Check out Boeing's century-long history.
William Edward Boeing, born in Detroit to a German immigrant named Wilhelm Böing, heads West after his Yale education to make a fortune in the timber industry in Southwest Washington’s Grays Harbor. It’s the year of the Wright brothers’ first flight.
Bill Boeing moves up to Seattle and turns his focus from timber to wood products, including a furniture factory and boatyard.
Bill Boeing catches the flying bug after his first flight in a floatplane during an Independence Day celebration in Seattle.
Bill Boeing’s first floatplane, designed by Conrad Westervelt, is built in a boathouse on the shores of Seattle’s Lake Union, where Boeing berthed his yacht. It’s named the B&W, for Boeing & Westervelt. Boeing is at the controls for the plane’s first flight June 15.
A month later, on July 15, he founds the Pacific Aero Products Co., which he renames the Boeing Airplane Company the next year.
His first engineer is Beijing-born Wong Tsu, a new graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who sets to work on the Model C plane. The design, drawing on research from MIT’s wind tunnel and French engineer Gustave Eiffel, becomes Boeing’s first financially successful aircraft.
The legendary Red Barn, or Building No. 105, where Bill Boeing had built his yacht on the Duwamish River south of downtown Seattle, becomes the first Boeing aircraft factory. With a U.S. Navy order for 50 Model C seaplane trainers, Boeing hires woodworkers to build the airframes and seamstresses to sew fabric for the wings and control surfaces.
Wong Tsu returns to his native China, and Boeing hires two graduating University of Washington engineers, Clairmont Egtvedt and Philip Johnson, who would become pillars of the company.
Bill Boeing delivers the last Model C to the Navy and has one built for himself, which he promptly uses for the then-novel idea of airmail delivery. Bill Boeing and Eddie Hubbard make North America’s first international mail delivery, flying 60 letters to Seattle from Vancouver, B.C.
With the end of World War I, Boeing’s plane sales plummet. To survive, the company makes furniture, speedboats and planes with large fuselages designed for water landings and takeoffs — flying boats.
Boeing buys several mail carriers and forms United Air Lines; plane manufacturing and air service are both controlled by Bill Boeing’s United Airplane & Transport Corp. The planes fly passengers and mail across the country, with the longest coast-to-coast route taking 27 hours each way.
As technology advances, Boeing wins new military plane contracts.
Now that airplanes are carrying people, not just mail, Boeing hires a registered nurse to fly with passengers. Ellen Church becomes the world’s first airline stewardess.
A scandal erupts over how airmail routes have been divided among the biggest carriers. The U.S. government, using its antitrust powers, decides plane makers can’t also own airlines. Boeing’s United Airplane & Transport Corp. is forced to shed United Airlines. The company also splits its manufacturing operations: Everything east of the Mississippi becomes United Aircraft (the precursor to the modern behemoth United Technologies), and everything to the west becomes the Boeing Airplane Co.
Bill Boeing, embittered, sells his stock and leaves the company to breed thoroughbred horses and hang out on his yacht.
Pan American Airlines asks Boeing for a long-range, four-engine flying boat to ferry passengers across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Boeing uses the wings and engine pods of its giant XB-15 bomber to develop the whale-shaped Model 314, nicknamed the “Clipper,” with a range of 3,500 miles. Passengers travel in luxury, with meals catered by four-star hotels, 74 seats that convert into 40 bunks for overnight trips, dressing rooms and a dining salon/bridal suite.
With the onset of World War II, Boeing camouflages its factories in South Seattle to make them look like a residential area, with canvas houses and fake trees on factory rooftops to hide them from aerial bombing.
The B-17 Flying Fortress plays a strategic role in the U.S. Air Force’s bombing campaign against German industrial and military targets. Among the cities hit is Wilhelm Böing’s hometown of Hohenlimburg, a center of metalworking, where the bombing destroys family records and genealogy.
