Boeing corporate portrait

Back in 1915, Seattle residents smiled or scoffed at the whim which prompted William K. Boeing to tinker with certain contraptions called "aeroplanes" Few understood why a wealthy timber operator should be sufficiently engrossed in flying machines to buy and fly them. Even fewer could have foreseen today's Boeing Aircraft Company which eventually developed from Bill Boeing's peculiar hobby.

After one of his flights, Boeing damaged the pontoons of his plane while coming in for a landing on Puget Sound. It wasn't too serious as accidents go, but it did leave the airplane unflyable.

This was the "break" which led up to the founding of the great aircraft firm which today bears William Boeing's name; for Mr Boeing, impatient at the delay in the shipment of new pontoons from the factory, decided to do the work himself. So, together with a few fellow airplane enthusiasts, he proceeded to fix the damaged pontoons and before long, to his great satisfaction, had the airplane flying again.

Boeing's group did not stop with that, however; for in repairing the ship they got the notion that they could not only build an entire airplane but could build a better model than any then flying. In a small hangar on the shores of Lake Union in Seattle, the little group went to work under Mr Boeing's direction. Their initial inventory consisted mainly of a few coils of wire, some rolls of fabric, and some spruce lumber; but with enthusiasm, ingenuity and perseverance the place came to look more and more like an airplane shop.

On June 29, 1916 their new plane was finally ready for its first flight. A proud and tense group of "aeronautical enthusiasts" watched Bill Boeing, as pilot, taxi down the surface of Lake Union and soar into the sky. The plane performed excellently. It was known as the "B & W" and was a two-place stick-and-wire job capable of 85 miles per hour.

With the success of the first model, the group launched another, more ambitious project. On July 15, 1916, the Pacific Aero Products Corporation was organized as a Washington corporation by. Boeing, J C Foley and K N Gott. Mr Boeing was elected president, Mr Gott vice president and treasurer, and Mr Foley secretary and general manager. The Lake Union facilities were considered inadequate at the time of incorporation and the operations were moved to a more suitable site in a large two-story building on the Duwamish River in the southern section of Seattle. This site, formerly occupied by a shipbuilding company, had been acquired by Mr Boeing after it contracted to build a yacht for him and became financially involved. At its inception, the Pacific Aero Products Corporation was incorporated for $100,000, which was fully subscribed and paid for by turning in the Lake Union and Duwamish River properties, two B & W planes (the second of which was then in the process of manufacture), in addition to Mr Boeing's original plane, and an amount of cash.

Before the year 1916 was out, the busy little plant had turned out another plane, a two-place trainer known as the C-4, in addition to the second B & W which flew in November of that year.

On April 26, 1917 the name was changed to Boeing Airplane Company. A week later two young men who were to play a vital part in the company's progress and development joined the group, They were both engineers from the University of Washington, Claire L Egtvedt and Philip G Johnson. Egtvedt today heads the Boeing organization as chairman, while Johnson, who died last September, served as president and general manager for many years.

With war raging in Europe, the company found the US government an interested customer, and during 1917 five airplanes, all trainers, were built — two for the Army, two for the Navy, and one commercial ship. At the end of the year, Egtvedt, who had originally been employed as a stress analysis engineer, was named chief engineer.

War orders continued during 1918 and into the early part, of 1919, when the then-astronomic total of 77 planes was turned out. All were trainers for the Navy, both seaplanes and flying boats. It was not long after the Armistice, however, that these war orders ceased and the company found itself looking for business. With the courage and enterprise which have characterized the company throughout its three-decade career, the plant turned to building sea sleds and household furniture in order to maintain employment and keep the organization intact. Although this venture was not financially successful, it is an interesting parallel that today the Boeing company is conducting studies on non-aircraft products with the view of possibly manufacturing them after World War II in order to maintain a level of employment that the aircraft field alone might not permit.

The year 1919 saw two incidents which merit a place in the chronicles of aviation progress. One took place on March 3 of that year when Mr Boeing and the late Eddie Hubbard, a well-known Northwest aviator, landed their seaplane on Lake Union after a flight from Vancouver, BC. They carried a pouch of mail containing 60 letters, the first international air mail between Canada and the United States. The other was the building of the Boeing B-1, the three-place flying boat which was the company's 86th airplane. Eddie Hubbard used the B-1 on October 15, 1920, when he began his contract with the government to carry last-minute mail from Seattle to departing trans-Pacific steamers at Victoria, BC, and to rush first-class mail from incoming steamers back to Seattle and the transcontinental trains. The sturdy B-1, with its equally sturdy pilot, logged more than 350,000 miles of flying, a phenomenal record in those days, on the treacherous, fog-bound run between the two Northwest cities.

