William E. Boeing -- 1881 to 1956

The largest aerospace company in the world is born

By 1915, Westervelt was exchanging information with Jerome Hunsaker, who had established a wind tunnel at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At the same time, Boeing visited Herb Munter, an exhibition flier who was preparing a plane for flights over Seattle's Harbor Island, and asked him if the public was interested in aviation. "Mostly they come out to see you crash, Munter told him.

"At that time I was merely desirous of learning to fly," Boeing later told writer Harold Crary. "After making inquiries of various sources, I applied to the Glenn L. Martin School in Los Angeles for instruction," Boeing continued. "In August of that year, I started a course under the tutelage of Lloyd Smith. On completing the course, I ordered for my personal use a plane known as Model TA from the Martin factory.

"The machine was delivered to me in October of 1915, and, being convinced that there was a definite future in aviation, I became interested in the construction as well as the flying of aircraft. Enlisting a group of technical assistants, less than a dozen men in all, work was begun in designing the first Boeing plane.

"At that time, our combined factory and seaplane hangar were housed in a small building on the shores of Lake Union, and it was from there that I made the initial test flight of the first Boeing plane." That was June 15, 1916. The seaplane/biplane was the Bluebill, B&W Model 1 -- the initials stood for Boeing and Westervelt. It was 25.5 feet long and flew 900 feet. Thus, the largest aerospace company in the world was born.

From war to peace: the commercial flying boat

On July 15, 1916, Boeing incorporated Pacific Aero Products and consolidated most of the fledgling company's work at the Heath shipyard. Boeing needed somewhere in Seattle to test his airplanes, so he paid for the construction of a wind tunnel at the University of Washington in exchange for the university's establishment of a curriculum in the new science of aeronautics.

On April 8, 1917, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson declared war on Germany and on May 17, 1917, the company was renamed the Boeing Airplane Company. William Boeing enrolled in the U.S. Navy Reserve in July of that year. His company began to build Navy trainers, the Boeing Model C. Pontoons for the first two were built in the University of Washington's shell house.

Boeing kept his office in the Hoge building in downtown Seattle, while his plant managers were on site at the shipyard. "It now behooves us to devote our energies toward the development of machines which will be used in peacetimes," he wrote to his cousin, Edward C. Gott, who was running the factory when the war ended November 11, 1918, while Boeing was in Chicago. "In this connection the first logical opening will be the development of a commercial flying boat."