The Story of the Boeing Company

“The Story of the Boeing Company,” by Bill Yenne, is a massive book, nearly a foot square and weighing an impressive four pounds, which tells the story not only of Boeing itself, but of the many other firms that have combined to become the world’s largest aerospace company.

Its 35 chapters are supplemented by helpful boxes, called Production Close-Ups, which provide details of each airplane and, in most cases, production figures.

Best of all, however, is the treasure trove of photographs and drawings illustrating the generous text. For readers who can’t get enough of the great Boeing 314 Clippers, the elegant Model 307 Stratoliner and the company’s iconic B-17 Flying Fortress, this book comes close to satisfying.

The other companies now a part of Boeing are given equally generous coverage: Douglas, long Boeing’s only serious rival, for example; and North American, builder of the gorgeous P-51 Mustang; McDonnell, a relative newcomer that ended up swallowing Douglas whole; all are represented – in historic sequence, which can be a bit confusing. Part I, The Early Years, includes chapters about Boeing, Douglas and North American, and succeeding parts – nine of them – are presented in the same format, introducing McDonnell in its post-World War II place and, finally, Hughes Space & Communications, which became Boeing Satellite Systems in 2000.

Boeing’s family tree is a veritable Who’s Who of American aviation, with many milestones reached and family icons introduced by each participant.

The Douglas World Cruisers made the first round-the-world flight. The Douglas DC-3 may well be history’s most influential airliner. Boeing’s 314 Clipper, strongly influenced by Pan American Airways, introduced comfortable international air travel to the world and that precedent was followed by the 707 and 747, which also resulted from the imagination and requirements of Pan Am’s founder, Juan Trippe.

Author Yenne is a Boeing enthusiast who assures us that the legacy of the past lives on at today’s company. “The pioneering spirit that built the companies that now are part of Boeing is still alive and well,” he states.

“The words penned by company founder William Edward Boeing in the early years of the twentieth century could just as easily describe the company at the dawn of the twenty-first,” he wrote. “Our task is to keep everlastingly at research and experiment,” Bill Boeing wrote long ago. “To adapt our laboratories to production as soon as practicable, to let no new improvement in flying and flying equipment pass us by.”

That’s Boeing, and that’s the ultimate message of this fine book.

The Story of the Boeing Company, by Bill Yenne; Zenith Press, St. Paul, Minn., 2005; 288 pages, photographs, index; $40.

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