The Boeing Company is the largest aerospace company in the world, thanks to its 1997 merger with McDonnell Douglas Corporation and its 1996 purchase of the defense and space units of Rockwell International Corporation. The corporation is the world's number one maker of commercial jetliners and military aircraft. Boeing has more than 9,000 commercial aircraft in service worldwide, including the 717 through 777 families of jets and the MD-80, MD-90, and MD-11. In the defense sector, the company makes military aircraft, including fighter, transport, and attack aircraft; helicopters; and missiles. In addition to its position as the nation's top NASA contractor--and the leader of the U.S. industry team for the International Space Station--Boeing is also involved in commercial space projects such as satellite networks and a sea-based satellite launch platform.
Beginnings, Early 20th Century
Founder William Boeing was raised in Michigan, where his father operated a lucrative forestry business. While he was in San Diego, California, in 1910, Boeing met a French stunt pilot named Louis Paulhan who was performing at the International Air Meet. When Paulhan took Boeing for an airplane ride, it marked the beginning of Boeing's fascination with aviation.
After two years of study at Yale's Sheffield School of Science, Boeing returned to Michigan to work for his father. He was sent first to Wisconsin and later to the state of Washington to acquire more timber properties for the family business. In Seattle he met a navy engineer named Conrad Westerveldt who shared his fascination with aviation. A barnstormer named Terah Maroney gave the two men a ride over Puget Sound in his seaplane. Later Boeing went to Los Angeles to purchase his own seaplane, thinking it would be useful for fishing trips. The man who sold him the plane and taught him how to fly was Glenn Martin, who later founded Martin Marietta.
While in Seattle, Boeing and Westerveldt made a hobby of building their own seaplanes on the backwaters of Puget Sound. It became more than a hobby when a mechanic named Herb Munter and a number of other carpenters and craftsmen became involved. In May 1916, Boeing flew the first 'B & W' seaplane. The next month he incorporated his company as the Pacific Aero Products Company. The company's first customer was the government of New Zealand, which employed the plane for mail delivery and pilot training. In 1917 the company's name was changed to Boeing Airplane Company.
Boeing and his partners anticipated government interest in their company when the United States became involved in World War I. They discovered their hunch was correct when the company was asked to train flight instructors for the army. After the war, Boeing sold a number of airplanes to Edward Hubbard, whose Hubbard Air Transport is regarded as the world's first airline. The company shuttled mail between Seattle and the transpacific mailboat that called at Victoria, British Columbia. Later, when the post office invited bids for various airmail routes, Hubbard tried to convince Boeing to apply for the Chicago to San Francisco contract. Boeing mentioned the idea to his wife, who thought the opportunity looked promising. In the prospect, he and Hubbard created a new airline named the Boeing Air Transport Company. They submitted a bid and were awarded the contract.
To meet the demands of their new business Boeing and his engineers developed an extremely versatile and popular airplane called the Model 40. Fitted with a Pratt & Whitney air-cooled Wasp engine, it could carry 1,000 pounds of mail and a complete flight crew, and still have room enough for freight or passengers. The Kelly Airmail Act of 1925 opened the way for private airmail delivery on a much wider scale. As a result, a number of airline companies were formed with the intention of procuring the stable and lucrative airmail contracts. One of these companies was Vernon Gorst's...