‘Turn out the lights’: Remembering the Boeing bust billboard

Nov 17, 2013, 9:10 PM | Updated: Nov 18, 2013, 9:53 am

The recent moves by Boeing to explore locations other than the Pacific Northwest for manufacturing the 777X jetliner have stirred up painful memories of the region’s long and sometimes troubled relationship with the once-hometown aerospace giant.

Boeing has been responsible for bringing incalculable economic benefit to this region and for creating some of our proudest moments, from the B-17s and B-29s designed and built in Seattle and Renton that helped win World War II, to the game-changing introduction of the 707 jetliner (and that
Dash 80 barrel roll
at Seafair), to the creation of the iconic 747, to countless contributions to American defense and the space race.

But Boeing has also made moves that have angered and saddened the locals (including many who don’t even work there) who perhaps feel a bit too possessive of this for-profit entity. From moving headquarters to Chicago in 2001, to building a 787 line in South Carolina, to the past decade or so of hardball negotiating for local tax breaks and infrastructure improvements, it’s clear that Boeing no longer belongs to us and is no longer the “home team.”

Of all the bad memories, perhaps none is more painful than the downturn that culminated with the congressional action that ended the federally-funded program to develop a supersonic transport or SST. When that happened in March 1971, it was the most devastating in a string of setbacks that ultimately reduced the Boeing payroll in Washington from more than 100,000 down to 32,500 in just a few years.

In the aftermath of the SST cancellation, two local real estate professionals named Bob McDonald and Jim Youngren noticed that in spite of the doom and gloom prevailing in the national media’s depiction of the “Boeing Bust” in Seattle, the local real estate market had not actually badly faltered. While the economy had certainly stumbled and unemployment soared, historians now point to that era as something of a watershed for the tech boom of the 1980s. Many of the laid off engineers and machinists didn’t move away, and more than a few stayed in town and launched their own businesses.

But back in April 1971, McDonald and Youngren were still having a hard time. The two men often invited out-of-town investors to Seattle to look at properties, and they discovered that most expected to find the city in terrible shape. As McDonald told The Seattle Times in 1972, “When we met [investors] at the airport and drove them into town, they were amazed that Seattle wasn’t a ghost town with weeds growing in the streets, that office buildings actually were going up.”

Frustrated by what they saw as a major misperception, the pair decided to play a little joke to call attention to the real story. So they put up a billboard near Sea-Tac Airport that proclaimed, “Will the last person leaving Seattle turn out the lights.” But few got the joke, and most took the message seriously. And some were offended that anyone would belittle Seattle this way.

“After a few days, the mood began to change,” McDonald told the Times. “It became apparent that not everyone thought it was funny, particularly the news media.”

The billboard was only up for 15 days, but a Seattle Times photograph of McDonald and Youngren standing in front of it is widely circulated (without context) on the web, and has ensured that the unintended meaning has lived on in local and even national folklore more than 40 years later.

And while nobody around here is happy when Boeing decides to build airplanes anywhere but the Pacific Northwest, the economy here has diversified immensely in the past 40 years and is not as dependent as it once was on aerospace manufacturing. So it just may be that the old “if Boeing sneezes, Seattle catches cold” adage may no longer apply. Nowadays, it might be better put, “if Boeing sneezes, Seattle hands it a tissue.”

Local News

concrete barriers...
MyNorthwest Staff

Seattle business owners and homeless population grapple over concrete barriers

Local business owners in Seattle attempt to illegally dissuade homeless campers from their property with concrete barriers.
16 hours ago
arrest North Seattle school...
MyNorthwest Staff

Seattle police arrest 13-year-old after threat against school

Seattle Police Department has detained a 13 year-old in response to a gun violence threat against Whitman Middle School.
16 hours ago
Ballard Commons Park. (Jason Rantz/KTTH)...
MyNorthwest Staff

Seattle clears Ballard Commons homeless camp, relocates 66 into shelter options

Seattle has officially closed the Ballard Commons. In the process, “at least 66 people” were relocated into low income housing or shelter options.
16 hours ago
Seattle unreinforced masonry buildings...
Nick Bowman

Seattle plans to finally address over 1,100 buildings at risk of collapse in earthquake

Seattle leaders are looking to address the over 1,100 buildings at risk of collapse in the event of the next major earthquake.
16 hours ago
catalytic converter...
KIRO Radio Newsdesk

State lawmaker floats proposal to curb recent rise in catalytic converter thefts

A Washington state lawmaker in Longview has filed legislation designed to stymie a recent rise in catalytic converter thefts.
16 hours ago
School shooting threat, Snohomish County...
KIRO 7 News Staff

Officials: Snohomish County teen falsely accused classmate of threatening school shooting

Charges have been referred for a 13-year-old Snohomish County teen for falsely accusing a classmate of threatening a school shooting.
16 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


COVID Vaccine is a Game-Changer for Keeping our Kids Healthy

Snohomish Health District SPONSORED — Cheers to the parents and guardians who keep their kids safe and healthy. The dad who cooks a meal with something green in it, even though he’s tired and drive-thru burgers were tempting. The mom who calms down the little one who loudly and resolutely does NOT want to brush […]
Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.

Delayed-Onset PTSD: Signs and Symptoms

Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers SPONSORED — You’re probably familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder. Often abbreviated as PTSD, this condition is diagnosed when a person experiences a set of symptoms for at least a month after a traumatic event. However, for some people, these issues take longer to develop. This results in a diagnosis of delayed-onset PTSD […]

Medicare open enrollment ends Dec. 7. Free unbiased help is here!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]

How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
‘Turn out the lights’: Remembering the Boeing bust billboard