The early 1920s were hard years for the young company. Government orders were scarce and the commercial field was a void compared to present-day operations. However, an order for 111 Army observation planes, DH-4Bs, was filled during 1920 and kept the factory busy, More important, it gave Boeing invaluable experience in volume production.

Early in 1922 big news came to the aircraft industry: the Army was to invite bids on 200 pursuit planes! In the face of competition from other airplane firms, Boeing submitted a bid which was $3,000 per plane less than any other, and landed the entire contract. These were MB-3A pursuit ships which many old-time Army pilots still remember proudly.

On May 3, 1922, Mr Boeing was elected chairman of the board, E N Gott, president, P G Johnson, vice president and general manager, and C L Egtvedt, secretary. In 1924 Mr Gott left the company and in January, 1925 Mr Boeing became president. Thirteen months later, he resumed his post as chairman of the board, Johnson became president and general manager, and Egtvedt, vice president and chief engineer.

In 1925 the company designed and built the Model 40 mail plane for the Post Office Department. It was an open-cockpit, single-place biplane, powered by a Liberty engine.

Then the Coolidge administration announced that the government was getting out of the air mail business and would turn over existing routes to private firms submitting the lowest bids. Awarded the contract, Boeing Airplane Company organized Boeing Air Transport, Inc, and sublet the work to the new firm. The Model 40 was re-designed to carry a heavier load and accommodations for two passengers were added. This in itself was a revolutionary step as regular transcontinental air passenger service was then unheard of. The new plane was designated the 40-A, and 25 of them were built and ready for service on time. In the meantime, Boeing Air Transport had the task of perfecting an organization and laying out a route which stretched 1,943 miles across mountains and plains where the temperature varied from 20 degrees below zero in winter to 120 above in summer.

Johnson became president of Boeing Air Transport and remained president of Boeing Airplane Company but dropped his duties. as general manager of the latter firm. Egtvedt was then elected first vice president and general manager of Boeing Airplane Company.

Early in 1928 the Boeing Airplane Company and Boeing Air Transport jointly purchased Pacific Air Transport, Inc, which was operating an airline from Seattle to San Diego. Up to this time, the organization had been financed by William Boeing. Growth was now so rapid, however, that he felt outside capital should be called. in. As a result, the. National City Company of New York City, after studying the company's position and future plans, decided that it was a worthy venture and assured the necessary financing.

The Model 40-As accommodations for two passengers proved popular with businessmen and so Boeing designed the Model 80 — a twelve-seater, three-engine transport in which both the pilot and passengers were enclosed in a cabin. A few of these rugged Model 80s still are flying today, notably in Alaska where they are carrying supplies and equipment to remote outposts.

In October of 1928 the Boeing Airplane and Transport Corporation was founded and acquired all the capital stock of the Boeing Airplane Company and Boeing Air Transport, and the control of Pacific Air Transport. Boeing then had the two longest airlines in the world and the largest plant in the United States devoted to airplane production. Late in 1928 the name was changed to United Aircraft and Transport Corporation, and Mr Boeing was elected chairman of the board of directors.

By the early part of 1929 the newly formed corporation had purchased the capital stock and established as subsidiaries the following: Boeing Airplane Company, Boeing Air Transport, Pacific Air Transport, Chance-Vought Corporation, Hamilton Metal Plane Company, Hamilton Aero Manufacturing Company, Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Company, Stearman Aircraft Company, Sikorsky Aviation Corporation and Standard Steel Propeller Corporation. In May, 1929, the Boeing Airplane Company organized Boeing of Canada, Limited, the capital stock of the new company being owned under the name of Boeing Airplane Company. In September of that year the Boeing School of Aeronautics was organized in Oakland, CA, for the purpose of training pilots and ground crews necessary for the operation of the company's extensive air lines.

Early in 1930 Boeing Airplane Company brought forth the Monomail transport, first of the modern-type, all-metal monoplanes with retractable landing gear, a plane which soon established new payload and speed records for single-engine planes. About a year later the B-9 twin-engine bomber, ancestor of today's great four-engine bombers, was produced. It was the first twin-engine monoplane bomber, and established the modern trend.