With demand high and its male workforce called up to fight, Boeing encourages women to leave their homemaking and build airplanes. The iconic Rosie the Riveter is born. To ease the transition, as well as to ensure the women’s safety in dangerous manufacturing settings, Boeing enlists Hollywood designer Muriel King to develop “Fortress Fashions” work attire, functional clothes that are shown off in Seattle department stores’ window displays.
Boeing hires its first black employees in 1942. Thousands of African Americans move from the South to work in the Pacific Northwest’s plane factories and shipyards after President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941 issues Executive Order 8802, barring racial discrimination in defense plants.
Within a span of two years, Boeing boosts production from 60 aircraft a month to 362 a month. More than 12,000 B-17s were built in one decade.
On the war’s Pacific front, the B-29 Superfortress carries atomic bombs to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
With the war drawing to an end as the Nazis retreat, Boeing aerodynamics chief George S. Schairer joins a crew of U.S. scientists scouting for technology in Germany. He finds detailed research validating the use of jet engines and swept wings, angled back from the body of a plane rather than extending perpendicularly. Boeing perfects those concepts on a new jet-bomber program, the B-47, laying the foundation for every future airliner.
With military sales down and Douglas Aircraft’s propeller planes dominating the world’s commercial air traffic, Boeing bets the company on a jet airplane for passenger service. The company invests all the profit it has made since World War II on the 367-80, or “Dash 80” prototype jet but has trouble persuading airlines to give it a chance. So President Bill Allen invites aviation bigwigs to Seattle for Seafair and plans a simple flyover to show off the new plane. Test pilot Alvin “Tex” Johnston wows the crowd — and just about gives the fuming Allen a heart attack — by executing two surprise barrel rolls over Lake Washington. The daring stunt in the 248,000-pound aircraft works: Pan Am orders 20 within a month, Allen reluctantly decides not to fire Tex, and the plane becomes the famous forerunner of the 21,000 airliners the company has built since.
Bill Boeing dies of a heart attack aboard his yacht, the Taconite, at the age of 74.
The Dash-80 morphs into the 707 — the marketing department thinks that number has a good ring — and enters service. It’s not the world’s first jetliner — that distinction belongs to the disastrous British de Havilland Comet — but it’s the first to get the formula right, ushering in the Jet Age. Boeing’s risky decision establishes the company as a leader in aviation. Travel by air soon begins to surpass trips by rail and sea.
Boeing’s 727 design shifts from four engines to three, with one in front of the tail. Hijacker D.B. Cooper parachutes from a 727 with $200,000 in cash in 1971 somewhere above Southwest Washington, never to be found, prompting Boeing to modify the plane so its back stairs can no longer be lowered in flight.
Boeing bets the company again to develop the 747, the world’s first jumbo jet, for Pan Am. Seattle native Joe Sutter leads a team that earns the nickname “The Incredibles” as they battle critics of the unprecedented undertaking and struggle for resources against the SST (supersonic transport plane), seen then as the wave of the future. The sleepy timber town of Everett gets the global limelight when Boeing picks it as the site for the 747 factory the largest building in the world by volume. The so-called “Queen of the Skies” enters service in 1970 and shrinks the world, allowing the masses to become globe-trotters. It holds the distinction of being the world’s biggest passenger plane for 37 years, until the Airbus A380 superjumbo comes on the scene.
The 737 enters service with Germany’s Lufthansa Airlines. Sales are slow at first but it eventually becomes a best-seller, the workhorse of the industry for short-haul routes.
The aerospace industry nose-dives amid soaring gas prices and the high cost of the Vietnam War. Then federal funding for the SST gets cut, and Boeing is forced to slash 60,000 jobs. Seattle’s economy is deeply dependent on the company by now, so the Boeing Bust is widely felt. Two real-estate agents put up a long-remembered billboard that says, “Will the last person leaving Seattle — turn out the lights.”
Boeing concurrently develops the 757 and 767 jets, as Airbus Industrie introduces fly-by-wire controls and becomes a credible competitor. Even leading U.S. carrier Pan Am places an order for the European company’s A320, a rival to Boeing’s 737.
