When William E. Boeing left Yale University in 1903 at 22 and went west to start a new life in Grays Harbor, Washington, for opportunities in the timber industry, little did he know how well the experience would serve him in the fledgling aviation world.
William ‘Bill’ Boeing began learning the logging business on his own, starting with land and mineral rights that he had inherited from his mother’s estate. Subsequently, the purchase of more timberland began to add to the wealth he had inherited, and he started to explore new frontiers supplying expeditions to Alaska.
In 1908, William moved to Seattle to establish the Greenwood Timber Company. Already enchanted with airplanes, he attended an aviation meet in 1910 in Los Angeles. Five years later, Thomas Hamilton, the founder of Hamilton Metalplane Co., introduced Boeing to U.S. Navy engineer Lt. G. Conrad Westervelt.
Boeing and Westervelt shared an interest in aviation and became close friends. On the morning of July 4, 1914, the two men decided to celebrate Independence Day by purchasing rides in an airplane flown by barnstormer Terah Maroney off Lake Washington.
Sitting on the plane’s lower wing, Boeing’s feet were braced against footrests, with his hands gripping the wing. Thrilled by the experience, he exchanged places with Westervelt and then went back up again, spending the rest of the day repeating the experience. By mid-afternoon, the two men were already planning how to design a better airplane.
Wanting to learn to fly, Boeing applied to the Glenn Martin School in Los Angeles for instruction. Upon completing the course, he ordered a Model TA from the Martin factory for his personal use. Convinced there was a great future in the aviation industry, he became interested in aircraft construction.
Boeing and Westervelt developed a single-engine, two-seat seaplane made of wood, linen, and wire, the Bluebill, B&W Model 1. Its initials stood for Boeing and Westervelt. On June 15, 1916, Bill Boeing made the first test flight of the first B&W airplane that measured 15.5 feet long, flying 900 feet. Shortly after, on July 15 of that year, Boeing incorporated Pacific Aero-Products Co.
The B&W Model 1 was assembled by a team of carpenters, cabinetmakers, seamstresses, and shipwrights in a wood-framed seaplane hangar that Boeing had purchased in 1910 to house the construction of a yacht he was having built for himself at a seaplane base along the Duwamish River in Washington. The seaplane hangar, affectionately known as the Red Barn, was converted into the company’s engineering offices and manufacturing plant. In 1917 Pacific Aero-Products Co. was renamed the Boeing Airplane Company, and the largest aerospace company in the world was born.
After the U.S. entered World War I, the military needed naval training planes. The Boeing Model 2, or Model C, was a two-place training seaplane and the first ‘all Boeing’ design. Boeing shipped two newly manufactured Model Cs to Pensacola, Florida, and the Navy was so impressed that they ordered 50 more.
After the ‘Great War’ ended, the Boeing Model 40 was a single-engine biplane used for U.S. Airmail services in the 1920s and 30s. The Boeing Airplane Company later secured its future at the Red Barn when its engineers designed the B-17 and B-29 bombers that were instrumental in helping the Allies win the Second World War.
When the Boeing Company outgrew the environs of the Red Barn’s ground floor, it expanded to form a vital industry in the Pacific Northwest and sold the Red Barn (Bldg. #105) to the Port of Seattle in 1970. This historic two-story, gable-roofed barn was restored and reopened as the Museum of Flight in Seattle in 1983. Today Boeing’s major production facilities are located at three different facilities in the United States; the Everett and Renton facilities in Washington State and a third plant in Charleston, South Carolina.
Over the last 100 years, Boeing has successfully developed aircraft at each stage of the aviation industry’s development, from early airmail carriers to military aircraft, commercial airliners, and the latest jets built with carbon-fiber composites.
