Boeing is the biggest name in commercial aircraft. Their iconic 737 family is the first aircraft to surpass 10,000 units produced and almost anyone who has flown has been on a Boeing plane. So, how did Boeing become the largest manufacturer of commercial airliners? In today’s blog, we’re going to discuss the interesting history of the Boeing Company. 

As you read, you’ll learn about Boeing’s humble beginnings and the route they took to become the most common supplier of planes that pilots who complete our commercial pilot training courses operate. 

The Beginnings Of Boeing

The Boeing Company was founded in 1916 by William Boeing in Seattle, Washington. Boeing was a Yale-educated lumber entrepreneur who became very interested in flight and airplanes. He converted a boat manufacturing plant into an airplane factory in 1910, decided that he could build airplanes faster than what was currently being manufactured, and partnered with a Navy engineer, George Conrad Westervelt, to put his idea of a better plane to the test. By 1916, with the help of a second engineer by the name of Wong Tsu, the “B&W” seaplane took its maiden flight, and the cornerstone of the Boeing Company was laid. 

Boeing used his contacts in the lumber industry to acquire a large supply of spruce wood for the building of aircraft, continued to work with Tsu to manufacture airplanes, and officially incorporated Pacific Aero Products Co. — which would later become The Boeing Company — as an official business. 

Boeing’s First Success

Boeing offered his planes to the U.S. Navy, but they were uninterested at first. However, a year later, when the U.S. entered into World War I, Boeing saw another opportunity and sent the second model of his seaplane, called the Boeing Model C, to the Navy. The Navy soon ordered 50 more of the crafts. 

Success Didn’t Last

After the war ended, the airplane market was saturated with the cheap military planes Boeing had helped supply, meaning demand for new airplanes was extremely low. Boeing nearly went out of business, resorting to selling furniture and boats instead of aircraft. It would be years before Boeing began to find success in the commercial airline industry. 

All Aboard The Airmail Plane

Though there wasn’t a major demand for new aircraft, one area where the Boeing Company did excel was with airmail carriers. The Boeing B-1, a seaplane with a hull that could land in the water, was created and spent numerous years flying mail from Seattle to British Columbia. In 1925, Boeing’s Model 40A won a contract with the U.S. Postal Service to be their main airmail carrier, and it seemed as if the Boeing Company was finally taking off, much like their aircraft.  

From Mail To Passengers

By the late 1920s, Boeing released its first plane designed for passenger transportation. Though the 12-passenger Boeing 80 and 18-passenger 80A were a far cry from the large craft that students of our commercial pilot training courses intend to fly, it was certainly a feat for its day. 

Making Strides With Metal

Up until the 1930s, most airplanes were made of lightweight wood. This posed obvious problems that were solved with the introduction of all-metal aircraft. During the ‘30s, Boeing became the leader of all-metal airplane manufacturing, being able to quickly build lightweight, durable metal planes for various uses. The company continued to grow at a rapid pace. 

However, in 1934, a new law stated that airlines and airplane manufacturers cannot be owned by the same corporation. At the time, Boeing had merged with United Airlines and several other companies. Because of this new law, the conglomerate split into separate companies, and William Boeing decided it was a good time to sell his shares and leave the company. The new head of the company, Clairmont Egtvedt, saw that the future of Boeing would be to build newer, faster, and bigger planes. Thus, a second Boeing plant was built and the second phase of the Boeing Company began. 

Across The Pond

Until Boeing developed their 314 flying boat, regular passenger flights from American to Europe were nearly unheard of. The new plane, however, was the largest passenger plane of the time and could transport 90 civilians between the two continents. 

Conquering Altitude Sickness

While flying at the time was a new and exciting venture, it wasn’t necessarily pleasant. In addition to flight attendants, airlines hired in-flight nurses to help passengers deal with altitude sickness that resulted due to unpressurized cabins. In 1938, this changed with the invention of the first passenger aircraft with a pressurized cabin. The Model 307 Stratoliner was the first craft of its type to be able to fly at altitudes higher than 20,000 feet. This revolutionized the safety and reliability of the airline industry, as planes could now fly above daunting weather. 

Wartime Brings Business And Change

World War II was the first major war to utilize aircraft on the frontlines. Boeing was pumping out hundreds of B-17s and B-29 bombers every month. Their workforce at the time consisted mainly of women, as men had been sent to war in droves. Due to the powerful nature of bombers, manufacturing plants were actually camouflaged by covering the roofs with greenery so they could not be spotted by enemy bombers from the air. 

After the war, business fell significantly and orders were canceled, leaving over 70,000 Boeing employees jobless. Commercial flight had not yet garnered enough popularity to keep Boeing busy, and the need for newly manufactured aircraft steadily dropped over the next decade. 

The Cold War And Boeing

In the 1950s, as developed worlds made major strides in technology, the Cold War erupted. The Soviet Union and the United States were trying to vie for power with each country and their allies building bigger and better machinery of war to intimidate the other. This was good news for Boeing, who developed short-range missiles that could intercept Soviet planes. The short-range missile soon made way for the technology needed for long-range missiles. 

