How one man’s adventurous spirit revolutionized flight

Millions of people fly daily from one destination to another.  Whether it be for business or for pleasure, passengers love flying.  And with stiff competition between airlines, the consumer is the winner.  We have one man to thank for the vision to put people on airplanes and take them from one place to another.  That man was William Boeing.

William Boeing and Fred Rentschler_patrick dwyer_american financial titans
Image courtesy of IMLS Digital Collections at

Like father like son

Wilhelm Boeing, the father of William Boeing, decided to embark on an adventure in 1868. He decided to leave his native Germany for a new life in the United States.  Wilhelm became a lumberman and through this trade and the mineral rights to the land he owned made his fortune.  Influenza did not allow him to enjoy it however.

William Boeing inherited his father’s adventurous nature and made a life altering decision of his own.  He chose to leave Sheffield Scientific School without graduating in 1903 and saw an opportunity in the west.  The logging business was very good to him.  With time he grew his wealth and his land.  This business would stay with him for most of his life.

First adventures in flight

A number of flights were all Boeing and his friend and business partner Conrad Westervelt needed to be convinced they could revolutionize the airplane business.  He was so fascinated with flight that he took course the Glenn L. Martin School in Los Angeles.  The Martin factory was responsible for delivering Boeing his very first personal plane.  From then on, his interest and passion and aviation only grew and became more set in his nature.   He gathered some technical assistants to get to work on designing and putting together the first Boeing aircraft in 1915.  That day came on June 15, 1916 when the Bluebill, B&W Model 1 took its maiden flight.  It was only 900 feet but a new business was born and boy how it would grow.

Initially, the company was called Pacific Aero Products Company and it wasn’t until April, 1917 that it became to be known as Boeing Airplane Company.  His keen sense of business led him to understand that he was lacking in one department.  He didn’t have engineers.  In order to solve this Boeing built a wind tunnel for the University of Washington.  The university opened an aeronautical engineering course and the best students would be taken to Boeing.  Win-win all the way around.  World War I proved to be very advantageous for Boeing.  He was able to obtain a military contract and business was good.  But wars must eventually come to an end.  As soon as the war stopped, the military contracts held by Boeing did as well.

Understanding the situation, Boeing kept the company alive by diversifying its portfolio.  This would mark the end of his first adventure in the flight industry.

The birth of commercial flight

Eddie Hubbard was a daring and intelligent pilot who was discharged from the Army.  Their loss would prove to be Boeing’s win.  Hubbard persuaded Boeing about the benefits of applying for an international mailing route contract.  Even though Boeing’s counselors advised him to not continue with this business, he made another important decision.  He took their advice and opted out of continuing to deliver airmail after the trial period, but he told Hubbard to go on with bidding on the contract.  His intuition about the success of air delivered mail would pay off in 1925 when he obtained a contract to fly mail between San Francisco and Chicago.  Boeing was so convinced there was going to be success that he put up some of his own money to ensure operation.  The contract was a success in large part to Boeings new air-cooled engine.  Besides delivering mail, Boeing aircrafts also flew people.

First Boeing 737-100_William Boeing_american financial titans_patrick dwyer
Image courtesy of Gordon Werner at

If it weren’t for the government’s interference, Boeing would have surely become king of the skies.  By 1930, William Boeing had owned some of the most important companies related to aircrafts in the country.  Government rulings forced Boeing to separate the company into three and each one had to have a different economic activity.  Thus United Airlines, United Aircraft Corporation, and the Boeing Airplane Company were born.  Soon after, Boeing retired from the company and sold his shares in it.  But he wasn’t done in the industry, not by a long shot.

His expertise would lead to him being a consultant for the company during World War II.  It was then when the company cemented its legacy and history by manufacturing the biggest military aircrafts ever known to man and which still amaze people nowadays.  Boeings attention to detail and perfectionism would be the staple of a company that would later on provide the world with the Boeing 707 passenger airplane and therefore changing commercial flight as we knew it.

The Boeing name is synonymous with airplanes.  And that was all possible thanks to the vision, dedication, brilliance, and adventurous spirit of one William E. Boeing.


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