The evolution of Boeing’s passenger-carrying commercial aircraft, excluding variants, began with Boeing’s Model 80, which first flew in August of 1928 and shortly after worked along Boeing Air Transport’s route carrying 12 passengers. The Model 80 and the 18-passenger 80A stayed in service until 1934 when they were replaced by the all-metal Model 247. The Boeing Model 247 was an early airliner and one of the first aircraft to incorporate advances such as retractable landing gear and an autopilot. In 1938 Boeing launched the largest passenger airplane of the era, the B-314 Clipper, a long-range flying boat developed for and sold to Pan American Airways. It could carry ten crew and 74 passengers and had a range of 3,500 miles. The Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner was the world’s first high-altitude commercial transport and the first four-engine airliner in scheduled domestic service, and it set new standards for speed and comfort. Its first flight occurred on December 31, 1938, and accommodated five crew and 33 passengers.
After World War II, Boeing re-entered the commercial market with a new long-range four-engine airliner, the Model 377 Stratocruiser. Its first flight took place on July 8, 1947, with a range of 4,600 miles, accommodating 55-100 passengers and attendants.
The Boeing 7×7 Series
For decades Boeing has been the premier manufacturer of commercial airliners. From the 707 to the 787, Boeing has over 60 years of development with its classic 7X7 Series. Beginning with the Boeing 707 in the 1950s, the 707 was the first largely successful jet aircraft that ushered in the Jet Age with its first flight on December 20, 1957. This commercial transport had a cruising speed of 600 mph, a range of 3,000 miles, and a 41,000 feet ceiling accommodating up to 181 passengers. In just two years, the 707 would help change the way the world traveled, and travel by air eclipsed travel by rail and sea. A historical snapshot of the 707 on www.boeing.com stated, ‘The dawn of a new era in travel helped to make the terms “Boeing” and “707” fashionable. Requests poured into Boeing for rights to use “707” for naming products. Jantzen swimwear titled its 1957 collection “the 707.” In 1960 Boeing introduced a lighter 707, designated as the 720 when it was modified for short-to-medium range routes and used on shorter runways.
After the 707, next came the Boeing 727, a commercial air transport that clinched Boeing’s reputation as the leading manufacturer of commercial jets. The 727 had a distinctive appearance with its jaunty T-shaped tail and three rear-mounted engines. Its first flight was in February 1963 and had a range of 3,110 miles, a ceiling of 36,100 feet, and a cruising speed of 570 mph. It carried billions of passengers on everything from short hops to cross-country flights and was one of the greatest-selling commercial jets in history. By the mid-1960s, the Boeing name was synonymous with large multi-engine jets, so when the company announced its new commercial twinjet, the Boeing 737, it quickly earned the nickname “Baby Boeing.” The 737’s first flight took place on April 9, 1967, with a cruising speed of 580 mph, a range of 1,150 miles, a ceiling of 35,000 feet, a crew of two, and up to 107 passengers. With its continued production, by 1987, the 737 was the most ordered airplane in commercial history. With its subsequent variants, Boeing Commercial Airplanes set a new Guinness World Record in March 2018 for “highest production of a large commercial jet when the 10,000 737 was assembled in Renton, Washington. On February 9, 1969, the Boeing 747, also known as ‘the Queen of the Skies,’ had its first flight with a cruising speed of 640 mph, a range of 6,000 miles, a ceiling of 45,000 feet, accommodating 33 attendants and between 374 to 490 passengers. The 747 was the result of the work of some 50,000 Boeing people. Called “the Incredibles,” these were the construction workers, mechanics, engineers, secretaries, and administrators who made aviation history by building the 747, the largest civilian airplane in the world in roughly 16 months during the late 1960s. The incentive for creating the massive four-engine jumbo jet747 came from airfare reductions, a surge in air-passenger traffic, and increasingly crowded skies. With its spacious interior, the 747 was often compared to a living room, complete with easy chairs, generous space to stretch your legs, and a spiral staircase to an upstairs lounge compartment equipped with enough room and a bar. Since the beginning of its production in 1967, about 1,574 variants of the 747 have been manufactured. On December 6, 2022, the last ‘Queen of the Skies’ and commercial aviation’s most iconic airplane left Boeing’s wide-body factory in Everett, Washington, ahead of its delivery to Atlas Air in 2023 as a freighter, marking the end of an era in aviation.
