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Allen, William McPherson

Enshrined 1971 1900-1985

With his bold and risky resolve to build a Boeing 707 prototype (with no guarantee of a buyer), Bill Allen simultaneously built the American commercial jet airliner industry. The 707, designed in a Dayton, Ohio hotel room in 1949, revolutionized the speed, comfort and availability of air travel, and laid the groundwork for today’s jet transport workhorses.

  • Helped make decisions that led to the development of the B-17, B-29 and B-50 bomber and the C-97.
  • President of Boeing in 1945 and introduced the B-47, B-52 and KC-135. He and Boeing were awarded the Collier Trophy for the B52.
  • Introduced the Boeing 707 that was the first American jet transport.
  • Under his leadership Boeing developed the first stage booster to the Apollo-Saturn V rocket and the Lunar Orbiter spacecraft.
  • Received the Collier Trophy for the Boeing 747.


Upon the close of World War II, American aviation embarked upon a new course. After a total commitment to all-out wartime production, the aviation industry now concentrated on the development of a peacetime transportation system as well as research on newer military hardware.

At Boeing, the task fell to William M. Allen, long time legal counsel and for 15 years a director of the company. His first major decision as president of Boeing was to commit the new Stratocruiser model to immediate production. He supported engineering developments that made Boeing the prime source of strategic aircraft, missiles, and space equipment for the U.S. government. These developments included the first swept-wing jet bomber: the B-47 Stratojet, as well as the eight engine B-52 intercontinental jet bomber, the KC-135 jet tanker transport, the Bomarc interceptor missile, the Minuteman intercontinental; the first stage booster for the Saturn Five moon vehicle, the Lunar Orbiter spacecraft, and the supersonic transport.

Allen’s goals of achieving leadership in commercial aircraft for his company are implemented in 1952 when he persuaded the Boeing Board of Directors to authorize company funded development of America’s first jet transport, the prototype Model 707. This action, before either airline or military orders were in prospect, propelled Boeing to a position as the world’s foremost supplier of jet airliners. Two significant military developments backed by Allen and successfully carried out under his leadership made the 707 prototype feasible. These were: the six engine Boeing B-47 which first applied the innovation of swept back wings to large aircraft, and the eight jet B-52.

With the development of the larger jet aircraft, the need for a greater air to air refueling capability arose. Also, Allen’s vision of jet passenger transportation slowly began to realize itself. Boeing proceeded with a project to build a vehicle with dual tanker and cargo capability: 820 of the new KC 135s under a dual tanker cargo concept. The prototype, in turn, became the model for the 707 passenger plane. Allen also saw that vertical lift capability was becoming more desirable. In 1959, Boeing acquired the Vertol Aircraft Company in Pennsylvania. From the company’s research on twin rotor capacities, two successful twin rotor helicopters were born: the Army CH-47 Chinook and Navy CH-46 Sea Knight. Initially, 647 of these helicopters were constructed, many of them for service in Vietnam.

During this period, the United States sought to explore the frontier of outer space, and Allen and his company contributed significantly technically and organizationally to the Apollo lunar landings. Boeing is a prime contractor for the Lunar Orbiter program as well as the great Saturn stage one booster.

William Allen’s personal leadership of Boeing assisted invaluably in the development of several public policies concerning transportation, a policy which contributed to the development of newer and better modes of air vehicles, and the sources of man’s probe into outer space.