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Archives at The Museum of Flight

Series XI. Lear Motors Corp., 1968-1976, 1984-1999, undated

Series XI: Lear Motors Corporation (LMC) primarily documents the efforts of LMC in the development and production of steam-powered vehicles. Although LMC was incorporated in 1968 and sold in 1976, the bulk of materials fall within 1969-1973. Note that because LMC, Leareno Development, LearAvia, and several smaller companies were all started in 1967-1968 there is some overlap between the series within some sections, such as correspondence.

The series is divided into eight subseries: administrative records, correspondence, financial records, legal records, photographs and visual materials, publicity materials, research materials, and technical files. Some series have been further subdivided for clarity and are outlined 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 provides information about LMC company history, organization, maintenance schedules, and facilities with memos, correspondence, a chart, and booklets. Also included is a draft employee handbook and a memo from LMC President Gian Carlo Bertelli requesting job descriptions from production employees. There is a small amount of printed ephemera such as tickets and invitations for employee parties.

Subseries B: Correspondence includes both incoming and outgoing correspondence between Lear Motor Corp. employees, including WPL, and external parties. Note that the general correspondence folders were originally arranged alphabetically by subject, with folders by letter from “A” through “K.” For consistency, the Processing Archivist created additional alphabetical letter folders for the general correspondence that did not have an assigned letter folder.

Notable in this section is the large amount of 1969-1976 correspondence between WPL and Ed Cole, president of General Motors (within the “G” folder). There is also a scrapbook titled “Steam is Beautiful.” Located in the “S-T” folder which is full of congratulatory correspondence and telegrams sent to WPL and LMC after the initial successful run of the steam bus in January 1972. Also included in this subseries are dozens of business cards from a Rolodex that have been kept in their original order.

Subseries C: Financial records primarily contains option and licensing agreements for variable speed brushless motors and controls. There is also related correspondence with various companies, including Coltron Industries, Dodge Manufacturing, and Eaton Corporation. Additional option and license agreements pertain to the marine mobile market, a geothermal pumping system, and a 1972 General Motors vehicle loan. Blank “master” option and license agreements are also present. Additional materials include assorted financial documents, including 1972-1973 LMC prospectus and account charts, overview of maintenance costs, and notice of grant funding. Of interest are photographs of WPL, MOL, and a turbine wheel part made out as a check to the IRS for back taxes. Included with these images is an undated statement regarding WPL’s 1958-1962 Swiss residency. The 1976 sale of LMC is reflected in correspondence, donations of tools and equipment, a final balance sheet, and June 7, 1976 memorandum of agreement.

Subseries D: Legal records is divided into two subseries, Legal documents and Patents. Legal documents has a minimal amount of material with only one set of documents: correspondence between Richard Marsen, patent attorney, and various LMC personnel. The letters discuss the “proprietary matters of the San Francisco [steam] bus” and outline a policy for minimal technical information to be shared publically.

The second subseries Patents holds a small amount of patent applications, amendments, assignments, and related documents. Of note are applications for patents related to the vapor generator and a racer automobile and for a seemingly-unrelated product: a no-nail horseshoe. Note that patent application files may include the following documents: application, drafts, oaths, amendments, appeals, affidavits, oversize technical illustrations and diagrams, sketches, correspondence, photographs, copies of related or predecessor patents, notes, research materials, and filing receipts. Not every application file includes all of these items.

Subseries E: Photographs And Visual Materials is likely the largest series, aside from the Technical Files series, and overall the subseries contains more than 500 prints, 200 negatives, and 170 slides. Publicity shots, contact sheets, and casual snapshots are all present. The materials are in both color and black-and-white and range in size. The series has been further divided into five subseries which are arranged alphabetically by topic.

The first subseries, Facilities and personnel includes 150 photographs, 27 slides, and 35 negatives that feature LMC workspaces and employees, including WPL. Identified locations include the vapor generator test lab, the design/drafting room, the fabrication shop, and the machine shop as well as an aerial view of company property and the aircraft service center. Identified LMC personnel include Ev Alford, Buzz Nanney, and Ken Rudolph. There is also one image of the company Learjet (N695LJ).

There are a number of photographs, digital prints, contact sheets, and negatives of WPL. Images depict WPL with other people, posing with parts and products or in workspaces with LMC personnel, and include publicity portraits as well as casual snapshots. Identified people include MOL, WPL and MOL’s daughter Tina, as well as personalities and celebrities of the day, such as General Motors President Ed Cole, astronaut John Glenn, then-Senator of California Jim Mills, and activist Ralph Nader.

