Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - November - 2011 Issue

Part II of the William Boeing Library from Restoration Books

Restorationboeing2

A young William Boeing and dinner on the cover of Part II of his library.

Selections from the Library of William E. Boeing Part II has now been released by Restoration Books of Seattle, Washington. Part I of books from the library of this remarkable man was published four years ago. This volume focuses on literature, natural history, recreation, and affiliations and honors of Mr. Boeing. It should be noted that substantial portions of the library were collected by his wife, Bertha Potter Boeing, and the library continued to be maintained for five decades after his life, and three decades after hers (Mr. Boeing died in 1956, Mrs. Boeing in 1977).

The Boeing name is synonymous with airplanes, very large ones in particular, but William Edward Boeing had a wide variety of interests, both business and recreational. This catalogue is, in a sense, something of a biography of his life, as the library, naturally enough, displays many of those interests. However, it goes beyond a bookseller's catalogue in that, while most items are for sale, there are many personal items in an “Affiliations and Honors” section that are not for sale. These are items from the archives of the Boeing Company or the Museum of Flight in Seattle.

For example, there are letters between Wilhelm Böng Sr. in Germany and Wilhelm Bœing Jr. in America (as you can see, the name was gradually Americanized). Wilhelm Jr., William Boeing's father, settled in Saginaw, Michigan, in 1868. Boeing was not some poor farmer desperate for survival. His father operated an ironworks in Germany, and Wilhelm Jr. would eventually do the same in America. Early correspondence between the two discuss business, and at one time Wilhelm Sr. indicates he does not believe his son is quite well enough established yet for him to make a financial investment. In a later letter to his sister, Wilhelm Jr. speaks (affectionately) of his two-year-old son, William, as “a genuine pigheaded Boeing.”


Wilhelm Jr.'s knowledge of the iron industry would get him involved in mining interests near Duluth, Minnesota, as well lumber interests in Minnesota and Michigan. There are stories of a canal to the Bay of Duluth passing through Wilhelm's property, and of his attempting to rope it off and collect tolls. However, Wilhelm, still a relatively young man, contracted influenza before this legal case could play out and died. Evidently, his son did not seriously pursue it. Wilhelm didn't particularly need the money anyway, his interests expanding to 5,000 acres of timber land in Washington and Oregon, purchased a few years before he died.

It was these interests that led his son to move to the Pacific Northwest after Wilhelm died, which in turn explains why Boeing Aircraft is located in Seattle. However, that would not come until a couple of decades later. William Boeing would already be well established in timber and other businesses before his curiosity for air travel would lead him to his most notable achievements. He entered the aircraft business around 1915, and he would both build airplanes, fly mail routes, and later passengers. Growth was rapid, but a mail scandal in the early 1930s led to the company being forcibly broken apart. It was divided into three companies that survive to this day – Boeing Company, United Airlines, and United Technologies. However, Boeing himself was disgusted by the government's action, and for the most part withdrew from business in his later years, focusing on his recreational passions. They were many, including fishing, hunting, yachting, travel, and horse racing. However, leisurely pursuits were not his main focus, as he bought a large farm, Aldarra Farms, in northwest Washington, where he lived the remainder of his life, working on various improvements he could make in agricultural processes.

The Boeings also had an extensive library, though they were perhaps not what we might think of as typical book “collectors.” There are some very valuable items in their collection, but this was not a library of first or “best” editions. The books were mostly in fields that interested the Boeings and obviously were selected for reading and learning more than sitting on a shelf. Some editions have added value as they were signed or inscribed, something which notable people such as the Boeings often receive. This thick, extensively described catalogue is filled with items to purchase and information about William Boeing's career, and is an item anyone with an interest in that career will want to own. Here are a few items from his library.

This book mentions William Boeing by name, but in relation to the family's earlier business – iron mining near Duluth. The book is The Discovery and Exploitation of the Minnesota Iron Lands, by Fremont Wirth, and its date – 1937 – indicates Boeing still was interested in the topic long after he made his mark in the aircraft industry. One of the quotes in the book notes that, “The big prizes fell to a comparatively small group of men, most of them in the Saginaw crowd...” One of those names is that of Boeing. Priced at $75.

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