Founders: William E. Boeing.
Distinction: Evolved with aviation industry from biplanes to Lunar
Primary Products: Commercial and military aircrafts, rockets, satellites.
Annual sales: $57.993 billion.
Number of employees: 197,000.
Major competitors: Airbus Industries, EADS, Lockheed Martin.
Chairman, President and CEO: Philip M. Condit; president and COO:
Harry C. Stonecipher.
Headquarters: Seattle, Wash.
Year founded: 1916.
For as long as there has been an aviation business, the Boeing
name has been part of it. Just a few years after the Wright brothers made
their first flight at Kitty Hawk, William Boeing attended the first American
air show in Los Angeles. He immediately saw the possibilities, and over
the next several years explored various facets of the exciting new
industry. He rode a biplane from atop a wing, took flying lessons from an
early barnstormer, and spearheaded the design of a seaplane. But when
he bought an old Seattle shipyard to open an airplane manufacturing
operation in 1916, his involvement became official.
Over the next eight-and-a-half decades, his Boeing Company
weathered an ebb and flow that spelled the end to most of its oncemighty
competitors. It did so by snagging virtually every opportunity that
surfaced-from the first U.S. mail air routes, to massive military contracts,
to domination of commercial aviation, to a major role in the space
program. It has long been the top producer of commercial jets and with
various acquisitions also became the largest aerospace company in the
While cyclical downturns over the years devastated one aircraft or
aerospace firm after another, Boeing battled back effectively with
imagination and diversification. For example, it began United Airlines and
employed the first female flight attendant and as an early global
enterprise developed customers in 145 countries. It vast litany of
innovations includes aviation icons as the B-52 bomber and 737
passenger plane (the best-selling jetliner in aviation history), along with
the Lunar Orbiter and Saturn V booster (launcher of Apollo spacecraft on
their journeys to the moon).
But none of the challenges Boeing has encountered provides
immunity from those it faces today. In fact, with the 21st century barely
underway, a European rival unveiled a super jumbo jet that siphoned
attention-and sales-from Boeing's existing alternative. Trade magazines
and Seattle-area newspapers speculated that without extraordinary effort,
Boeing might soon find itself the world's number-two plane maker. Not
surprisingly, Boeing prepared once again to fight back.
The Wright brothers made their historic first flight in 1903; the
same year Detroit native Wiliam Boeing left Yale Engineering College to
seek his fortune in the Pacific Northwest. The timber industry was red hot,
and the 22-year-old quickly struck it rich in the lush forests outside Grays
Harbor, Wash. After moving to Seattle, he heard about an air show in Los
Angeles. Boeing attended and fell in love with what he saw, and upon his
return began engaging a navy engineer named George Conrad Westervelt
in endless conversations about the future of flight.
Westervelt had taken aeronautics courses at MIT, and shared
Boeing's infatuation with air travel. The two flew on an early biplane-the
type requiring both pilot and passenger to sit on one wing-and pondered
variations at Seattle's University Club. Before Boeing left for California in
August 1915 to take flying lessons, he asked his friend to design a more
practical craft. Construction on the resultant twin-float seaplane, dubbed
B&W for the pair's last names, began soon after his return.
Boeing built a combination hangar-boathouse beside Lake Union.
During the first half of 1916 began construction on two B&W seaplanes.
The Navy sent Westervelt east before they were done, so Boeing finished
on his own. On June 15, he took the plane nicknamed "Bluebill" on its
maiden flight when the scheduled pilot didn't arrive on time. Exactly one
month later, he incorporated his airplane manufacturing business as the
Pacific Aero Products Company. He bought 998 of the 1,000 shares and
moved operations to the former Health's shipyard on the Duwamish River.
A year later, he changed the name of his business to Boeing Airplane
Bursting with optimism over his new enterprise, Boeing assembled a
28-peron staff of pilots, carpenters, seamstresses and other specialized
workers. The B&W didn't sell, but World War I was underway and for the
first time the United States was using airplanes in battle. Boeing knew the
Navy would need planes for training, and believed his Model C filled the
bill. Navy officials agreed following a Florida test flight, and ordered 50.
Boeing expanded his payroll to 337 to build them, but-in a pattern that
would become uncomfortably common in the years ahead-saw the order
cut in half as the war drew to a close. To keep afloat, he had workers
switch to building furnishings for local shops as well as a type of flatbottomed
boat called a sea sled.