Some 10,000 Boeing employees build large portions of the B-2 stealth bomber’s wing and aft fuselage in Seattle, under contract to Northrop Grumman. As Boeing engineers leave that program, they utilize the composites expertise they’ve developed to conceive a lighter, stronger tail for the new 777, and later, to create the first composite fuselage for an airliner, the 787.
The 777 is also the first Boeing plane designed digitally (with computer-aided design, or CAD) and the first to adopt fly-by-wire controls.
Boeing acquires beleaguered plane maker and defense contractor McDonnell Douglas and gives its St. Louis-based rival’s top executives key roles, leading to the bitter joke that “McDonnell Douglas bought Boeing with Boeing’s money.” The move sparks a cultural clash that lasts for decades as Boeing becomes more cost-conscious and less engineer-driven.
The merger also leads to a Boeing-Airbus duopoly in commercial-jet manufacturing, as other rivals can no longer compete and begin to withdraw. Boeing tries to bury Airbus by drastically discounting planes. Orders flood in, and an attempt to double production runs into trouble. Assembly lines in Renton and Everett are shut down for 25 days to unsnarl the mess.
Boeing reports its first-ever annual loss. At the behest of Boeing President Harry Stonecipher, who had been McDonnell Douglas’ chief executive, CEO Phil Condit replaces Boeing’ s commercial-airplanes chief Ron Woodard with Alan Mulally. Fortune magazine calls it “the first major management shakeup in Boeing’s eight-decade history.”
Boeing’s new data-driven financial focus leads the company toward services as a profit center, spawning fresh efforts from maintenance to pilot training.
Boeing’s engineers go on an extended strike for the first time in their SPEEA union’s 56-year history, citing as the central issue a lack of respect from Boeing’s new, McDonnell Douglas-infused management, especially the abrasive Stonecipher. The 40-day walkout is the largest white-collar strike in American history.
In a huge jolt to its hometown, Boeing abruptly announces it will move its corporate headquarters; weeks later it announces the new location is Chicago. Condit says the move will help decentralize the company and aid objective decisions on where to deploy its resources.
Boeing adopts Toyota-inspired process-improvement methods to cut costs and boost productivity while modernizing to match Airbus’ newer factories. At the Renton plant, 737 production is put on gigantic assembly lines, where the planes are tugged along the factory floor at 2 inches a minute.
Boeing loses the Joint Strike Fighter contract to rival Lockheed Martin, effectively booting it out of the future jet-fighter business.
Boeing kills its Sonic Cruiser program, proposed in March 2001 to fly at nearly the speed of sound, as airlines struggling with the post-9/11 outlook say they need more fuel-efficient planes instead. The company’s engineers respond with the 7E7 (“E” standing for “efficient”), which becomes the 787.
Scandal reaches the company’s highest levels as Boeing Chief Financial Officer Mike Sears, a McDonnell Douglas veteran, arranges a job for Air Force procurement official Darleen Druyun while she’s overseeing Boeing contracts, including a controversial $23 billion aerial-refueling tanker deal. Druyun admits she inflated prices on some contracts for her prospective employer. She and Sears go to jail for corruption, Condit resigns, and Stonecipher returns from retirement to clean up the shaken company.
Boeing formally launches the 7E7. It’s the first jetliner made of lighter-weight plastic composites instead of aluminum, and features electrical flight systems and new engines and wings — a combination that promises to reduce fuel and increase range. Its efficiency and smaller fuselage are expected to open new “thin” airline routes that wouldn’t work with a jumbo jet.
Mulally decides Boeing can only afford such an ambitious new jet by sharing the investment with suppliers. The company devises a global production system, with 70 percent of the plane designed and built by major partners, leaving Boeing workers to assemble completed structural sections. It’s a huge step in outsourcing that, combined with the new materials used, leads to unprecedented delays.
Vought and Alenia, two of Boeing’s partners for the 7E7, build their factories in South Carolina. When Boeing is forced to take over the facilities and their troubled assembly lines in 2008 and 2009, the site gives the company a Southeast foothold where it later sets up a manufacturing hub to rival Puget Sound’s.