A successor to the B-727, the twin-engine Boeing 757 was a medium-range jetliner that was up to 80% more fuel efficient than the older 727. Its first flight was on February 19, 1982. It had a cruising speed of 500 mph, a range of 3,200 – 4,500 miles, and could accommodate 200-228 passengers. By late 2003, Boeing ended 757 production due to the increased capabilities of the latest 737, and the plane’s 23-year run concluded with the 1,050th built Boeing 757. The Boeing 767, built in Everett, WA., can carry up to 290 passengers. The 767 is a wide-body, double-aisle jet, but, like the smaller standard-body 757, it was designed for fuel efficiency. The 767-200 was first ordered in 1978, and the last was delivered in 1994. Its extended-range model, the 767-200ER, entered service in 1984. The 767-300 was first ordered in 1986 and was followed by its extended-range model, first delivered in 1988.
Boeing’s 777 was the first entirely new Boeing airplane in more than a decade and the first jetliner to be 100 percent digitally designed using three-dimensional computer graphics. The aircraft was “preassembled” on the computer throughout the design process, eliminating the need for a costly, full-scale mock-up. It had its first flight in June 1994. Features include a cruising speed of 615 mph, a range between 4,210 to 8,270 miles, and a ceiling of 37,999 feet, accommodating 305 to 440 passengers. On October 21, 2014, Boeing broke ground for a new 1-million-square-foot 777X Composite Wing Center at its Everett, Washington site. And the 777 is the first airplane to have a rose named after it. Olympia, Washington’s Western Independent Nurseries, developed the deep purple-red rose.
In January 2023, Boeing designated a new super-efficient mid-size aircraft, the 7E7, signaling the company’s commitment to developing an airplane with major breakthroughs beginning with the letter ‘E’ for efficiency, economics, environmental performance, exceptional comfort and convenience, and e-enabled systems. The 7E7 was designed as a 200-250-seat aircraft providing non-stop, point-to-point service at speeds similar to the 777 and 747.
On December 15, 2009, the Boeing 787 ‘Dreamliner’ made its first flight from Paine Field in Everett, WA concluding its flight with touchdown at Boeing Field in Seattle. The 787-8 Dreamliner can carry 210-250 passengers on routes of 7,650 to 8,200 nautical miles, while the 787-9 carries 250 to 290 passengers on routes of 8,000 to 8,500 nautical miles. In June 2013, Boeing launched the 787-10 and achieved firm configuration in April 2014. The new 787-10 was designed to fly up to 7,000 nautical miles, covering over 90% of the world’s twin-aisle routes with seating for 300-330 passengers, depending on an airline’s configuration choices.
In addition to bringing big-jet ranges to midsized airplanes, the 787 provides airlines with unmatched fuel efficiency, using 20% less fuel for comparable missions than other similarly sized airplanes. It can travel at speeds similar to today’s fastest wide bodies, providing airlines with more cargo revenue capacity. Passengers enjoy an interior environment with higher humidity and a feeling of space and comfort, with larger windows and open architecture with streamlined arches. As much as 50% of the primary structure on the 787, including the fuselage and wing, is made of composite materials.
On November 8, 2014, Boeing donated one of the original 787-8 Dreamliner flight test airplanes to the Museum of Flight in Seattle. The airplane Boeing donated to the museum, known as ZA003, was the third 787-8 produced. The aircraft had been part of the 787 flight test and certification program, and it circumnavigated the globe several times in 2011 and 2012 during a “Dream Tour” that introduced the 787 to more than 68,000 visitors in 23 countries.
Today, the company manufactures the Next Generation 737, 767, 777, and 787 families of airplanes and the Boeing Business Jet range. New product developments include the 737 MAX and the 777X.
From the manufacture of Boeing’s two-seat seaplane made of wood, linen, and wire in 1916, to the classic Boeing 7×7 families of airplanes and the 787 Dreamliner, with much of its primary structure made of composite material, William ‘Bill’ Boeing’s legacy lives on.
Editor’s Note: The author wishes to thank Boeing.com Historical Snapshots for Technical Specifications and historical reference on Boeing’s 7×7 Commercial Transports and thanks the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington, for preserving Boeing’s incredible history.