The Man Behind the Boeing Name

By John Frederickson, author of Images of America: Boeing

William E. “Bill” Boeing (1881-1956) dropped out of Yale after his third year in 1903 because he sensed an opportunity to make money.  Wilhelm BÓ§ing, an enterprising German immigrant, was a wealthy timber and mining barren who died of influenza at the age of 40 in 1890 leaving vast acreage of rain-drenched Western Washington coastal virgin timber to his only son, William.
The still youthful Bill Boeing headed west to begin harvesting the timber while the price of lumber was at its peak.  He soon moved to nearby Seattle and became smitten with airplanes and flying. 
Work on the first two airplanes was already nearing completion when the articles of incorporation for Pacific Aero-Products Company were consummated on July 15, 1916.  The shop’s diverse crew included men with woodworking skills, women with expertise in sewing fabric, and an American-educated Chinese aeronautical engineer named Wong Tsu.  Within the first year, the fledgling enterprise was renamed “Boeing Airplane Company.”
By 1934, Bill Boeing’s aviation consortium had grown well beyond airframes.  The government intervened to break up this apparent “monopoly in the making” with a controversial piece of jurisprudence:  the Air Mail Act of 1934.  Mr. Boeing quit the business in disgust by selling all of his aviation holdings and moved onto new interests and semi-retirement at the age of 53.
The talented young executives who Boeing first hired, then mentored, took charge and proceeded to grow the now separated businesses until each (United Airlines, Boeing Aircraft, and Pratt & Whitney engines) was the leader of its business segment. 
Without access to Mr. Boeing’s deep pockets, the company financially struggled at times; however, World War II established Boeing as the leading producer of big airplanes – the B-17 and B-29 bombersThe Cold War era business extended beyond military weapons and into not only NASA space projects but also commercial transports.  The game changing technology of pod-mounted jet engines hung under swept wings was first demonstrated on the B-47 in 1947. 
The “7” series jet transports first appeared in the late 1950s.  The Model 707-320 Intercontinental was soon augmented by the B-727 -- which was better suited for shorter routes into medium sized airports.  A cornucopia of various models, sizes, and ranges followed.     
William Boeing’s tenure with the company was a mere 18 years (1916-1934) but the values he demanded (engineering excellence, manufacturing acumen, and scrupulous business dealings) still drive the corporation as it enters its second century.