In the late 1950s, France, the United Kingdom, United States, and the Soviet Union were considering developing supersonic transport. The British Bristol Aeroplane Company and the French Sud Aviation were both working on designs, called the Type 223 and Super-Caravelle, respectively. Both were largely funded by their respective governments. The British design was for a thin-winged delta shape (which owed much to work by Dietrich Küchemann, then at the Royal Aircraft Establishment) for a transatlantic-ranged aircraft for about 100 people, while the French were intending to build a medium-range aircraft.
The designs were both ready to start prototype construction in the early 1960s, but the cost was so great that the British government made it a requirement that British Aircraft Corporation (which had been formed in 1960 as a consolidation of British aircraft companies, including the Bristol Aeroplane Company) look for international co-operation. Approaches were made to a number of countries, but only France showed real interest. The development project was negotiated as an international treaty between the two countries rather than a commercial agreement between companies and included a clause, originally asked for by the UK, imposing heavy penalties for cancellation. A draft treaty was signed on 29 November 1962. By this time, both companies had been merged into new ones; thus, the Concorde project was between the British Aircraft Corporation and Aérospatiale.
Reflecting the treaty between the British and French governments which led to Concorde's construction, the name Concorde is from the French word concorde, which has an English equivalent, concord. Both words mean agreement, harmony or union.
The aircraft was initially referred to in the UK as Concorde, with the French spelling, but was officially changed to Concord by Harold Macmillan in response to a perceived slight by Charles de Gaulle. In 1967, at the French roll-out in Toulouse the British Government Minister for Technology, Tony Benn, announced that he would change the spelling back to Concorde. This created a nationalist uproar that died down when Benn stated that the suffixed 'e' represented "Excellence, England, Europe and Entente (Cordiale)." In his memoirs, he recounts a tale of a letter from an irate Scotsman claiming: "[Y]ou talk about 'E' for England, but part of it is made in Scotland." Given Scotland’s contribution of providing the nose cone for the aircraft, Benn replied, "[I]t was also 'E' for 'Écosse' (the French name for Scotland) — and I might have added 'e' for extravagance and 'e' for escalation as well!"
Concorde also acquired an unusual nomenclature for an aircraft. In common usage in the United Kingdom, the type is known as Concorde without an article, rather than the Concorde or a Concorde.
Construction of two prototypes began in February 1965: 001, built by Aerospatiale at Toulouse, and 002, by BAC at Filton, Bristol. Concorde 001 made its first test flight from Toulouse on 2 March 1969, piloted by André Turcat, and first went supersonic on 1 October. The first UK-built Concorde flew from Filton to RAF Fairford on 9 April 1969, piloted by Brian Trubshaw. Both prototypes were presented to the public for the first time on 7–8 June 1969 at the Paris Airshow. As the flight programme progressed, 001 embarked on a sales and demonstration tour on 4 September 1971, which was also the first transatlantic crossing of Concorde.
On 10 April 2003, Air France and British Airways simultaneously announced that they would retire Concorde later that year. They cited low passenger numbers following the 25 July 2000 crash, the slump in air travel following 11 September 2001, and rising maintenance costs.
In 2006, 37 years after her first test flight, Concorde was announced the winner of the Great British Design Quest organised by the BBC and the Design Museum. A total of 212,000 votes were cast with Concorde beating design icons such as the Mini, mini skirt, Jaguar E-type, Tube map and the Supermarine Spitfire.