William E. Boeing -- 1881 to 1956

Exploring new frontiers

Wilhelm Boeing died of influenza in 1890 when he was only 42 years old. He left behind his wife, Marie; 3-year-old Gretchen; 5-year-old Caroline; and 8-year-old William Edward. Marie eventually remarried and became Marie M. Owsley. Young William, who biographers of the time say did not get along with his stepfather, was sent to school in Vevey, Switzerland, where he established an outward correctness that remained with him for the rest of his life. According to a note in the Boeing Historical Archives, William visited his father's ancestral home in Hohenlimburg some years before World War I.

Young Boeing left Vevey after a year and continued his schooling in public and private schools in the United States. Between 1899 and 1902, he studied at the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale but did not graduate. Instead, in 1903 at age 22, William E. Boeing left college, went west, and started his new life in Grays Harbor, Washington, where he learned the logging business on his own, starting with lands he had inherited. Boeing bought more timberland, began to add to the wealth he had inherited from his family, and started to explore new frontiers by outfitting expeditions to Alaska.

Building a better airplane

He moved to Seattle in 1908 to establish the Greenwood Timber Co. His first home in that city was a genteel apartment-hotel on First Hill, but in 1909, he was elected a member of The Highlands, a brand-new, exclusive residential suburb in the Shoreline area north of town. In 1910, he bought the Heath Shipyard on the Duwamish River to build a yacht, named the Taconite -- after the "good luck". Three years later Boeing asked the architecture firm of Bebb and Mendel to design his white-stucco, red-roofed mansion in The Highlands.

By then, he was already enthralled with airplanes. He attended an aviation meet in 1910 in Los Angeles, where he tried to get a ride on one of the boxy biplanes but had no success. In 1914, Thomas Hamilton, later founder of Hamilton Metalplane Co. (acquired by Boeing in 1929), introduced Boeing to U.S. Navy Lieutenant G. Conrad Westervelt. Boeing and Westervelt became close friends and when flier Terah Maroney brought a Curtiss-type hydroplane to Seattle later that year, the pair took turns riding above Lake Washington.

Boeing told writer Harold Mansfield that he sat beside Maroney on the front edge of the lower muslin-covered wing and as the biplane banked away from the lake, he saw the whole landscape tilting up beside him like a flat picture plate. After a few more sessions with Maroney, Boeing and Westervelt decided they could build a better airplane.