In 1969, Boeing reduced its workforce from 105,000 to 38,000. Labor problems led to a strike that lasted 69 days in 1995, resulting in $2 billion in financial losses to the company as well as substantial trickle-down losses to the numerous subcontractors and communities in which Boeing operates. By the middle of l999, however, Boeing was back on track and earnings were high again.

Boeing operated through four divisions in the 1990's. Boeing Commercial Airplane Company manufactured and sold civilian aircraft. Boeing Vertol Company produced helicopters for the military, including CH-46 and CH-47 (Chinook) helicopters. Boeing Aerospace developed space products as well as strategic and tactical missiles, including cruise missiles. Boeing Military Airplane Company manufactured bombers, tankers, and high-technology surveillance aircraft, including the 3-E Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft (AWACs).

From almost the very beginnings of the American space program, Boeing was there. Boeing's involvement began in earnest in 1960 when its Delta II rocket was launched, carrying the Echo 1A satellite into orbit. Then in 1966 and 1967, the Boeing-built Lunar Orbiters circled the moon, photographing the surface in order to help NASA choose a safe landing site for the Apollo 11 astronauts. The astronauts reached the moon with the help of the 363-foot-tall Saturn V rocket. Its development was integrated by Boeing, which also made the first stage booster. It was 138 feet high and had 7.5 million pounds of thrust; the equivalent of 130 of today's most powerful jet engines. The Saturn V was used 13 times and did not fail once.

Boeing not only helped the astronauts get to the moon, it also helped them get around once they got there. The Lunar Roving Vehicles, built by Boeing in only 17 months, were used on the last three Apollo missions. The rovers looked like modified dune buggies and enabled the astronauts to travel more than 20 miles from the landing site. The vehicles operated without a problem in temperatures that ranged from minus 200 to plus 200 Fahrenheit degrees. To this day the rovers are still parked on the lunar surface.

Boeing's involvement in the lunar missions might have been its most spectacular moment, yet it remains heavily involved in the space program to this day. It continues to launch Delta rockets, and it has a large role to play in the Space Shuttle operations. Boeing processes all space suits and equipment, and McDonnell Douglas, with which it merged in 1997, developed the aft propulsion pods and structural parts of the boosters used to get the shuttles into orbit In the late l990's, Boeing began working in cooperation with sixteen countries as the main contractor on the International Space Station which is expected to be completed by 2004.

See also: Airline Industry


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BOEING COMPANY. In 1917, one year after forming Pacific Aero Products in Seattle, William E. Boeing changed his young firm's name to Boeing Airplane Company. During World War I, Boeing Airplane supplied American military forces with planes and assisted in training pilots. In 1929, Boeing Airplane joined several other firms, including United Air Lines, to form the United Aircraft and Transportation Company. Frustrated with a government investigation into the formation of this and other aircraft holding companies, Boeing retired in 1933 and Philip Johnson became the company's new president, a position he held until his death in September 1944.

Upon U.S. entry into World War II, Boeing began supplying planes to the military. Boeing's initial involvement was rather inauspicious: it supplied only 255 small trainers and 38 bombers out of the military's first order of 6,000 aircraft. Yet Boeing's B-17 bomber, nicknamed the Flying Fortress, proved tremendously effective and the military ordered large numbers of the plane. During its peak production period in the middle of 1944, Boeing produced a new B-17 every ninety minutes. To handle this demand, Boeing enlarged the workforce at its Seattle factories from under 2,000 workers in 1938 to nearly 45,000 in 1945.

Although the B-17 was a tremendous success, the military needed an even bigger plane. Boeing began designing one in 1942, an effort that culminated in the B-29 bomber, nicknamed the Superfortress. A very complicated aircraft, the B-29 became the second most expensive weapons project of the war, trailing only the development of the atomic bomb. These two projects were ultimately united when it was decided to use B-29s to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

After the war, Boeing again began to produce civilian aircraft. In 1953 William Allen, who had replaced Phil Johnson as the company's president, convinced government officials to allow Boeing to use government-owned facilities to develop a new civilian-military jet. In May 1954, Boeing introduced the B-707, a commercial jet that proved immediately popular. During the 1960s, Boeing introduced two new jet models, the 727 and the 737. Its next significant contribution was the introduction of the first jumbo jet, the 747, which was capable of carrying twice as many passengers as the next biggest aircraft. Boeing delivered the first 747s in 1969, and this model helped secure its place in the competitive commercial aircraft market. By the 1990s, only two commercial aircraft makers were left: Boeing and Airbus, a European consortium led by France and Germany.


McCraw, Thomas K. American Business, 1920–2000: How It Worked. Wheeling, Ill.: Harlan Davidson, 2000.

Rodgers, Eugene. Flying High: The Story of Boeing and the Rise of the Jetliner Industry. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1996.

Sell, T. M. Wings of Power: Boeing and the Politics of Growth in the Northwest. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001.

Martin H.Stack

See alsoAir Transportation and Travel ; Aircraft, Bomber ; Aircraft Industry ; World War II, Air War against Germany ; World War II, Air War against Japan .