The Boeing Company was enjoying its newfound military aviation success, but never abandoned its pursuit of the growing international and domestic airmail delivery market.
In 1923, the company released the Boeing Model 40, which would go down in history as the first Boeing aircraft to carry passengers. Soon after, The Boeing Company produced the aircraft’s cousin, the Model 40A. This new mail aircraft sported an air-cooled engine from Pratt & Whitney that dramatically reduced the aircraft’s weight (to the tune of roughly 200 pounds). It was at this point that Boeing Air Transport (BAT) was born and won the U.S. postal service contract delivery route between San Francisco, Calif., and Chicago, Ill. With that, Boeing had essentially started its own airline (for mail transport).
BATs inaugural flight took place on 1 July 1927. Bertha Boeing, William’s wife, performed the inauguration ceremony, which took place deep in the midst of prohibition; rather than champagne, she used orange-flavored soda which “made a satisfactory fizz” according to all accounts.
The first passenger on this landmark flight was Chicago Herald Examiner Reporter Jane Eads. Eads made the 22.5-hour flight between Chicago and San Francisco in high heels, a business suit, and a boa (not the snake) within a passenger space roughly the size of a refrigerator. (The Model 40 was built primarily to carry mail, but its small cabin could accommodate two passengers.) BAT’s mail planes went on to carry 837,211 pounds of mail, 149,068 pounds of express packages, and 1,863 passengers.
The growing popularity in passenger flight inspired Boeing to create the Model 80, a 12-passenger, three-engine biplane. This marked Boeings entry into the commercial passenger aircraft market, with the Model 80 specially designed to carry people. Its inaugural flight occurred on 27 July 1929; an upgraded version, the Model 80A, was produced shortly thereafter to hold 18 passengers and to help meet the growing demand for commercial passenger transport. Boeing became of the largest aircraft manufacturers in the country, employing 800 people by 1928.
This geek loves this history lesson! It’s amazing to be reliving the genesis of this American aerospace giant. It really is a story of ingenuity, innovation, and vigor!