Boeing founder’s first flight pilot: Terah T. Maroney

EVERETT — It’s been a century since Everett’s first resident flyer arrived in town.

The city hired Terah T. Maroney to perform an aerial show over the waterfront on July 4, 1914. He stayed in Everett and Seattle for at least a year, becoming the first man to take Bill Boeing up in an airplane.

Maroney was a character typical of early aviation in America. He was part innovator, part showman, part huckster. In grainy photographs from the time, he is always smiling.

Since the Wright brothers made the first powered flight in 1903, aviation had quickly spread across the country. But there wasn’t much of an aerospace industry, and flying was far from the science it is today.

“Most planes that were flown then were probably home-built,” said Paul Spitzer, co-founder of the Pacific Northwest Historians Guild and a retired Boeing Co. historian. “They were basically wood and linen.”

Motors had become powerful enough to get the contraptions into the air, but their builders had little, if any, understanding of aerodynamic principles. Germany’s aviation industry led the world in that respect, something that would become painfully apparent to Allied flyers in the Great War.

Maroney was born in Tennessee on March 7, 1880. In 1904, after time in Alabama where he worked as a mechanic, he moved to Montana, according to U.S. Census records and his account later given to The Everett Daily Herald.

By 1912, Maroney had become a licensed pilot, according to a Montana newspaper account from the time.

Like many of his contemporaries, he made money by performing aerial shows, offering rides to paying customers and giving flying lessons.

Organizers of the 1914 Kla-How-Yah festival — now called Kla-Ha-Ya Days — in Everett hired Maroney to perform a show over the waterfront. His arrival in town in late June made the front page of The Everett Daily Herald, an evening paper at the time.

“Maroney is a small, wiry, happy-go-lucky chap, weighing only 123 pounds, and one of his distinguishing characteristics is a merry, flashing smile,” the paper reported.

The article doesn’t mention — and Maroney probably didn’t volunteer — that he had left his wife and their four children in Montana, for a teenage girl, Ruby Rutledge.

The city had witnessed its first airplane flight the year before, when Silas Christofferson performed above Port Gardner and downtown Everett. Two years prior, Fred Wiseman made the first flight in the county, in Snohomish.

After arriving in Everett, Maroney set up his plane on the shore of Port Gardner between the ends of Hewitt and Pacific avenues, an area that has since been filled in.

Flying around the waterfront was a risky proposition, said Dave Dilgard, historian with the Everett Public Library. “Even intrepid aviators like Maroney were worried about the thermals here. You had refuse burners and smokestacks,” which produced updrafts and downdrafts.

And there was also wind off the water.

Weather conditions were not great on July 3, when Maroney took a practice run in the morning.

“The stiff wind blowing made starting and landing difficult and somewhat dangerous, and drove about the docks and the spaces between with nasty swirls that made the aeroplane extremely cranky,” the Herald reported.

Nonetheless, Maroney performed above the city on July 4, Dilgard said.

Popular history marks that day — July 4, 1914 — as Boeing’s first flight, with Maroney at the controls.

The date comes from “Vision: The Story of Boeing” by Harold Mansfield, who interviewed Boeing and his early business partner, Lt. George Conrad Westervelt, in the 1950s for the book, Spitzer said.

But Boeing’s ride was almost certainly in 1915, he said.

Spitzer also doubts it was on July 4, which was a Sunday that year. A pleasure flight on a Sunday would not have been likely, he said.

Boeing had been trying to get an airplane ride for a few years. He and Westervelt shared an interest in aviation. They eventually connected with Maroney.

The two passengers described taking off from Maroney’s operation on Lake Washington near Madison Park in Seattle, Spitzer said.

In 1914, Maroney was operating out of Everett. But by the following year, he was running a flight school in Seattle, though he still had some presence in Everett. A city directory from that year lists him as an aviator living at 2303 Colby Ave.

Regardless of the year of Boeing’s first ride, the experience fueled his existing interest in aviation. After their flights, Boeing reportedly said to Westervelt, “There isn’t much to that machine of Maroney’s. I think we could build a better one.”

The two founded a company to do just that and built a two-seat seaplane. But Westervelt was transferred by the military soon after. So Boeing went it alone, financing his aviation venture with money from his family’s lumber business. In 1916, the Boeing Co. was founded in Seattle.

Maroney bounced around, showing up in Louisiana, the District of Columbia, back in Seattle and Utah, among other places. He died in East St. Louis in early 1929, from an injury sustained while helping start an airplane for another pilot. The propeller struck him in his head.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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