The second subseries, Parts and products includes 184 photographs and 57 negatives related to assorted unidentified parts and products. Note that the majority of parts and product photographs are located in Technical files with their identified part/product folder. There is also a large amount of contact sheets which contain multiple images per sheet and relate to all steam projects, including the passenger bus, passenger car, and Indy car. Many of the contact sheets have individual prints duplicated in other subseries. A majority of the contact sheets appear to have been produced by photographer D. Dondero.

The third subseries, Steam-powered buses contains 184 color and black-and-white photographs, 99 negatives, and 136 slides. There are photographic reproductions of concept art, as well as original sketches produced in pencil. The materials relate primarily to the steam turbine passenger transit bus with a very small amount relevant to two other steam bus projects: the Lear Mini Coach and GM Transpo bus. Images include conceptual designs, mock-up construction of the passenger steam bus, interior views of both the Mini Coach and the passenger transit bus, and many exterior shots of the passenger transit shot. A majority of the images for the passenger transit bus are publicity or demonstration views, primarily in 1972. These images often include crowds of people. Identified people include WPL, MOL, then-Senator Gerald Ford, and Barry Goldwater. Some show the passenger transit bus during tests or being driven. The passenger transit bus steam turbine engine is also featured.

The next subseries, Steam-powered passenger cars includes 85 photographs, including contact sheets; nine slides and two negatives related to installation and testing of steam turbine engines into first a Dodge Polara, then later a Chevrolet Monte Carlo. For both cars, a few images feature the interiors, but most focus on the various engine installation phases. The bulk of the images depict work-in-progress on the Monte Carlo. There are also publicity shots of the car parked and a few with it next to the passenger transit bus. Several shots from the car’s first successful test drive on January 26, 1973 are also included.

Finally, the Steam-powered race car “Vapordyne” subseries includes 27 prints and 7 negatives as well as a cutaway diagram of the car. Images depict the both the front and back of the parked car and on display at the 1969 New York International Auto Show. A few images feature WPL and a part identified as “early boiler – Indy type.”

Duplication occurs. Some images do have contextual information, such as date, location, and names, but many do not. While a great amount of photographic material is in this subseries, the Technical Files subseries also holds a large number of photographs in relation to specific parts and products.

Subseries F: Publicity materials holds materials such as clippings, press releases, company logo designs, brochures, presentations, and correspondence related to the various steam projects, primarily focused around the steam bus with lesser attention to the steam Indy car, a planned but never-built raceway, and the steam passenger car. LMC personnel news and plant tours are also touched upon. Additionally, eight scrapbooks of clippings document various LMC steam projects.

A sizeable audiovisual subseries is also present with one sound recording and six films, including two promotional films for the steam bus and steam engine and three demonstration films of the steam bus in action.

Subseries G: Research files contains documents created by other companies collected by staff at LMC to support manufacture and/or design of LMC products. Materials include correspondence and notes, brochures, clippings, oversize technical illustrations and diagrams and sketches, patent copies, and reports and cover such topics as combustion and transmission systems.

Subseries H: Technical files is by far the largest subseries and includes numerous oversize technical drawings, sketches, diagrams, notes and memos, correspondence, technical information, and photographic material related to parts and products developed or manufactured by LMC. Subjects documented by these files include a 6-cylinder expander, the Delta motor, a feedwater pump, a gas turbine and related parts, a helical screw system, a submergible pump, and water pumps.

Of note are 20 engineers’ notebooks at the end of the series which provide a deep look into the technical aspects of departments involved on the various steam projects. Each notebook is unique, issued to a specific engineer, and includes technical information, such as graphs, technical reports, diagrams, concepts, and calculations, related to the engineer’s assigned project. At times, there are also personal notes within the notebooks. Most notebooks include both a number, likely an internal numbering system to keep track of the notebooks, and a department name on the cover. For example, notebooks “#24” and “#33” were issued to engineer Redford McDougall in “vapor dynamics.” Some notebooks do not have a number and/or department. The notebooks are arranged alphabetically by engineer’s last name although one notebook does not have a name and is simply labeled “Bus.”


  • 1968-1976, 1984-1999, 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"))

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