Boeing History: Breaking Up and Building Bigger

We (the pressurization team), the flight crew, and the rest of the development team on the ground shook hands all around and congratulated each other. It was a solemn occasion. We knew we had made history.

James Cooper, Chief Boeing mechanical engineering after the pressurized Model 307 Stratoliner made its successful first flight, June 1939.

Following the Depression, 1934 antitrust legislation prevented airframe manufacturers from owning mail-carrying airlines. Boeing holdings under United Aircraft and Transport Corp. became three entities: United Air Lines (responsible for air transportation), United Aircraft (responsible for manufacturing operations in the eastern United States; renamed United Technologies), and the Boeing Airplane Company (responsible for manufacturing operations in the West; included Stearman Aircraft and Boeing Aircraft of Canada).

Disheartened, William Boeing resigned his chairmanship of the corporation and left the aviation business to raise horses. Philip Johnson resigned his presidency of United Aircraft and Transport and went to Canada to help establish Trans Canada Airlines.

Clipper dining salon

Claire Egtvedt, who had been named president of the Boeing Airplane Company in 1933, took over the business and decided that the company’s future lay in large passenger airplanes developed in tandem with new bombers.

In 1934 the U.S. Army Corps wanted a very heavy, long-range experimental bomber, so Boeing engineers developed the XB-15, a four-engine aircraft with a wingspan of 149 feet. At the same time, they began the four-engine Model 299, prototype of the B-17 “Flying Fortress” bomber that would fill the skies during World War II.

The big bombers’ features were incorporated into the four-engine Model 314 “Clipper,” a luxurious flying boat that would make the first scheduled trans-Atlantic flight, and in the commercial version of the B-17, the Stratoliner, the first pressurized airliner. The Clippers and the Stratoliners attracted air travelers around the world. During 1940, more than 2.2 million people flew 150 million air miles.