In the early days of aviation barns and airplanes went together like peanut butter and jelly or pastrami on rye. Barns were the only buildings available that were large enough to house early airplanes so it should be no surprise that many early aviation buildings looked like a barn.
William Boeing was one of the early pioneers of the aviation industry. He purchased a shipbuilder’s yard along an oxbow turn of the Duwamish River near the burgeoning metropolis of Seattle, Washington from Edward Heath in 1910. Heath was building Boeing a yacht at the yard but was nearly bankrupt so Boeing made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Boeing did not purchase the facility to build airplanes but instead kept building ships. With war potentially looming in 1916 he realized that a government contract to build airplanes would require a large operation and Heath’s shipyard was well-situated to build wooden seaplanes. Boeing had been building airplanes as the Pacific Aero Products Company and moved in 1917 and began producing airplanes as the Boeing Aircraft Company.
The Navy ordered 50 Model C seaplanes to be used to for training. Unfortunately for Boeing other contracts were few and far between and with the end of the war in 1918 government money dried up. The company began producing furniture and flat-bottomed boats to stay solvent until Boeing had an idea. Why couldn’t the airplane be used to transport the mail? Boeing put that idea to the test in 1919 when a Boeing airplane was used to transport mail from Canada to the US and in less than a decade Boeing’s company was one of the largest manufacturers of airplanes in the world with William Boeing’s name being mentioned with the likes of Anthony Fokker and the Wright Brothers.
Central to the production was a large barn-like building known as Building 105. Those who worked at the plant knew it as the Red Barn. The building dates from 1909 and was the main production facility of the company. Eventually the airplanes that were produced got larger and needed more room so Boeing moved its production facility in the 1950s. As the company expanded many of the older buildings were demolished and in 1970 Boeing sold the land to the Port of Seattle and the original plant is now occupied by Terminal 115. Only two original buildings remain standing, a circa-1930 administration building and the Red Barn, which was disassembled, moved and reassembled at the current Boeing plant and reopened in 1980 as the Museum of Flight which has expanded to include a number of exhibitions like a mock-up of the original factory and a walk through of a Concorde and the Boeing-made Air Force One plane used by Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. It is still painted red and is the oldest airplane manufacturing building in the United States!