Meet the folks who built the first 747

Georges Hebrant

The ceiling dripped. The building didn’t have insulation. Rows and rows of tables of roughly 450 people afforded little privacy. And it certainly didn’t shield you from your neighbor’s cigarette smoke.

But there was “plenty of space in the parking lot,” said Georges Hebrant, who arrived in Everett in October 1967 and worked in tool design on the 747. In 1969, Hebrant’s group moved to the “flat-top” building.

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Retired Boeing worker Albert Hawkins stands with his daughter Irma Lan… [ view gallery ]

“That was really plush, they had carpeting,” he said.

Hebrant watched the 747’s first flight on television. Boeing expected so many onlookers to show up on Feb. 9, 1969, that the company asked some people not to join the crowd, Hebrant said.

“It was a huge plane, let me tell you,” he added.

“It was quite exciting to be a part of something unique.”

William Gronau

William Gronau almost missed being an Incredible. Gronau intended to leave his job at the Boeing Co. The two-hour commute from Edmonds to Kent was wearing out the engineer.

Gronau’s boss asked him to wait one more week.

On May 2, 1966, the Boeing Co. officially selected Everett as the home for its new jumbo jet factory. With a tight schedule to have its first 747 in the air by 1969, Boeing wasted no time getting to work. By mid-May, the company began clearing the heavily forested site.

Gronau was one of the first Boeing employees onsite, starting in Everett even before the first official wave of workers showed up Jan. 3, 1967.

“We could look out the windows and watch the cafeteria being built,” he said.

But it took Gronau a while to figure out why Boeing was digging deep ditches where the factory should be built. Years later, Gronau would train for marathons in those ditches – the network of tunnels below the factory.

Despite the early changes, Gronau spent most of his more than 30 years with Boeing in the same building.

Stanley Edwards

Even when he’s watching movies, Stanley Edwards notices airplanes, especially those produced at the Boeing Co.’s Everett facility.

If it’s a 747-400, “I know that I probably worked on it,” he says.

Edwards came to work on the flight line for the original 747 in 1969. He remembers reporting to general supervisors, nicknamed “Generals” likely because their management styled mimicked that of the military.

“They didn’t have any problem telling you to step it up,” he said.

Like thousands of other Boeing workers, he found himself out of a job when the market turned sour in the early 1970s. When he returned to Boeing in 1989, Edwards noted that the “generals” were gone but the basic concept behind the 747 remained.

“Over the years, they’ve refined all of their processes,” he said.

Albert Hawkins and daughter Irma Land

During that first winter, 747 mechanic Albert Hawkins watched fog roll into the Boeing Co.’s unfinished Everett factory. And snow.

“We all wore our coats and hats to keep warm,” he said.

For a while, Hawkins worked 12-hour shifts, seven days a week. Later, he was able to cut back to 60-hour workweeks.

“Everybody was running around trying to get things done,” he said.

Then things slowed down a lot. Hawkins worked in the plane’s mock-up shop, a division that employed about 45 workers at one point in Everett. By the time Boeing finished cutting its staff in the early 1970s, only five people remained, Hawkins said.

The layoffs made people nervous and distracted, leading to more frequent accidents in the shop, Hawkins said. Instead of waiting to get laid off or to get injured by a distracted coworker, Hawkins left Boeing for more than two years.

“I decided heck with that noise,” he said.

But like many others, Hawkins returned. Years later, Hawkins’ daughter, Irma Land, also would end up at Boeing. Although Land didn’t necessarily have Boeing in mind while in college, an employment agency placed her there when she finished.

“It must be in my blood,” Land said.

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