Skip to main content

Archives at The Museum of Flight

Series XV. Personal, 1910-2002, undated

The Personal series consists of materials related to WPL’s and MOL’s professional lives but which are not directly tied to any of the companies. The series is divided into four subseries: William P. Lear, Moya Olsen Lear, Lear Family, and General. Each of these has been further broken down and are clarified 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.

First and largest subseries is the William P. Lear subseries which is further divided into eight subseries: Awards and honors, Correspondence, General, Memberships and Service, Patents, Photographs, Publicity, and Writings.

Awards and honors is the largest section and highlights many of WPL’s accolades from as early as 1939 and past his death in 1978, including honorary doctorates, Hall of Fame inductions, and other awards, such as the bronze Thulin Medal and the Collier Trophy. Types of material include certificates, programs, clippings, photographs and audiovisual material, and related correspondence. Many of these materials are supporting documentation for the actual awards, which are housed within The Museum of Flight’s Object collection.

The Correspondence subseries is a small mix of WPL’s incoming and outgoing correspondence through the decades. The letters are primarily personal but a few may relate to business matters. There is one undated illustration as a birthday card for WPL. Also present are several open reel audiotapes of WPL dictating letters. There is also one open reel audiotape from Cordell Damron to WPL regarding invention ideas.

The General subseries contains a variety of personal documents, such as WPL’s passport and passport photographs, health documents, pilot licenses, and material related to his death in 1978. There is also a small amount of assorted financial documents as well as biographical summaries and a student report about WPL. Notable is a group of materials for a “Learjet Fly-in” party thrown by Moya in June 1975 in honor of WPL’s birthday, including correspondence, notes, clippings, and photographs, among other items.

Additional materials include a 16mm film documentary about WPL titled “By the Seat of His Pants,” as well as open reel audiotapes with WPL discussing his life, businesses, and receiving an aura reading. Some video footage depicts WPL in various settings. Also included is a portrait of WPL produced in oil paints. (Additional painted portraits of WPL and MOL are housed in the Museum’s objects collection.)

Memberships and service gives insight on the activities WPL participated in outside of his companies, both professionally-related, such as the Society of Automotive Engineers, and social ones. Materials include membership cards and certificates; correspondence about membership events, renewals, and cancellations; and clippings. Of interest is a small amount of correspondence related to WPL’s membership in Conquistadores del Cielo, a secretive aerospace club that has been in existence since 1937. Also of note are the 40 photographs taken at a 1944 Civil Air Patrol dinner party, many of which feature WPL, who was a Colonel within the organization.

The Patents subseries is quite small and is comprised of lists of the more than 100 patents held by WPL as well as many original and photocopies of WPL’s patents from 1930 through 1976.

The Photographs subseries is sizeable with 264 photographs, 15 slides, 5 negatives and 1 photographic reproduction of a drawing. The Processing Archivist placed images here that are clearly personal in nature or are unclear as to which company activities it is related to (if any).

There are many images of WPL without other people, often posed with products and/or aircraft, although some are portraits, including a 1910 image of an 8-year-old WPL. Other images depict WPL giving speeches or seated at a desk. Additionally, there are a large amount of photographs of WPL with assorted people, including at an undated “Bon Voyage” party and during a CASA [Construcciones Aeronáuticas SA, aircraft manufacturer] plant visit in 1960. However, many of the images featuring WPL with people do not include specific event information. Identified people include Lewis Akmakjian, Nevada Senator Howard Cannon, Amelia Earhart, Buckminster Fuller, Arthur Godfrey, Merrill “Babe” Meigs, and Captain Eddie Rickenbacker.

The materials range from 1910 to 1977 though some images are undated. The images, which vary in size, include a large amount of publicity shots but also include casual snapshots. Both color and black-and-white prints are included. Some include contextual information, such as names, dates, and locations, but others do not. Some duplication occurs. A few of these of these images may also be elsewhere in the collection since duplicate photographs were not always grouped together. The series has been arranged alphabetically by topic.

Publicity is a relatively small subseries documenting events that WPL attended and other appearances he made, not directly connected to his business ventures. Included here is a scrapbook of clippings as well as loose clippings about WPL and his activities. There are also materials related to his various televised and public appearances, such as at the May 1973 grand opening of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) in California. Also present is an undated photocopy of what appears to be a potential U.S. postal stamp featuring WPL. Film, video and sound recordings present in the series contain footage of WPL appearances and discussions.

The final subseries, Writings, highlights some of the formal speeches and presentations that WPL gave, such as for the United States Naval Academy Forrestal Lecture series and the Aviation Space Writers’ Association, as well as published papers and articles that he wrote. These exists as drafts, original copies and photocopies, along with related correspondence, photographs, notes and a small amount of technical sketches. There are two sound recordings of WPL’s speeches and a video recording of WPL speaking at the Brigham Young University forum in 1972. There is also a 1972-1973 date list and index of WPL’s speeches, including some typed copies of various speeches.

The next series, Moya Olsen Lear pertains to MOL’s life and activities as a philanthropist, businesswoman and the wife of Bill Lear. It primarily includes content related to her activities after Bill’s death in 1978 but there are some earlier materials. It has been further divided into six subseries: Articles, Awards and honors, General, Memberships and service, Photographs, and Speeches, events, and appearances.

