[Aluminum Related Manufacturing] Boeing and Washington’s Aerospace Industry, 1934-2015 – by Jim Kershner (September 8, 2015)


For instance, aluminum, produced with cheap hydroelectric power in Spokane,
Longview, and other cities, almost immediately became the state’s second-
biggest wartime industry. Much of that aluminum was bound for Boeing, where
it was fashioned into wings and fuselages.

The Boeing Company, founded in 1916, hit a low point in 1934 when it was forced out of the airline business and was forced to concentrate on its original airplane-manufacturing business. The company’s fortunes revived in the buildup to World War II. Thousands of workers swarmed over Boeing’s plant on Seattle’s Duwamish River, making the bombers and fighters that helped win the war. Employment topped 50,000 by 1944.

After the war Boeing entered the newly lucrative commercial-airliner market, and the Cold War revived its military contracts. In the 1950s and 1960s it diversified into an aerospace company and built missiles and rockets. The demise of the SuperSonic Transport (SST) program in 1971 resulted in the infamous Boeing Bust, a statewide economic downturn caused by the loss of 86,000 jobs. Boeing recovered over the ensuing decades, despite increasing competition from Europe’s Airbus. Meanwhile, hundreds of other aerospace companies sprang up in Washington to supply parts.

Boeing’s headquarters moved from Seattle to Chicago in 2001, yet Boeing’s assembly plants in Renton and Everett continued to hum. As of 2015, the company employed more than 80,000 Washington workers and the state’s aerospace suppliers employed many thousands more.

The airplane company founded by William E. Boeing (1881-1956) had grown into a Seattle manufacturing powerhouse and nationwide air-transportation system by the early 1930s. While the rest of the country was mired in the worst year of the Great Depression in 1933, Boeing employment reached a new high of 2,264.

Yet the Boeing Company hit major turbulence in 1934, when the U.S. Congress accused the company of monopolistic practices and forced it to dissolve United Aircraft and Transport, its passenger airline system, which was reincorporated as an independent company under a new name, United Airlines. A bitter Bill Boeing sold most of his shares, retired, and never again played a significant role in the company he founded.

The next year, 1935, the company’s payroll dwindled to 839. However, war rumblings from Europe soon revived Boeing’s fortunes, along with those of the broader Puget Sound economy. Boeing received orders from the Army Air Corps for dozens of bombers in 1936 and the company’s payroll soared, reaching 2,956 workers in 1938 and nearly 6,000 by the end of 1939. With success came labor troubles. The Aero Mechanics’ Union threatened to strike in 1940 and Boeing, in retaliation, threatened to move to Portland or San Francisco.

This would have spelled economic trouble for all of Washington, because the company was now firmly ingrained in the state’s economy. In the end, Boeing accepted arbitration and the labor strife slowly eased, in part because the threat of a new war in Europe brought both sides together. Boeing would remain in Seattle.

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