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Archives at The Museum of Flight

Series III. Lear, Incorporated, 1930-1965, 1999, undated

Series III: Lear, Incorporated documents the company business primarily focused on the years 1944-1962, although there are both earlier and later dates represented. This section reflects the company’s focus on navigational instruments for aircraft, as well as innovations in home recording and radio. Also well-represented is WPL’s re-design of the Lockheed Lodestar into his desired vision for executive air transport, the Learstar. Less well-represented is the 1962 merger between Siegler Corporation and Lear, Inc. which resulted in Lear, Inc. transforming into Lear Siegler, Inc. (LSI) and WPL being forced out of the company.

The series is organized into nine subseries: administrative records, correspondence, financial records, legal records, photographs, Plant 6 and Grand Rapids facilities, publicity materials, research materials, and technical files. Some series are further subdivided for clarity and are detailed below. Materials are generally, but not always, arranged by date, with undated items at the end of each series. When able, circa dates have been provided.

Subseries A: Administrative records includes employee-related materials and forms, including retirement and benefit booklets; staff event programs; meeting minutes; brochures and booklets about company history, facilities, and products; and posters that include a roster of Lear’s Global Field Service Department employees, facilities, and products. Security clearance forms for WPL, factory inspection reports with related correspondence, and an affidavit given by Vice President Dick Mock which details the company history, activities, and finances are also present.

Of particular note is the March 1962 resolution and formal acknowledgement by the Board of Directors of WPL’s sold stock shares and his resignation as chairman of the board and withdrawal from Lear, Inc. as a result of the Lear-Siegler merger.

Subseries B: Correspondence holds a relatively low number of files, mostly touching upon company activities such as an engineering expansion and production and/or licensing of outside products. Of note is an undated letter from WPL to Lear, Inc. employees which expresses WPL’s gratitude for their work on the F-5 autopilot, which resulted in WPL being awarded the Collier Trophy in 1950. Also included are correspondence indexes which list elements such as from, to, date and subject, in a very brief manner.

Subseries C: Financial records is small yet varied in content. Materials include a license agreement with RCA, assorted receipts, an Army Air Forces purchase order for C-2 autopilot, clippings and articles about Lear, Inc. stock, and 1945 and 1956 company prospectuses which provide detailed financial information. A February 1962 letter to the Lears from attorney Philip E. Golde discusses stock held in light of the impending Lear-Siegler merger.

Subseries D: Legal records is divided into three subseries. The first, Legal files, includes minimal material relating to a possible infringement. Also small is the second subseries Merger. It includes WPL’s handwritten notes regarding the Lear-Siegler merger as well as a memo about the merger.

The bulk of legal records are in the last subseries, Patents, which holds numerous patent applications and related documents. Compared to previous companies started by WPL, Lear, Inc. appears to have focused much more on selling and promoting its established products rather than continually developing new ones, as evidenced by the much smaller number of patent applications in this series than are present for Lear Developments or Lear Avia, Inc. Materials included are primarily patent applications, which may include the following types of documents: application, drafts, oaths, amendments, appeals, affidavits, diagrams, oversize technical illustrations, sketches, correspondence, photographs, copies of related or predecessor patents, notes, research materials, and filing receipts. Not every application includes all of these items. Of note are several patents related to the magnetic and wire recorders and related parts. Additional materials include one patent cancellation request as well as patent status reports, trademark inquiries, and related correspondence.

Also reflected in this subseries is the 1945-1946 departure of Lear, Inc. patent attorney and engineer Richard Marsen to his own company. This is revealed in assorted correspondence between Marsen and his successor, Glenn B. Morse, as well as multiple notices of withdrawal as attorney of record for various patents by Marsen. Note that later company series also include materials, such as correspondence, from Marsen, though not as an employee of Lear.

Subseries E: Photographs contains 1,075 prints, 6 negatives, and 64 slides. It has been further divided into three subseries, due to its large size. The subseries and folders within each are arranged alphabetically by subject. The first subseries, Aircraft-related, includes images of assorted aircraft, including those featuring installations of Lear, Inc. instrumentation, such as the L-2 autopilot. Identified aircraft include a Moraine-Saulnier MS-760, Lockheed F-94 “Starfire,” and a North American F-86D Sabre. Views of the aircraft are often obscured or are partial shots with assorted people, including Swiss aviator François Durafour, aviation writer Jim Piersoll and WPL, in front of or next to the aircraft. Some images depict interior shots of aircraft, such as partial galley views. Cockpits and instrument panels, including of WPL’s Cessna 180 and proposed panels for the KC-135, are also pictured. In addition, there is an undated album of 8x10” black-and-white photographs with the title, “USAF-WADC Whole Panel Study and Development Program”. There are also a small amount of prints related to the “helicopter project for Hughes Tools,” that feature pilot Scott Crossfield, Randy Lovelace of the Lovelace Foundation, and WPL. The images were taken in April 1960 at the Los Angeles International Airport and include partial views of a helicopter.

