Boeing’s red barn

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In a red barn was born the largest airplane manufacturer in the world, the Boeing Company. The barn was built in 1909 (just six years after the Wright Brothers’ first controlled flight) as part of Edward Heath’s shipyard on the Duwamish River in Seattle. William Boeing bought the shipyard and 800px-1917Boeing_Plant_1building a year later, as a place to complete work on his yacht. That same year Boeing attended one of the first American air meets in Los Angeles and became fascinated with aviation. By 1916, his focus had shifted to the air. Boeing’s new business venture, Pacific Aero Products Company, soon constructed its first airplane, the 1916 Boeing and Westervelt aircraft, the B&W. One year later, the company became the Boeing Aircraft Company and employed  28 people such as pilots, carpenters, boat builders and seamstresses.

With the start of World War I, Boeing convinced the Navy to buy fifty Model C seaplanes, training aircraft for the war. With the end of the war, demand for aircraft plummeted and the lack of new airplane contracts forced the company to briefly produce furniture and flat-bottomed boats called sea sleds. The company soon started designing airplanes for delivering airmail. In 1919 a Boeing aircraft carried the first international airmail from Canada to the United States. A year later, a Boeing airplane was the first to fly over Mount Rainier. By 1928 the company had grown to 800 employees and was one of the largest airplane manufacturing companies in the United States.

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Today the Red Barn, also called building No. 105, is one of only two structures that exist from the Boeing Plant 1 site, the company’s original site in Seattle. It is considered the oldest airplane manufacturing facility in the nation. The barn was moved from the original site in the 1970s  and was the first permanent location for the new Museum of Flight in Seattle. Today the museum has grown to include a sprawling complex of exhibition buildings with the red barn at its core. Still an exhibit building, the barn includes a re-created factory workshop and a re-created early office. The workshop is where the company’s first financial success, the Boeing Model C, was built in 1916, an all-Boeing design.

The Museum of Flight features an excellent collection of airplanes and spacecraft, including the Space Shuttle Full Fuselage Trainer. Visitors can walk through a Concorde and a Boeing VC-137B which was Air Force One for Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. The World War I and II exhibitions are immersive experiences that are well-designed and do a good job of providing the context of the periods. I thoroughly enjoyed them. This unexpected quote by Hitler appeared at the end of one of the exhibits:


I was stunned to read it and realize that I agree with him about the teaching of history. History should be about process, not solely about content. Do you agree?

About Tim

Author, public historian, and consultant. Author site: - My fifth book, Star Spangled: The Story of a Flag, a Battle, and the American Anthem, was published in May 2020. Consulting site: I specialize in exhibition development, interpretive planning, education strategy, and history relevance. I'm passionate about helping history organizations of all sizes and kinds make history more relevant for their communities and the people they engage with. I'm happy to consider many types of writing projects for informal learning organizations. Reach me at or
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3 Responses to Boeing’s red barn

  1. d. nulik says:

    First visit was maybe 1988? An elderly Swedish man who had worked in the red barn signed the book as his photo was in it working there as a young man. I spent almost half my time there that day talking to him. I’ve been to maybe a dozen aircraft /Aerospace museums. Boeing’s is one of the best, although Johnson Space Center is also great, we are lucky America tries to save much history. D.Nulik retired from Boeing.

  2. Pingback: An American gun story | historyplaces

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