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1940s Boeing Airplane Company

June 2024
1min read

WINNING BOTH A WAR AND THE PEACE

At the conference of Allied leaders in Teheran, in 1943, Josef Stalin offered a toast: “To American production, without which this war would have been lost.” One of the most important fruits of that production was the heavy bomber, and the principal builder of heavy bombers was Boeing.

The company got a good start well before the war began. In 1935 it introduced the B-17 bomber, whose four engines gave it unparalleled speed and range. Boeing built nearly 7,000 of them after Pearl Harbor, and thousands more were made under license. They became a mainstay of the air war in Europe.

The firm subsequently took on the B-29 as a highest-priority project. Far more complex than the B-17, it posed technical problems resulting in a crash that killed Boeing’s director of flight research, but the company fought through to success. The B-29’s long range and heavy bomb load made it ideal for the war against Japan. During 1945 fleets of the aircraft burned Japanese cities; and individual B-29s carried atomic bombs to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

After the war, the flow of contracts stopped. American industries had to seek new markets. They found them in pent-up consumer demand and in the new military requirements of the Cold War. Boeing continued to serve the Air Force, building bombers and transport aircraft, and took the lead in developing large jet bombers: the B-47, the B-52. This background helped the company put itself in a strong position to vie for leadership in commercial jet airliners, a new field that opened during the 1950s—and it ended up triumphing in 1957 when it introduced the 707.

—T.A.H.

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