Of note are images, including slides and photographic prints, related to the Learstar taken on the day of its first flight, May 11, 1954. Some interior shots include people, including WPL, and showcase the cockpit, galley, and seating areas. Exterior shots show different angles of the plane on the tarmac, usually including people. Identified people include celebrities of the era, including comedians Jerry Colona and Bob Hope, and actors June Haver and Fred McMurray. Some images feature WPL pointing to a specific feature, such as a cowl flap, and a small amount of prints depict the Lockheed Lodestar before its conversion into the Learstar.

The second subseries, Parts and products, is comprised of 408 photographs and 2 negatives. There are a large amount of assorted parts and products, many of which are unidentified. Identified items include an ADF-8, a C-2 autopilot unit, a floated gyro and related components, LIFE (Lear Integrated Flight Equipment) unit, and the F-5 autopilot. There are also many publicity photographs of WPL posing with various products. Notable are the prints for the wire recorder demonstration and New York tradeshow for the “Learecorder.” Images depict guests, including WPL, MOL and her father, vaudevillian Ole Olsen, mingling among the various products, including actuators, power units, and a hook retractor.

The final subseries, People, depicts the Lears, employees, and celebrities, in images without direct connection to aircraft or other parts and products. Identified people include Charles and Janice Blair, Ed Conklin, Robert Cummings, then-Mayor of Grand Rapids Stanley J. Davis, Gordon Israel, Danny Kaye, Lawrence J. Lesh, Dick Mock and Chester Morris. Also represented are division opening ceremonies for LearCal, Lear-Romec, and for Plant 6 in the Grand Rapids facility. Many of the people in these images are unidentified but are likely Lear, Inc. personnel. Employees are also represented in Santa Monica and Grand Rapids facility and workspace images, which show places such as the autopilot lab, engineering lab, electronic lab, administrative offices, and an aerial shot of a building with “Lear” painted on its roof. Additional images depict people at sales meetings and service school sessions. WPL is featured prominently in many images and is seen with Paul Butler of Butler Aviation, Motorola president Robert Galvin, President Harry S. Truman, Ole Olsen, and Orson Welles, among others. There are a small amount of images of WPL with the then-Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, walking on tarmac as well as images with the exiled King Michael of Romania. Notable are the nearly 200 images of WPL with actor Robert Cummings, who was to portray WPL in a never-produced movie about his life.

The photographs are primarily black-and-white and range in size, although most are 8x10”. Some duplication occurs. The images are a mix of formal publicity shots and casual snapshots. Contact sheets of multiple images are also present. Some images have identifying information, such as date, location, and names, but most do not. While the bulk of photographic material is in this subseries, note that some materials are present in other series, usually in context with a press release or product information, and are noted when included in other folders.

Due to the great number of materials related to the search, construction, development, and use of Lear, Inc.’s facilities in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a subseries specifically for these materials was added. Subseries F is centered on Plant 6 but also includes documentation of other buildings in Grand Rapids, including various building or room additions and pre-existing locations, such as Hangar 2. Materials include contracts, such as leases, deeds, and titles; property descriptions; oversize map illustrations and survey plots before and during expansions and additions; documentation on expansions, additions, and square footage; health and safety related reports and correspondence; engineering standards manuals; and clippings regarding location searches to build new plants.

Of note is the October 1960 “facilities expansion – five year plan” and 1961 materials related to the Plant 6 addition, such as permit applications, bids and appropriation requests, assorted reports and work order revisions, and logistical documents about moving to the new addition.

Subseries G: Publicity materials is quite large and varied, reflecting the many products that Lear, Inc. marketed. Materials include assorted brochures, ads, and clippings about Lear, Inc. and its products and facilities, including the L-2 autopilot, the home wire recorder, the V-2 rocket, Lear Omnimatic servo actuators and LIFE (Lear Integrated Flight Equipment); LearCal and Lear-Romec facility groundbreakings; and the first ever mid-air to ground phone call with Senator Vandenberg.

Also of note are press releases, brochures, and photographs of the NAVCOM-100 which feature WPL’s daughter Tina Lear at approximately 3 ½ years of age posing with the NAVCOM-100 and other products. Two other notable items are a 1959 telex message related to the successful first flight of the Learstar and a December 1950 edition of American Aviation Dilly, a satirical version of the American Aviation Daily. Written and published by the same staff, it appears to have been done as a fun element for the Wright Day Dinner hosted by the Aero Club of Washington.