Boeing wasn't through with planes, though. In 1919 he and a pilot
flew 60 letters from British Columbia to Seattle, marking the first
international air mail delivery into the United States. He built many new
commercial aircraft models over the next few years, including the first to
fly over Mount Ranier. The Army Air Service also placed a few healthy
orders for fighter biplanes, but Boeing knew that he had to come up with
a solid plane for producing and selling a steady number of products to a
wide variety of customers if he hoped to survive. To that end he bought
the Stearman Aircraft Company in Kansas, and opened Boeing Aircraft of
Canada and the Boeing School of Aeronautics in California. And in 1927-
the same year Charles Lindbergh made the first solo nonstop flight from
New York to Paris-Boeing contracted with the U.S. Postal Department to
run the coveted airmail route from Chicago to San Francisco.
At last, Boeing could efficiently use his planes while promoting them
to others. To operate a route that could effectively carry passengers along
with the mail, he founded Boeing Air Transport, the predecessor to United
Airlines. Bowing to Prohibition, his wife Bertha inaugurated the first flight
with orange-flavored soda water. During the passengers, took the 22-
and-one-half-hour trip. This helped kick start the idea of passenger air
travel and incite and demand that-in conjunction with military orders and,
later, space-related products-would keep Boeing on top for decades.
Much changed during ensuing years, but Boeing's continually broadening
lineup consistently dominated its fields. His companies built airplanes and
parts, including engines and propellers. They delivered mail. They
maintained airports. They ran airlines. When single-winged planes
replaced biplanes, Boeing's were first out of the hangar. His Yankee
Clipper inaugurated regular airmail service across the Atlantic. His
luxurious Stratoliner was remade as the military C-75 after the bombing
of Pearl Harbor. The next was the B-29, which dropped atomic bombs on
Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Government cancellations after the war again
led to massive layoffs, but this time orders for long-range civilian planes
replaced them, and the company pressed often kept the company going
full tilt. By the time William Boeing died in 1956, his aircrafts were
capable of circling the globe. And, for the first time, airlines wee carrying
more non-commuting passengers than trains.
The 1960s put America, and Boeing, on a new path. President
Kennedy promised a man on the moon, and the company loaned the
government 2,000 executives to help make it happen. Its Lunar Orbiter
scouted possible landing areas and its Lunar Roving explored the ground.
Its Saturn V first-stage booster launched the Apollo craft into space.
Boeing 707s was utilized for years to transport government officials. The
plane that carried the president world uses the call sign "Air Force One."
In 1962, two 707s were adapted specifically for use by the president and
were officially given the permanent call sign Air Force One. These models
served as the presidential aircraft until 1990, when they were replaced by
two new Boeing 747s.
But while it continued building more advanced airplanes, such as
the 490-passenger transatlantic 747 jumbo jet, Boeing also kept hitting
employment peaks and valleys. Nearly 50,000 workers were dismissed in
1970 when the United States abruptly ended its supersonic transport
program. Boeing responded by diversifying yet again, this time setting up
a computer services company, an irrigation project in eastern Oregon,
and a desalinization plant in the Virgin Islands. It also built three huge
wind turbines along the Columbia River, constructed voice scramblers for
police departments, and manufactured light-rail cars for several
municipalities. Obviously, the more things changed the more they stayed
But Boeing has remained primarily focused on commercial aircrafts,
military hardware, and various utilities related to space. Its leaders have
reiterated the company's long-term commitment to lead in all operational
areas, absorbing top competitors Rockwell International in 1996,
McDonnell Douglas in 1997, and the Hughes Electronics communications
satellite business in early 2000. An unprecedented 40-day strike by
engineers and technicians a few months later, however, badly impacted
commercial and military production. It also trimmed the company's value
by $5.3 billion.
The walkout left some bitterness on both sides, but the company
and its employees plunged ahead once more when it ended. Just a few
weeks after the strike, Boeing announced a new way for passengers to
surf the Net and check e-mail from their laptops during flight. Shortly
after, though, it was shaken once again by the announcement that its
arch-rival Airbus Industries had outsold it for the first time in new aircraft
orders. Further, a new Airbus super jumbo jet was attracting attention
and sales that previously went to Boeing's biggest transatlantic models.
In typical Boeing fashion, the company quickly trumpeted its
answer: the massive 747x Stretch. It hardly mattered that the Stretch
didn't yet exist; Boeing had pulled off much more difficult transformations
in the century since its founder discovered commercial aviation.