The Beginnings: 1903 - 1926

The Boeing Airplane Co. ... Biplanes by the Sea

We are embarked as pioneers upon a new science and industry in which our problems are so new and unusual that it behooves no one to dismiss any novel idea with the statement, "It can't be done."
-- William Boeing

In 1903, two events launched the history of modern aviation. The Wright brothers made their first flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C., and 22-year-old William Boeing left Yale engineering college for the West Coast.

After making his fortune trading forest lands around Grays Harbor, Wash., Boeing moved to Seattle, Wash., in 1908 and, two years later, went to Los Angeles, Calif., for the first American air meet. Boeing tried to get a ride in one of the airplanes, but not one of the dozen aviators participating in the event would oblige. Boeing came back to Seattle disappointed, but determined to learn more about this new science of aviation.

For the next five years, Boeing's air travel was mostly theoretical, explored during conversations at Seattle's University Club with George Conrad Westervelt, a Navy engineer who had taken several aeronautics courses from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The two checked out biplane construction and were passengers on an early Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Co.-designed biplane that required the pilot and passenger to sit on the wing. Westervelt later wrote that he "could never find any definite answer as to why it held together." Both were convinced they could build a biplane better than any on the market.

In the autumn of 1915, Boeing returned to California to take flying lessons from another aviation pioneer, Glenn Martin. Before leaving, he asked Westervelt to start designing a new, more practical airplane. Construction of the twin-float seaplane began in Boeing's boathouse, and they named it the B & W, after their initials.

Previous narrative | Next narrative