Boeing sells its huge parts plant in Wichita, Kan., to Spirit AeroSystems, the culmination of a yearslong strategy of shedding facilities from Texas to Spokane. Considerable in-house expertise goes with the various plants.
CEO Stonecipher is ousted after an affair with another Boeing executive shows he hasn’t met the code of conduct he espoused. The board passes over the popular internal choice, Alan Mulally, and hires 3M CEO Jim McNerney, a protégé of former GE Chief Executive Jack Welch.
The 787 Dreamliner’s unparalleled ordeal begins to unfold. The first model unveiled to a worldwide audience later turns out to be a hollow shell with fake parts; a shortage of fasteners and software issues force Boeing to push back the plane’s first flight. By the end of the year, Boeing acknowledges the delays will be the longest in company history, and it replaces the program chief.
Boeing is outmaneuvered on its own turf: After the corruption scandal that derailed the company’s previous contract for the Air Force’s $35 billion tanker program, it loses the contract to European rival EADS in a shocking reversal. Boeing contests the decision, managing to win it back three years later after successfully lobbying the government and slashing the price through new collaboration between its defense and commercial sides.
In perhaps the worst-timed of the seven Machinists strikes in Boeing history, IAM members walk out a week before Lehman Brothers collapses and the world falls into the global financial crisis. The strike lasts 57 days — far short of the 140-day record set by Machinists in 1948 — but Boeing’s leadership is so angered by this work stoppage amid the 787 delays that it decides the next year to put a second 787 assembly line in South Carolina.
Boeing announces it will build its first new airplane factory outside the Puget Sound area — a 787 manufacturing complex in North Charleston, S.C. — stunning its hometown once more.
Airbus lures away stalwart Boeing customer American Airlines by putting new engines on its popular single-aisle plane, launching the A320neo. Boeing abandons longer-term plans for a complete replacement of the 737 and instead offers a 737 MAX model with upgraded engines.
The Machinists and Boeing deliver a December surprise with a “tsunami-sized deal” — a long-term contract that ensures an end to a string of strikes — as part of an attempt to secure the 737 MAX work for Renton.
Boeing decides to shutter its military operations in Wichita, its final presence in Kansas. Boeing had been a key employer in Wichita since buying Stearman in 1934 and had helped the city become known as the Air Capital of the World.
The 787’s woes continue as the entire fleet is grounded globally after the model’s new lithium-ion batteries lead to a fire in a parked plane and smoldering in another during in flight. It’s the first time a model has been grounded since 1979 and adds fuel to the Dreamliner’s troubled narrative. Boeing is forced to redesign the batteries’ steel boxes and institute new safety features.
After a bitter campaign in which Boeing management threatens to build the upcoming 777X derivative in another state, the Machinists union gives up its traditional pension and Olympia grants $8.7 billion in tax breaks, the largest state tax subsidy in U.S. history. The 777X, including fabrication of its giant composite wing, is secured for Everett.
Boeing opens engineering centers around the U.S. and transfers some engineering groups from the Puget Sound region.
CEO McNerney declares the company will, for the foreseeable future, avoid “moonshots” such as the 707 and 787 had been, in favor of reusing already developed technologies and cutting costs.
Boeing builds its last C-17 cargo plane and shutters its plant in Long Beach, Calif.
Dennis Muilenburg, previously head of Boeing’s defense unit in Washington, D.C., is named president and CEO in preparation for McNerney’s 2016 retirement.
Boeing loses to Northrop Grumman in a competition for the $80 billion Long Range Strike Bomber contract, leaving the military side of the company with only a few commercial derivative planes for future development, including the P-8A surveillance aircraft and the delayed KC-46 tanker. Boeing’s defense operations shrink and the company turns to upgrades and support services to chase military revenues.
On the commercial side, Boeing prepares to develop the next generation of jets by 2030 while it winds down production of the 747 and 767. It announces plans to reduce its workforce in a cost-cutting move to counter rising competition. Canada’s Bombardier wins a market-validating order for its new CSeries single-aisle jetliner, a rival to the 737 and A320, while China’s Comac aims to have its C919 competitor in the air by 2017.