An outsider’s view: New book follows evolution of Boeing

SEATTLE — How do you tell the story of the Boeing Co.’s journey from its start in a small boathouse on Seattle’s Lake Union to a global aerospace giant today?

With Boeing’s 100th birthday less than a year away, plenty of books and articles will no doubt take on that mammoth task.

A new book, “Higher: 100 Years of Boeing,” offers a celebration of the company’s evolution. With 200 photographs, it is as much a visual history as a narrative.

Author — and former Edmonds resident — Russ Banham walks readers through the company’s complex and deep history.

“I am a storyteller,” he said in an interview with The Daily Herald.

Banham was a longtime business journalist who has developed a niche writing corporate histories that don’t read like dusty corporate histories.

For most of his reporting career, he covered the insurance industry. Even so, as a business journalist, he had interviewed Boeing executives for various stories over the years.

Prior to his latest book, Banham said, he had limited knowledge of the aerospace industry.

His new book is an industry outsider’s look at a company that has pushed technological boundaries and fueled the Pacific Northwest’s economy for decades.

The book focuses “on the leadership of the business managing the economic and technical challenges” that Boeing faced, he said.

“What is it about this organization that enabled it to prosper?” he asked.

Banham worked closely with Boeing historians and other company officials for much of his research. He also drew heavily on contemporary news reports.

Boeing officials provided fact checking, but the company did not have any input in the writing, he said.

The book is available for sale through the Boeing store and Amazon.

The book intentionally juxtaposes historical photographs with new ones to highlight the advances and continuities in the company’s evolution. For example, a photo of female workers assembling by hand a canvas-and-wood wing for a biplane is followed by an image of the 787 final assembly line on the next page.

“Higher” does not try to tackle the history of Boeing’s labor relations. And it is not a comparative study of the aerospace industry. It does not dive into a deep review of how Boeing’s workplace culture helped it weather its ups and downs.

Readers looking for a deeper understanding of the company’s success might be disappointed.

Instead, “Higher,” which is published by Chronicle Books, is an entertaining and beautifully produced history of Boeing.

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

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