The first and smallest subseries is Articles. It includes a small amount of articles by MOL but predominantly consists of clippings, photocopies of clippings, and related correspondence about her, from 1963-1993, with some undated materials. Topics range from her work on the Lear Fan after Bill’s death to fashion and society content to coverage of her philanthropic endeavors and various appearances.

Awards and honors contains certificates, clippings, correspondence, programs, and photographs for MOL’s various accolades from a host of organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League, the State of Nevada, the United States Senate, the Wings Club, and Women in Corporate Aviation. It also includes materials, such as diplomas and their covers, related to her several honorary doctorates from Clemson University, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and University of Nevada-Reno, among others. Many of these materials are supporting documentation for the actual awards, which are housed within The Museum of Flight’s Object collection.

The General series includes assorted correspondence, both incoming and outgoing; financial documents and related correspondence; and personal documents, including MOL’s passport and a vaccination certificate; and a biographical summary. Other items include posters from several National Championship Air Races, from 1991-2001.

The Memberships and service subseries holds documents related to MOL’s participation in and service to various organizations from 1953-1999. Most material pertains to her work within the Republican National Committee and several of its subgroups, including correspondence, reports, membership cards and certificates, and press releases. There are also like items for contributions to the Kansas Aviation Museum, the Northwood Institute, and the State of Nevada.

The Photographs subseries includes 140 photographs and 3 negatives, in both color and black-and-white, primarily depicting MOL, either alone or with other people, but not directly associated with her involvement with any of WPL’s companies. There are eight photographs of MOL alone, six of which are casual snapshots and two posed portraits that show MOL seated at a desk. There are substantially more images of MOL with people, many of which appear to be personal in nature and feature family and friends in casual or recreational settings. Some shots show MOL with people at events, such as the 1961 Paris Air Show, or business settings. Some images include very brief captions, including names, date, and location. Identified people include other women in aviation such as Bobbi Trout, Jackie Cochrane, and Olive Ann Beech, among others. A handful of assorted photographs do not feature MOL but were likely sent to her or shared with her in some manner.

Also included is a photograph album embossed with “Mrs. Moya Lear, Gates Learjet Corporation, June 26, 1986.” The 21 images in this album feature MOL with various unidentified people in workspaces, possibly during a tour of the Gates Learjet facility. The photographs have been removed from the album for preservation reasons, but are retained in their original order. Additionally, the album has been kept for its artefactual value.

The final subseries, Speeches, events, and appearances, documents the speaking engagements that MOL attended, appeared at, or promoted with clippings, correspondence, invitations, lists, photographs, and schedules. Of interest are items from her participation on the January 29-30, 1988 around-the-world flight of Friendship One, a Boeing 747SP which set a new air speed record.

The Family subseries primarily includes materials that feature WPL and MOL together with a lesser amount related to the Lear children, primarily Bill, Jr. and John Lear. Since the series is not overly large, it has been arranged chronologically. Highlights include textual and audiovisual materials documenting MOL and WPL’s 1956 controversial flight into Moscow from East Berlin in a Cessna 310. It was the first flight of a private aircraft through the Iron Curtain and spurred allegations that WPL was “trying to sell embargoed equipment to the Russians and that he violated security regulations by allowing the Russians to see inside his plane.” Materials include a booklet titled “The Moscow Story,” clippings, photographs, and a partial diary that has contact information for various people and assorted notes and reminders. Other items of note that center on WPL and MOL include a small selection of photographic materials of them together at assorted events, a booklet of their favorite love songs, and German-language beer-drinking certificates for the pair.

John Lear is represented with clippings regarding his aircraft crashes and his 1980 bid for the Nevada Senate. Bill Lear, Jr. is documented by a certificate of recognition from the Society of Experimental Test Pilots. Finally, the entire Lear Family is recognized with a “Senatorial Certificate of Congratulations for the Renaming and Dedication of the Lear Concourse at the Reno/Tahoe International Airport.”

The final subseries, General holds a small assortment of documents that are not directly related to any of the Lear companies and are not particularly personal in nature. Due to its small size, it has been arranged chronologically. Materials were likely collected by or given to WPL and/or MOL, based on their interests and activities. A couple of items pertain to Nevada, including a feasibility report for monorail in Sparks/Reno, while other materials relate to general aviation, such as membership rosters for the Early Birds of Aviation and several reports from PRC Aviation on the field of business aviation. Of note is a typed manuscript of an autobiography by Ward Davis, who worked with WPL in the late 1930s-early 1940s and helped him design the Learmatic Navigator.

There is one small subseries for Photographs and Audiovisual materials which includes 73 photographs, 42 slides, 178 negatives, and 7 films organized alphabetically by topic. Images depict aerial views, landscapes, aircraft and vehicles, events, and people. Identified locations include Bogota, Colombia and Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Identified aircraft and vehicles include a Bell JetRanger helicopter, a Monocoupe 90A, and several “ARKII” vehicles designed by The Brubaker Group. People are depicted in primarily social or recreational settings, such as “bowling banquet,” though some are appear more business-oriented. Identified people include Harold Carswell, Ed Gunney, and Waldorf and Jovita Smith. Very few include captions or contextual information so connections to the Lear family are not clear. The slides and negatives may include duplicates of prints found elsewhere in the collection. There are also film, video and sound recordings which mostly focus on private planes and flying. The subseries also includes an unsigned and undated illustration of Santa Claus, Rudolph the Reindeer, and an outhouse.


  • 1910-2002, 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
Contact us with a research request