Additional materials include logo decals; correspondence to shareholders, including a small amount of material about the Motorola-Lear, Inc. share exchange; and clippings about various personalities using Lear, Inc. products or visiting Lear, Inc. facilities, such as around-the-world flight pilot Bill Odom and his P-51 “Reynolds Bombshell.”

The LearCat Catamaran, designed by WPL and first launched in 1952, is also represented in this subseries with brochures, photographs and slides. The fate of LearCat Catamaran production is unclear. However, a 1999 note to MOL from former Lear, Inc. employee John Orr discusses finding the original brochures as well as meeting Charles Conaway who found a kit in 1989 and built his LearCat in 1999. Color snapshots of Conaway’s vessel, thought to be the only known built LearCat catamaran, in the water are included with the letter.

Another highlight in this section are items related to WPL and the Collier Trophy. Awarded “for the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America, with respect to improving the performance, efficiency, and safety of air or space vehicles,” WPL received the 1949 award for the F-5 autopilot which essentially enabled jets to land safely regardless of visibility or weather. Related materials include articles, clippings, and press releases; an award chronology; correspondence, including a letter from Dick Mock noting the win and expectations of increased orders for Lear, Inc.; photographs, including publicity shots; and a program and menu from the award event. A replica of the trophy is included in the Objects collection.

Additionally, there is a subseries of audiovisual materials that contains eight sound recordings and three films. One film is footage of the Learstar conversion (from Lodestar) and the Lockheed L-1888 Electra, and one is a promotional film about Lear Inc. and the company's work with the space program. The sound recordings are mostly from meetings, although one is from a service recognition banquet. The four assorted wire recordings are primarily music, likely used at tradeshows to promote the LeaRecorder wire recording system.

Subseries H: Research materials includes documents created by other companies or collected by staff at Lear, Inc. to support manufacture and/or design of Lear, Inc. products. Contained within are various brochures, correspondence, clippings, patent copies, oversize technical illustrations and diagrams from companies such as Automatic Locking Devices, Inc.; Kollsman Instruments Co.; and Sears, Roebuck, and Co. There are also financial documents, such as charts and prospectuses, for outside companies including Muntz TV and Sparton Corp. Of note is a 1959 proposal, which includes photographs, between Lear, Inc. and Mitsubishi for an executive transport aircraft. This partnership did not come to fruition as WPL became interested in the Swiss-built FFA P-16 instead, which would influence his design of what would become the Learjet.

Lastly, Subseries I: Technical files is sizable and generally reflects the shift to manufacturing and support of established products instead of the earlier focus on invention and securing of patents. Included are oversize technical illustrations and diagrams, reports, instruction manuals, specifications, and related correspondence. Specific products featured include the Y-1 rotary actuator, the Lear Dynaport portable recorder, the Learecorder, VHF transmitter and receivers, as well as various iterations of the ADF and the L-5 autopilot, among others. Additional materials include an engineering procedure manual, product and partner dealership information; and “bomb shackle” diagrams, parts list, and memos as well as a presentation to the USAF on the MC-1 automatic flight control system. There are also two booklets relating to missiles, including Lear, Inc. model 1091.


  • 1930-1965, 1999, undated

Language of the Materials

Most materials are in English, but some materials are in other languages, including Bengali, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Romanian, and Spanish. When non-English language materials are present, it is noted on the individual folder.

Conditions Governing Access

A computer hard drive is not accessible, pending digital preservation procedures. The rest of the collection is open for research and is accessible in the Dahlberg Research Center by appointment. For more information contact us.


From the Collection: 285 Cubic Feet (190 legal size full-width document boxes (15 ½” x 10 ¼” x 5”), 2 legal size half-width document boxes (15 ½” x 10 ¼” x 2 ½”), 6 record cartons, 2 card boxes (12” x 4 ½” x 5 ½”), 9 oversize boxes (19” x 4” x 15”), 7 oversize boxes (20 ½” x 3" x 16 ½”), 7 oversize boxes (24 ½”x 3” x 20 ½”), 2 oversize boxes (40” x 2 ½” x 32”), 9 oversize rolled storage boxes (40” x 9” x 9”), 21 oversize folders (30” x 40”), 50 oversize folders (35 ¾” x 47 ¾”), 1 oversize folder (24” x 75”), 38 bagged rolled storage (60” x 5” x 5”), 1 Quadruplex tape (15 ¼” x 15 ½” x 3"))


Repository Details

Part of the The Museum of Flight Archives Repository

9404 East Marginal Way South
Seattle Washington 98108-4097

The Museum of Flight | 9404 E. Marginal Way South | Seattle WA 98108-4097 | 206-764-5874
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