Bill Allen, the lawyer who became Boeing’s greatest president

June 23, 2021
Bill allen

Bill Allen was without doubt Boeing’s greatest President and launched a raft of aircraft that changed aviation.

William McPherson Allen was born on September 1, 1900, at Lolo, Montana, and he graduated from Harvard Law School in 1925. He joined the Board of Boeing Air Transport in 1930 while remaining an employee of his Seattle law firm, Donworth, Todd & Higgins.

Just one year later he joined the Board of Boeing Airplane Company as corporate counsel.

In 1944 he was appointed President of Boeing as then Chairman Claire Egtvedt did not think any of the company’s senior engineers had enough background to run the company.

Allen, likewise thought himself unqualified to run an aerospace company and initially declined before being talked into taking on the role.

He would become Boeing’s longest-serving President with tenure from September 1, 1945, until April 29, 1968. He then served as the chairman from 1968 through 1972.

While at the helm he launched the B-47, B-52, 707, 720, 727, 737 and 747 and stamped Boeing as the world’s largest builder of commercial aircraft.

Here are a collection of photos of highlights in his career. The photos are from Boeing’s Historical Archives and all colourised by Benoit Vienne.

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Bill Allen holds a model of the B-29 as he chats with Dwight D Eisenhower, then Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe and later the 34th President of the USA.
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Bill Allen wanted to see what it was like to take a jet flight. So he hitched a ride in one of the company’s B-47 bombers. He was sold on jet travel!
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The christening of the Boeing 707 prototype with Mrs Boeing.


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Bill Allen with Tex Johnston, Boeing’s chief test pilot after the first flight of the 707.


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Bill Allen, left with C.R. Smith President of American Airlines (next from left) with Wellwood Beall, SVP Engineering for Boeing seated in the 707 mockup. The person at extreme right is unknown.
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Centre three gentlemen are L:R: C.R. Smith American Airlines CEO, Bill Patterson United Airlines CEO and Bill Allen.


United’s Bill Patterson signs for 30 Boeing 720s as Bill Allen looks on.
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Bill Allen centre after the first flight of the 747.
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Four gentlemen on the stairs to the 747. L:R Juan Trippe founder of Pan Am, Bill Allen, Then President of Pan Am Najeeb E. Halaby Jr and Pan Am board member Charles Lindberg
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Bill Allen, right, with Boeing executives in front of the supersonic transport mockup.