BOEING William E. Boeing dreamed of flying mail and people across the world. His vision ushered in passenger air travel and built a company that helped put man on the moon.

Roots of the world’s largest aerospace company trace to the big dreams of a Yale dropout whose storied seaplane flight in 1916 launched the beginning of The Boeing Company. Military contracts and warplanes followed, including the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb.

But Boeing did not act alone. Few gambles in company history match the Dash 80, a prototype that revolutionized air travel and led to America’s first commercial jet aircraft. Longtime president William Allen bet $16 million in 1952—company profits since World War II—on an airplane prototype with no secured outside interest or contracts. But the risk paid off. The prototype developed the 707 passenger jet capable of flying at twice the speed of a propeller plane. It later launched the 747, proclaimed “the biggest jet plane of them all.”

At the same time, Boeing cemented its role in history, yet again, with the development of the Saturn V rocket that powered man to the moon.

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Boeing’s Superfortress, the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb, was hailed a machine so fast the enemy would see but “a silver gnat and a vapor trail” against the skies. By silhouette the B-29 resembled the B-17 bomber, but it could carry more bombs greater distances, and fly faster than any other bomber.

Eddie Allen, a world-renowned test pilot, sat at the controls of its first two prototypes. During an experimental flight of the number 2 Superfortress in 1943, fire erupted twice and eventually overtook the pilot’s cabin. The plane narrowly missed skyscrapers and struck the fifth floor of the Frye meatpacking plant in Seattle while employees were away at lunch. About 30 people died.

Jaw-dropping in size and muscle, the Saturn V stood as tall as a 36-story building, with enough horsepower to put man on the moon. Few engineering wonders can top its development.

In the 1960s, The Boeing Company designed stage one of 13 Saturn Vs. The second and third stages were built by North American and McDonnell Douglas respectively. The liquid propellant rocket made world history in the summer of 1969 when Apollo 11 reached the moon.

NASA relied on the Saturn V for 12 flights, manned and unmanned, in its Apollo lunar program. Additionally, the moon rocket powered Skylab, an orbiting space station that gathered data relating to the impact of space on people, cosmos and solar flares.

Photo Courtesy NASA