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The Boeing Company

Updated on September 9, 2011

Origin of the Boeing Company

Boeing is the world's largest manufacturer of commercial and military aircraft, and controls more than half of the market for jet aircraft, next to military jets and helicopters, missile systems and space technology.

In 1916 William Boeing and Navy engineer Conrad Westervelt founded the Pacific Aero Products Company in Seattle, and they built the B & W seaplane. When one year later Westervelt was recalled to active service in World War I, the company was renamed to the Boeing Airplane Company.

The contacts with the Navy proved to be interesting, because during World War I the company manufactured aircraft for Navy training and patrol.

Diversification of the Activities

Next to building airplanes, the company at first also exploited an airline, and in 1919 they started the first international postal line between Seattle and Victoria in British Columbia. In 1927, Boeing contracted with the US Mail to distribute the mail between Chicago, Illinois and San Francisco, California, and built its first commercial airplane, the Model 40.

In 1929, Boeing merged with engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, and they founded the United Aircraft and Transport Corporation. This company subsequently purchased several regional airlines, and in 1931 it was renamed to United Air Lines.

In 1934 however, they had to deal with federal antitrust actions and were required to split the company into three different companies ; the Boeing Airplane Company, Pratt & Whitney and United Airlines.

World War II Activities

During World War II, Boeing produced hundreds of Flying Fortresses , the main US bomber. Given the war effort, a large part of the workers were women.

In 1944 the Seattle factory produced sixteen B-17 aircraft per day ! This airplane was cherished by the pilots, because even half shot to pieces, it would still manage to remain in the air and safely return...

Another aircraft was the B-29 bomber , the most famous of which is the Enola Gay , that carried the first atomic bomb to Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. In 1952, the B-52 bomber was put in the pipeline.

In the early 1950's, Boeing had to contend with stiff competition from McDonnell-Douglas , who made excellent propeller aircraft. Thanks to its previous military experience Boeing decided to fully play the card of commercial jet-aircraft.

Jet Aircraft

In 1958 it brought out the 707, which would prove to be a huge commercial success, and it was succeeded by the 727, the 737 and the 747.

In 1961 the company diversified into other technologies, and it designed the first steps of the enormous Saturn rocket, that brought the Apollo capsule to the moon.

In 1966, Boeing decided to build the largest commercial Jet-airplane in the world, the famous 747. But first a huge factory needed to be built to house the assembly line for this large airplane. In 1968 the building was finished. During the same year, however, the first plane was delivered.

The construction of the building took twenty years and occurred in three phases, because in 1979 it was extended a first time to house the 767, and in 1990 it was extended again for the most recent offspring, the 777.

The Boeing Assembly Hall

The Boeing Assembly Hall is the building with the largest volume in the world, with a surface of 400,000 m2 and a height of 35 meters. The volume is an incredible 13 million cubic meters !

There is no heating or air conditioning, because the heat comes from the lights, the machines and the workers, and the cooling is obtained by opening the huge doors. The roof is a marvel of engineering, because throughout the vast hangar there are only support columns between the seven assembly lines.

Boeing series 707 to 777

The letters of the series 707 to 777 always begin with a seven, a number that was merely chosen because it seemed to be the most appropriate, publicity-wise. A Boeing 747 has more than six million parts, half of which are rivets and screws. The average unit costs roughly 200 million dollars, depending on the options.

The customer can choose from three engines ; Pratt & Whitney, Rolls Royce or General Electric. The payment terms are a 33% deposit, 33% when it is painted, and the balance after the pilots test the airplane and deliver it. Between order and final delivery, the construction and testing of the airplane take about seven months to complete.

In 1970, the first Jumbo Jet was built with the 747, which could carry 490 people. Although this aircraft would become the most important transcontinental aircraft in the world, the enormous costs of development and manufacturing brought Boeing to the edge of bankruptcy.

In 1973, Boeing had to let go almost 60% of its staff, but a revival of commercial and military orders helped it back in the saddle. The smaller Boeing 737 became the best selling jet-powered passenger aircraft.

In 1993, the economic recession and strong competition from Airbus Industries caused Boeing to again dismiss about 25% of its staff. In 1995, the company also had to deal with a long and costly strike.

But in the same year Boeing brought the model 777 on the market, which was completely designed by computer. This model again became a blockbuster, and new orders yielded billions of dollars.

Boeing became the largest supplier of NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), and provides electronics, rocket stages and components for the International Space Station. In 1996, it purchased Rockwell International Corporation, through which it received contracts for the Space Shuttle and the engines.

Boeing 747

McDonnell Douglas Corporation

In 1997 Boeing bought its arch-rival McDonnell Douglas Corporation for more than 16 billion dollars, the largest merger ever in the aviation industry. By doing so it was able obtain a unique position in military spending. However, afterwards the company had a serious series of setbacks.

Despite a large number of orders, Boeing was faced a shortage of staff and a shortage of parts. The resulting delays compelled the company to halt the assembly lines of the 737 and 747 for one month. Furthermore, the production of McDonnell Douglas's MD-80 and MD-90 passenger aircraft was gradually tapered out, causing a loss of billions of dollars, and the first annual loss since 1947.

In 1998 Boeing announced that the production of the MD-11 jumbo jet would end, whereby the 717 (formerly the MD-95) became the only remaining model of McDonnell Douglas. That finally meant the end of this strong competitor...

Recent Activities

In 2000, Boeing acquired the space and communications division of Hughes Electronics Corporation, and managed to control the world's largest satellite manufacturer. A year later, the headquarters were moved from Seattle to Chicago.

During our visit there was little activity and almost no workers in sight, because Boeing had just laid off 5,000 workers for economic reasons. If in 1970 it employed 35,000 people, by 2003 this number was reduced to 18,000. During the 1960's more than 600 aircraft were manufactured per year, but that number has dropped to 350.

Besides commercial aircraft Boeing also produces military aircraft and helicopters, including the famous Apache combat helicopter, the bogeyman of tanks around the world, and certainly an aircraft with exceptional technical qualities.

A few Interesting Facts

Boeing's largest customer is British Airways with 75 aircraft, and movie stars John Travolta and Bruce Willis fly their own Boeing series 700.

In times of a national emergency, the president of the USA can exceptionally call upon the aircraft of major American companies such as Federal Express, UPS, DHL and all American airlines, to transport soldiers and equipment all over the world in 48 hours !


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    • KBell2010 profile image

      KBell2010 6 years ago

      I'm curious what is the prognosis for Boeing. Are they able to compete with Eurobus? Or are they on there way out?

    • profile image

      Slusterbubble 6 years ago

      Good question - tough answer, though ! There are way too many variables to consider. Creativity, production and good management are indispensable on the company's side. But in today's economy and on that level, so are contacts, politics, graft, bribes and media. Finally, in a somewhat more "linked" Europe (you could actually give it another name...), there would be far a greater emphasis on governmental subsidies, to please the unions, the politicians, the banks, the government heads (remember for instance the Concorde, a British-French "folie de grandeur"), etc., etc. Don't they call those "Local Interest Groups" ?...

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