Around this time, Boeing also developed the first jet engine airplane in the US available for commercial flights. The Boeing 707 and 720 soon became standard in the commercial airline industry. While the Boeing Company experienced successes and failures throughout the first half of the twentieth century, they were about to solidify their position in the airline industry and prove why those currently in commercial pilot training courses always get their type rating in a few Boeing planes.

The 737 Is Born

Most civilians who have flown on an airplane at least a few times have been in a Boeing 737. It is an iconic piece of machinery that specializes in short or medium-range flights. Today, it holds a record of being the only airliner to have over 10,000 units produced, and it first came to fruition in 1967. While several versions have been created in the 737 family, the main design and function remains the same. This plane is so common, that we recommend anyone who wants to complete commercial pilot training to obtain their Boeing 737 Type Rating

The Bigger, Badder 747

Before the 737 was fully developed, Boeing began development of their 747. It would be the biggest jet in the world and defined a new class of plane: the Jumbo Jets. However, before the plane could be built, Boeing needed a factory big enough in which to produce it. Thus, the world’s biggest factory was built specifically for this plane in Everett, Washington. This was a huge risk for Boeing, but thankfully it eventually paid off — but not after some trouble. As the Vietnam War came to an end, the military was spending less and less on Boeing products. And though Boeing played a major role in space travel, their work with spacecraft was nearly complete, losing them another major source of revenue. Additionally, building airplanes, especially a revolutionary one like the 747, is extremely expensive and aircraft manufacturers are not paid out until orders are fulfilled. This sunk Boeing into billions of dollars of debt. Boeing lost three-quarters of their workforce, and the city of Seattle suffered as a result. 

However, Boeing trudged along and finished the manufacturing of the first 747s. The 747 is recognizable by its hump nose which houses the cockpit and is a cornerstone of many airlines. The 747 was officially introduced in 1970 and is still in production. This big plane held the record for the greatest passenger capacity for nearly 40 years after its introduction and all major airlines had a few in their fleet. 

Airbus Moves In 

During the 1980s, Boeing was consistently delivering amazing planes to both airlines and the military. However, during this time, Airbus (Boeing’s main competition to this day) began to catch up. To stay ahead, Boeing began to create new and improved planes faster than ever, as well as supply aircraft to both the military and NASA. Around this time, Boeing became the first contractor for the International Space Station, contributed heavily to the Space Shuttle program, and produced the B-2 stealth bombers used by the military. Boeing’s position with government programs, including the aforementioned as well as the evolution of wind power, helped them maintain their fair share of the aeronautics industry. 

Lucky 777

In the ‘90s, Boeing was still busy working with the military on new and improved tactical planes, but something else was in the works. In 1994, Boeing debuted the revolutionary 777, which our commercial pilot training program offers type rating courses for. The 777 was the largest twin-engine jet of the time, carrying up to 370 passengers. It was also the longest range twin-engine jet at the time, in addition to being the first Boeing plane to feature the now-standard fly-by-wire system. Additionally, it was the first aircraft to be designed entirely by computer, and the first to be certified with a 180-minute ETOPS (extended operations). This means that if an engine fails or another qualified disaster strikes, the plane should be able to sustain flight for 180 minutes. 

Business Is Growing

With the success of the 777, as well as a major redesign of the 737, Boeing was flying high. This led them to acquire or merge with several other entities, including Rockwell, McDonnell Douglas, and Hughes Electronics. 

Leveling Out

After a period of immense growth, Boeing began to slow down thanks to rivals Lockheed Martin and Airbus. Rather than experiencing a period of growth or decline, they began to remain level, focusing on their main crafts and designing new ways to streamline production. They continued to take on some government projects, including maintaining their position as the lead contractor of the ISS. They also won bids for developing Navy and Army aircraft, and maintain a good relationship with FedEx and other large customers. 

Up In The Air

While Boeing has had numerous advances and setbacks throughout its century of business, in recent years, they have had a few major hiccups. Notably, in 2003, they were sued by Lockheed Martin. Lockheed Martin claimed that one of their former employees, who left to work for Boeing, supplied Boeing with thousands of pages of documentation that allowed Boeing to win important government bids with Lockheed Martin’s intellectual work. Lockheed Martin won, and Boeing was stripped of several government projects they had been awarded, and were also banned from providing future bids for a nearly two-year period.

Boeing has also had a major issue with their new 737 MAX 8, of which two have crashed with commercial passengers aboard, killing a total of 346 people in the span of six months. This has led to an international grounding of all 737 MAX aircraft until more research can be done. This is bad news for Boeing, as many airlines are now backing out of their orders due to safety concerns.

Looking To The Future

Even with these setbacks, Boeing continues to explore new ways to stay ahead of the game, exploring options for low-cost and environmentally friendly airplanes, as well as high-tech military applications.  

Where Will Our Commercial Pilot Training And Boeing Take You?

Boeing has put in over a century of work into the aircraft industry and has made leaps and bounds, particularly in the commercial sector. So, where will Boeing take your career? As a member of our commercial pilot training program, you can become certified to fly commercial crafts like the Boeing 737, 777, 787, and more. Our Boeing type rating courses cover the major aircraft you might encounter in your career as a commercial pilot. 

Get in touch with Alliance Aviation today to discover how you can become an airline pilot and play your own role in Boeing’s legacy.