A Boeing employee works on an engine at the company’s Renton 737 plant in March. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

A Boeing employee works on an engine at the company’s Renton 737 plant in March. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Renton has shared in Boeing’s highs and lows

By Kayse Angel

Courier-Herald

The Boeing Co. turned 100 on July 15. Throughout the year, The Daily Herald is covering the people, airplanes and moments that define The Boeing Century. More about this series

RENTON — The Boeing Co. and the city of Renton have grown up together through good times and bad.

The company came to Renton in 1941 when the U.S. Navy and Boeing announced plans for construction of a new airplane assembly line plant east of the Renton airport.

On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese navy attacked the U.S. Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor. The moment the first American battleship was bombed, the mission and destiny of Boeing and Renton changed course.

By April 1942, the first Boeing employees started to work at the Renton plant. In 1943, it was announced that the airplane Model 345 four-engine B-29 bomber would be produced at the Renton factory. More than a thousand B-29s were assembled and flown from Renton Army Air Force Field.

By the end of World War II, Boeing, and the Renton plant, had grown into one of the most dominant aerospace manufacturers in the world.

Renton Mayor Denis Law said the city has a “strong 75-year relationship with Boeing. It has been an integral part of this city. There was a day when you couldn’t keep from running into someone who worked at Boeing or had a loved one who worked for Boeing.”

After the war, Boeing aircraft assembly at the Renton plant came to a close from July 1946 through early 1949.

The U.S. government owned the plant at the time, and Boeing was told to vacate in 10 days. But the company was then given an extension, and the rest is aerospace history.

Boeing was awarded a research contract to study ramjet propulsion, and in September 1947, the War Assets Administration turned over the deed for the airport to the city of Renton for $1.

The Renton airport became a center for the birth of the Jet Age.

The 1960s ushered in a series of highs and lows in Renton.

Boeing bought the Renton plant from the Air Force in 1962.

One of Boeing’s best-selling jetliners, the 727, took flight on Feb. 9, 1963.

In 1967, Boeing rolled out the 737, which became the best-selling aircraft, surpassing 727 sales in 1990.

But it wasn’t all roses and truffles. In 1969, commercial airline orders fell off the table, which caused a series of layoffs both in Renton and across the region. When Boeing’s supersonic transport project collapsed in 1971, unemployment spiked as the company laid off thousands.

It was a low point for the largest employer in the state, but while the unemployment lines grew in 1971, the recovery was well on the way.

By 1972, orders for the 727 had jumped. By 1977, the 727 was the world’s top-selling aircraft. By 1978, Boeing had begun producing the 757 and 767 airliners, and in the 1980s, it won military contracts including the cruise missile.

In 2011, Boeing announced its intention to build the new 737 MAX. The 737 MAX took off for the first time on Jan. 29, 2016.

In an email, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell said, “For 100 years, Boeing has driven world-class innovation in partnership with a world-class workforce in the Pacific Northwest.”

The city of Renton and Boeing have a lasting historical and community connection.

Boeing is still the largest employer in the city. As many as 60 percent ?of the city’s residents worked at ?Boeing in past years, Law said. While the workforce in Renton has diversified, Boeing still represents about ?50 percent overall.

Law said that while Boeing is the top employer in the city, many overlook what the company does for the community through the Employee Community Fund, including scholarships and many other programs.

“Boeing puts money into the community, millions of dollars,” Law said. ”This company has been really important to Renton and this region.”

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