Local site proved perfect for giant new 747 plant

EVERETT — This town wasn’t their first choice.

In fact, Everett didn’t rank in the top three.

But Boeing Co. executives in Seattle eventually looked north to wooded property near Paine Field to be the home of their 747 passenger plane.

For some observers, the site seemed a natural choice for Boeing. For others, fate was on Everett’s side.

In the mid-1960s, Boeing had a dilemma. Juan Trippe, founder of customer Pan American World Airways, wanted a jumbo jet, and he wanted Boeing to build it for him.

The world’s largest commercial airplane could only be built in the world’s largest building — no small feat.

Ross Bogue, who manages the Everett factory, believes that Boeing officials wanted to stay in the Puget Sound area.

“Boeing thought of itself as a local Seattle company,” Bogue said.

But that didn’t stop other towns and states from trying to lure Boeing out of Washington state. Several California politicians managed to convince a few Boeing executives that Walnut Creek, Calif., was the right location for the company’s new project, says Joe Sutter, who served as the lead engineer on the 747.

Other cities piqued Boeing’s interest, including Cleveland, San Diego and, closer to home, Moses Lake.

Pan Am’s Trippe had an ambitious schedule, one that did not afford Boeing much spare time to shop around. As the man in charge of the 747’s engineers, Sutter worried about moving his team too far from the Seattle area.

The company eventually ruled out the idea of trying to design a new airplane from afar — the engineers needed to be on hand.

With those parameters, Boeing’s search narrowed much closer to its home base. Its Renton location, where the company was building the 737, couldn’t provide sufficient space.

At one point, Boeing looked at a spot near Monroe, but the area didn’t have an airfield.

Paine Field itself proved to be an essential selling point for Boeing. By 1966, the U.S. Air Force essentially had moved its operations off site. The field offers better visibility than Boeing Field in Seattle does, and it saved Boeing from building its own runway.

Bob Anderson, who was Everett’s mayor in the late 1960s, noted that the spot Boeing chose near Paine Field is situated close to both sea and rail transport, making it easy for the company to move parts.

At the time, there were few houses near the airfield, which would mean fewer complaints that Boeing would have to field from neighbors unhappy with the noise of planes overhead.

On the Boeing tour, guides like to tell a story about one homeowner who is said to have held out for more money after Boeing officials arrived at his house in fancy cars and suits.

Everett was the “perfect location,” Sutter said. “I think it worked out well that it went up to Everett.”

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