In 1930 United Aircraft and Transport Corporation took over National Air Transport, Inc, thus establishing the first transcontinental air route from New York to San Francisco via Chicago. United also acquired Varney Air Lines, Inc. Up to this time Boeing Air Transport and Pacific Air Transport had been operated from. Seattle with substantially the same officers as Boeing Airplane Company. In 1931 United Aircraft and Transport Corporation decided to unify the airlines and organized United Air Lines, Inc, as a first-degree holding company for this purpose. United Aircraft and Transport Corporation thereupon exchanged all its stocks in the various airlines for all the capital stock of the new corporation — United Air Lines. Although P G Johnson continued as president of Boeing Airplane Company, he made his headquarters in Chicago as president of United Air Lines. In August of 1933 Johnson resigned as president of Boeing Airplane Company and was succeeded by C L Egtvedt.

In 1932 came the famed Boeing 247 transport — America's first three-miles-a-minute plane which brought the comforts of the Pullman into the skies. Built back in 1932, it set the basic design pattern for today's standard commercial airliner, the DC-3.

Subsequently, stockholders of United Aircraft and Transport Corporation voted to dissolve that company and divide its activities among three new companies: an eastern manufacturing group, United Aircraft Corporation, to take over Pratt & Whitney, Vought, Hamilton Standard, Sikorsky, etc; United Air Lines Transport Corporation, to take over all air transport operation; and a western manufacturing company, Boeing Airplane Company, to take over the Stearman Aircraft Company and Boeing Airplane Company and its subsidiary, Boeing of Canada Limited. On July 19, 1934, Boeing Airplane Company was re-incorporated as a Delaware corporation and began operations on September 1, 1934. On August 15 the name of the Seattle organization was changed to Boeing Aircraft Company and the Canadian subsidiary to Boeing Aircraft of Canada Limited. A few days later Boeing Airplane Company acquired all the capital stock of Boeing Aircraft Company and of the Stearman Aircraft Company, a Kansas corporation with plant at Wichita. C L Egtvedt was named president of Boeing Airplane Company and Boeing Aircraft Company.

On September 18 Mr Boeing resigned as board chairman and retired from the picture. Fittingly, he was awarded the Daniel Guggenheim award in 1934 for "successful pioneering and achievement in aircraft manufacturing and transport."

The five-year period from 1934 to 1939 is one of the most brilliant in Boeing design history. It was during these years that the company developed and produced four blue-ribbon designs — the B-15 super bomber, the B-17 Flying Fortress, the 307 Stratoliner and the 314 Clipper. Aviation had come of age and Boeing was pioneering in the four-engine field. Much has been written about these great planes. In design and performance they speak for themselves: the Flying Fortress which has become a symbol of America's air might, the ocean-spanning Clipper, and the high altitude, transcontinental Stratoliner.

During 1938, the Stearman Aircraft Company became a division of Boeing Airplane Company. On September 11, 1941, the name was changed to Wichita Division, Boeing Airplane Company.

In September, 1939, Johnson returned to Boeing as president, Egtvedt moving over to the office of chairman. In the five years since the air mail breakup, he had organized Trans-Canada Air Lines and had served as president of a motor truck corporation. He died suddenly in September, 1944, and the office of president has been vacant since that time, Egtvedt as chairman serving as chief executive of the organization. Mr Johnson exerted a great influence in guiding the company to its present eminent position.

Today the Boeing company is concentrating on its B-29 Superfortress, the huge dragon of the skies which has caught man's imagination and fancy as few other planes in history. The ever mounting exploits of the Superfortress against the Japanese in the far Pacific have become household knowledge. Boeing plants are now devoted 100% to its manufacture, as are the Bell plant in Marietta, GA, and the Martin factory in Omaha. In fact, nearly 20% of existing aircraft manufacturing facilities are now devoted to the production of Boeing-designed planes.

As to postwar activities, Boeing has at least one plane for the airways, the 377 Stratocruiser. A military version of this ship, the C-97, recently established a new transcontinental speed record of 6 hours, 4 minutes from Seattle to Washington, DC, on its maiden long-range flight. The ship is a double-decked counterpart of the B-29, and is the Army's largest, fastest and highest-flying transport.

Aside from the Stratocruiser or any other postwar ship which Boeing may have on its drawing boards, the future looks bright for any firm which has contributed so much in its field. Upon reviewing the company's history, one is inclined to agree with its advertising slogan: "If it's built by Boeing it's bound to be good."

This article was originally published in the "Air Executive" section of the August, 1945, issue of Air News magazine, vol 9, no 2, pp 53-54, 57-58.
The original article includes small portraits of 10 of the corporate officers and 10 photos of Boeing planes: