Skip to main content

Archives at The Museum of Flight


William P. and Moya Olsen Lear Papers

 Collection
Identifier: 2000-06-20
The William P. and Moya Olsen Lear Papers documents the extensive and varied career of inventor and businessman William P. Lear, with a smaller focus on the philanthropic and business activities of Moya Olsen Lear. The collection, which dates from 1838 through 2001 (bulk dates 1939-1978), consists of admimistrative records, correspondence, financial reports, research files, legal records and patent applications, technical reports and drawings, photographs, negatives, scrapbooks, and ephemera illustrating William P. Lear’s interests and inventions, particularly in the realms of navigation and aircraft design, that often were perceived as ground-breaking, innovative, and ahead of their time. The collection is arranged into sixteen series, beginning with one of Lear’s earliest companies and continuing chronologically through his career and past his death as Moya Lear worked to drive his legacy.

Series I. Lear Developments holds two cubic feet of material, including textual and photographic items that provide insight into one of William P. Lear’s earliest companies as well as a small amount of oversize diagrams. Reflected here is Lear Developments’s main focus on aircraft radio development and production, including early patents like the Model L radio compass. Marketed as the Lear-O-Scope, it was the first radio compass designed and meant for non-commercial pilots.

Series II: Lear Avia Inc., at 19 cubic feet, is the second largest component of the collection, even though the company was active a much shorter amount of time than several other later Lear-founded companies. Rebranded in late 1939 from Lear Developments, the company produced several key World War II-era avionic and related products, including clutches, screw jacks, motors, and aircraft navigation and radio equipment and parts. The development of the company’s patent program is clear in the many patent applications present. Some materials shed light on Lear Avia Inc.’s attempt to finalize post-war products for manufacture and production. Included in the series is a substantial amount of oversize technical diagrams that provide documentation on product patent applications, as well as research and technical files.

Series III: Lear, Incorporated contains seven cubic feet of materials which provide only a glance into the company’s 18 years of operations, from 1944 to 1962. Represented here is the company focus on navigational instruments for aircraft, such as automatic direction finders (ADF) and the F-5 autopilot, for which Lear won the 1950 Collier Trophy. The company’s work with wire recorders and home sound systems are present with technical documents and photographs. 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. Part of this series is also comprised of a moderate amount of oversize materials related to designs for products including patent applications, research and technical files.

Series IV: Swiss American Aviation Corporation offers a brief introduction to the early planning for the SAAC-23 which would become the Learjet Model 23. Just under one cubic foot, it contains concept and logistical materials from 1960 until 1962, when it relocated and rebranded into Lear Jet Corporation.

Series V. Lear Jet Corporation, 1962-1967, holds 12.5 cubic feet plus a small amount of oversize materials. The materials document the development of the Learjet Model 23 and, to a lesser extent, the Model 24. A minimal amount of content is dedicated to the Lear Liner 40. The development, design, and marketing for the 8-track player, cartridges and related components is supported by patent applications and photographic materials as well as correspondence and publicity materials. There is a small quantity of accompanying trade literature as well.

Several companies are not very well-represented in the collection, including Turbo-Lear, Inc. (Series VI.), Leareno Development (Series VII.) William Lear Enterprises (Series VIII.), Lear JeTravel (Series IX), and Titanium West, Inc. (Series X.). Most of these have scant materials and provide very little information about their operations. Of them, Leareno Development is the largest with about .25 cubic feet of textual documents and photographs, and an additional small amount of oversized materials involving administrative, financial, and publicity records that offer a glimpse of the company’s focus on real estate and property development.

Series XI. Lear Motors Corporation showcases one of William P. Lear’s non-aviation endeavors; his 1968-1975 efforts at producing steam-powered vehicles, including an Indianapolis 500 race car, a passenger transit bus, and an automobile. Most well-represented is the steam bus project, with five films and more than 150 photographs, slides and negatives as well as a variety of textual materials and a large amount of oversize documents related to its technical design and publicity. In addition, there are oversize technical illustrations related to both the Lear “Vapordyne” Indy car and the passenger car and while there a less of these illustrations than the steam bus they still provide a good look at those projects.

The largest component of the collection at 19.5 cubic feet, Series XII. LearAvia Corporation, features a detailed look into the company's 1968-1985 operations. The company not only produced many avionic products that are well-reflected here, but developed three aircraft: the LearStar 600, the Lear Allegro, and the Lear Fan 2100. Each of these is supported with financial, administrative and technical materials. This series also contains the majority of oversize materials in the collection with a very large amount of technical diagrams related to parts and products developed by the company, as well as to the LearStar 600 and the Lear Allegro, with a small amount on Lear Fan 2100.

Series XIII: Microcom, Inc. is not one of the more well-represented individual companies with just .5 cubic feet of documents and a very small amount of oversize material. There is some overlap within LearAvia Corporation due to its absorption into the company in 1972. The materials primarily focus on the company’s production of the AFC-70, an automatic flight control system.

With 12 cubic feet of material, Series XIV. Lear Fan Limited supports the development, production, flight testing, and quest for FAA certification of the Lear Fan 2100, 1976-1985. Notably, it is one of the only series in the collection where Moya is featured prominently, as she drove the project after William P. Lear’s death. The largest component in this section is the visual materials with over 1400 photographs, 200 negatives, and 1200 slides. Additionally, the technical files are a strong section and include a partial draft to the aircraft’s manual as well as numerous reports and diagrams. There are also a substantial amount of oversize documents related to both the administrative aspect and publicity of the company’s projects.

Although Series XV: Personal holds nearly 17 cubic feet of materials spanning from 1910 to 2001, it neglects to provide a really in-depth look into the private lives of William and Moya Lear. Its focus is still largely professional, although not tied to any particular company. Rather, it supports their philanthropic and social endeavors, as well as focuses largely on recognition they each earned. Not included in the extent listed above is the large amount of oversize documents that also illustrates these aspects of their professional lives. A very small amount of material on extended family is present, primarily clippings about their son, John Lear.

With five cubic feet of materials Series XVI: Related Companies supports the collection with contextual materials mostly from entities that were founded by William P. Lear but lost their direct connection by way of company sales or mergers, from 1961-2000. These include Lear Siegler, Inc., Gates Learjet Corporation, and Static Power, Inc. Each of these offer a glimpse into the company activities, post-merger, or in the case of Static Power, Inc. after it apparently branched out on its own instead of being a subsidiary of Lear Jet Corporation.

Two other organizations are included but have unique relationships. The first, Canadair Limited, is connected via the purchase of the design rights to the LearStar 600. With some re-designs, it became the Canadair Challenger CL-600. This series is primarily clippings about company activities and several reports about the Lear-Canadair relationship, and Canadair’s technical diagrams for the Challenger CL-600. The second and final related company is the Lear Archives, which maintains a direct connection to WPL and his career. Materials focus on research and licensing requests as well as research undertaken by the archivists to track provenance of holdings and provide context.

Note that William P. Lear is abbreviated as WPL and Moya Olsen Lear is abbreviated as MOL throughout the finding aid. Four of Lear’s earliest companies are not represented at all: Quincy Radio Laboratories, Lear Radio Laboratories, Radio Wire and Coil Company, and Lear-Wuerfel, Inc. A later company, Dyna-Lear Inc. (founded in 1968) is also not represented in the collection.

Dates

  • 1838-2001, undated
  • Majority of material found within 1939-1986

Creator

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.

Conditions Governing Use

The Museum of Flight (TMOF) Archives is the owner of the physical materials in the archives and makes available reproductions for research, publication, and other uses. Written permission must be obtained from TMOF archives before any publication use. TMOF does not necessarily hold copyright to all of the materials in the collections. In some cases, permission for use may require seeking additional authorization from copyright owners. Consult repository for more details.

Extent

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"))

Abstract

William P. “Bill” Lear was a prolific inventor with dozens of patents for a variety of machines to his name but is most famous for his work in the aviation field. Moya Marie Olsen Lear was a philanthropist, businesswoman, and the wife of aviation pioneer Bill Lear. The collection documents Bill Lear's inventions and career in the fields of radio navigation, aircraft design, the 8-track player, and his efforts at a steam-powered turbine. Materials are predominantly affiliated with Lear’s many companies, spanning almost the entirety of his career and show Moya’s involvement with his work as well. Some personal materials are also present.

Biographical Note: William P. Lear

William P. “Bill” Lear was a prolific inventor with dozens of patents for a variety of machines to his name but is most famous for his work in the aviation field. He produced the Learjet, the first mass-produced business jet, and the Lear Fan, an innovative turboprop plane built from lightweight composite materials. He also helped to develop autopilot and automatic landing systems for jets. But his interests went beyond aviation: he is also known for being the inventor of the 8-track tape cartridge, the car radio, and innovative developments on turbine motors.

Born on June 26, 1902 in Hannibal, Missouri, Bill Lear had a humble background that would belie his later success. His father, Reuben Lear (1878-1955), a teamster and builder, struggled to support his family and had a tumultuous relationship with his wife, Gertrude Elizabeth Powell Lear (1884-1934), and they eventually separated. As a boy Lear taught himself things like electrical engineering and experimented on his own with building radio receivers. Though he never received a high school diploma, his childhood fascination with radios led to work in the field. He lied about his age in order to join the U.S. Navy at age 16. After a brief stint in the Navy and some early business partnerships, he founded his first company, Lear Radio Laboratories. During the Great Depression of the 1920s, Lear’s engineering savvy and business acumen provided him with great success at a time when others struggled. He invented the first practical car radio and the first radio remote control, the “Lazy Boy.” It was during this time that he also bought his first airplane, inspiring him to turn his sights toward flight navigation. Lear invented the Lear-o-scope which allowed pilots to navigate via radio. The Lear-o-scope was used by Amelia Earhart to help her fly from Los Angeles to Mexico City and from there on record-setting flights to New York and Washington, D.C. Lear continued to design navigational devices under his company Lear Avia Inc. with orders from airline companies all over the world.

By 1945 his company had transformed into Lear, Incorporated. Among their products was the Learecorder, cited by the New York Times as “the most versatile home musical reproduction machine ever built.” While the market for his music record and navigation equipment was limited, electromechanical sales kept the company afloat. Lear turned to developing autopilot systems determined to make flying, especially military flight, safer. This led to the development of the F-5 autopilot, for which he won the 1950 Collier Trophy. In the early 1950s, Lear bought a Lockheed Lodestar and massively redesigned it, renaming it Learstar. Its maiden flight was on May 10, 1954 and it was the first reconditioned aircraft to receive Civil Aeronautics Association certification as an airline transport plane. The Learstar was also the fastest twin-engine transport with the longest range under production at the time.

Lear moved his family to Switzerland in 1959 to break into the European market and successfully sold his automatic flight control system for use in Fokker, Fiat, Saab and Caravelle aircraft. Due to disagreements over the design of what would become his iconic Learjet with the Lear Incorporated board, he was forced out of the company in 1960. He then founded yet another company, Swiss American Aviation Corporation, originally based in Switzerland, to continue to develop the Learjet as he envisioned it. Just two years later, Lear renamed the company Lear Jet Corporation and relocated to Wichita, Kansas to build the Learjet which he dreamed would be a lightweight, efficient, and luxurious small business aircraft. The first flight was on October 7, 1963. Just after the Learjet Model 23 was FAA-certified and the company began trading publicly, Lear was inspired by a 4-track automobile dashboard-mounted tape player to improve on the technology, and began work on what would become the 8-track cassette player. His machine was smaller, simpler, and cheaper than the existing options. With new patents acquired, he marketed his radio-tape-player combination, striking a deal with RCA and Ford Motor Company. After selling Lear Jet Corp. to the Gates Rubber Company in April 1967, Lear moved to Reno, Nevada where he switched gears and turned to both land development and steam-powered cars, attempting to improve upon the combustion engine with a steam-powered design.

In his seventies by this point, he suffered from numerous physical ailments which brought on depression, affecting his business ventures. Despite flagging health and because of failures with his steam-motor endeavors, he turned back to aviation. In 1976, he struck a deal with Canadair to develop the LearStar 600, a small, long-distance business jet. Canadair bought the design and evetually renamed the aircraft the Challenger CL-600. Lear worked on the development of the Lear Allegro design, as an improvement on the LearStar 600, hoping to also enter a deal with Canadair. However, they had no interest in the Allegro and ultimately none were ever built. It was then Lear began work on the Lear Fan, a plane innovative because of its all-composite body, Y-shaped tail, and pusher-style propeller.

After three previous marriages and many affairs, Bill Lear had married Moya Olsen in 1942. Though she was not involved in his business at first, she “exerted a stabilizing influence on his volatile life.” In later companies, she held board and executive positions. With his health rapidly declining in the 1970s and the Lear Fan still in development, Lear set up a trust to ensure the continued development of the Lear Fan after his death. Lear eventually died from leukemia in Reno on May 14, 1978. Moya retained a role in the company, as Chairman of the Board, to ensure fulfillment of Bill’s vision. Despite the innovative design of the plane and further investments, the Lear Fan never received FAA certification or went into production.

Over the course of his life Lear received many awards. Among them were the 1950 Collier Trophy from the National Aeronautic Association; the Cresson Medal of the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia; the Frank M. Hawks Award for an outstanding contribution to aircraft navigation; the 1954 Horatio Alger Award; the Silver Medal of Paris in 1960; and the bronze Thulin Medal from the Swedish Aeronautical Society. While his varied career was full of ups and downs and not all of his ideas came to fruition, biographer Richard Rashke writes, “Lear’s contribution to general aviation…was significant. He and his engineers had pioneered generation after generation of instruments. But even more important, Lear almost single-handedly dragged the whole industry forward with him, challenging its concepts, expanding its horizons, forcing it to see his vision and to improve its products.”

Sources:

“Bill Lear.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, June 30, 2022. Accessed August 2, 2022. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Lear.

Rashke, Richard. Stormy Genius: The Life of Aviation's Maverick, Bill Lear. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985.

“William P. Lear.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Accessed August 9, 2022. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/333965/William-P-Lear.

Lear, Moya. An Unforgettable Flight. Reno: Jack Bacon and Company, 1996.

Chronology: William P. Lear

1902 June 26
WPL born in Hannibal, Missouri
1915 March 27
MOL born in Chicago, Illinois
1920 September
WPL joined U.S. Navy
1921 March
WPL received early honorable discharge from U.S. Navy
1922
WPL worked at Reed Motor Supply Co. as radio sales and repairman
1922 November
Quincy Radio Laboratories founded
1922 Fall
WPL married first wife, Ethel Peterson (1903-1995)
1924 January
WPL and Ethel Peterson's son William Powell Lear, Jr. was born (died in May 1924)
1924 Summer
WPL sold his half of Quincy Radio Laboratories to Julius Buerkin, was self-employed
1924
WPL moved to Chicago, Illinois
1925 January
WPL and Ethel Peterson’s daughter Mary Louise Lear (1925-2015) was born
1925
WPL worked for WLAL radio station
1926 October 4
WPL married second wife, Madeline Murphy (1908-1993)
1928 May 24
WPL and Madeline Murphy’s son William Lear, Jr. born
1928 Late
Radio Wire & Coil Co. started in Chicago, Illinois
1929 June 26
WPL and Madeline Murphy’s daughter Patti Lear was born
1930 November
Lear-Wuerful, Inc. founded in Chicago, Illinois
1931 Early
Lear-Wuerful, Inc. dissolved
1931 July
Lear Developments founded in Glenview, Illinois
1931
WPL purchased his first plane, a Fleet biplane (sold shortly after purchase)
1932
WPL sold Radio Wire & Coil Co. to Galvin Manufacturing
1934
WPL invented Lear-O-Scope radio direction finder
1936 February 16
WPL married third wife, Margaret J. Radell (1912-)
1936 circa
WPL invented Learadio R-3 receiver
1938 September
WPL and MOL meet
1939
WPL developed the ADF-6 (automatic direction finder)
1939 December
Lear Developments renamed as Lear Avia Inc. and moved to Ohio
1940
WPL invented Learmatic Navigator, won Frank M. Hawks Memorial Award for it
1942 January 5
WPL and MOL were married
1942 December 3
WPL and MOL’s son John Lear was born
1944 January 21
WPL and MOL’s daughter Shanda Lear was born
1944 August
Lear Avia Inc. renamed as Lear, Incorporated
1945
Lear, Incorporated relocated from Piqua, Ohio to Grand Rapids, Michigan
1947
WPL developed the C-2 autopilot
1948
WPL and MOL’s son David Lear was born
1948 circa
WPL invented Learecorder, Learophone, Lear Orienter
Lear Incorporated acquired Romec Pump Co. (Elyria, Ohio)
1949 December
WPL received the 1950 Collier Trophy from the National Aeronautic Association for the F-5 autopilot
1954 May 10
Learstar business jet (reconditioned Lockheed Lodestar) made first flight
1954 October 14
WPL and MOL’s daughter Valentina “Tina” Lear was born
1954
WPL received the Horatio Alger Award
1955 Summer
WPL and MOL move to Geneva, Switzerland
1955-1956 circa
Lear SA established in Geneva, Switzerland and Lear Electronic GmbH established in Munich, Germany
1956
WPL and MOL completed flight into Moscow, Russia in Cessna 310
1960 April
Swiss American Aviation Corporation (SAAC) founded in St. Gallen, Switzerland
1960 October
WPL received the Silver Medal of Paris
1962 February
Lear Incorporated merged with Siegler Corporation and became Lear Siegler; WPL forced out of the business
1962 August
Swiss American Aviation Corporation and Lear family relocated to Wichita, Kansas. SAAC became Lear Jet Corporation
1963 October 7
Learjet 23 (first model) completed first flight
1964
WPL invented the Lear Jet Stereo 8 (eight-track player)
1966 May
Lear Jet Corp. bought Brantly Helicopter Corporation
1966 September
Lear Jet Corporation changed name to Lear Jet Industries
1967
WPL sold controlling interests of stock for Lear Jet Corporation to Gates Rubber Company
WPL and MOL moved to Reno, Nevada
1967-1968 circa
WPL purchased land at former Stead Air Force Base in Reno, Nevada; established Leareno Development
1968 January
Titanium West, Inc. established in Delaware; authorized to do business in Nevada
1968 February
Turbo-Lear, Inc. founded in Reno, Nevada
1968 April
Dyna-Lear, Inc. founded
LearAvia Corporation founded
1968 August circa
Lear Motors Corporation founded
1968 December
Lear JeTravel established in Nevada
1969
Lear Jet Industries merged with Gates Aviation Co.; renamed Gates Learjet Corporation
1972 October
WPL received Elliott Cresson Medal from the Franklin Institute
1972
WPL received Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement
1974 March
WPL received Tony Jannus Award
1976
Lear Motors sold
WPL sold option to his LearStar 600 concept to Canadair and it became the Canadair Challenger 600
1976-1977
Development of the Lear Fan 2100 began
1978 May 14
WPL died from leukemia in Reno, Nevada
1978 May
MOL took over as Chairman of the Board for LearAvia Corporation and the Lear Fan project
1978 July
WPL inducted into National Aviation Hall of Fame
1980 circa
Lear Fan Limited formed
1980 December 32 (1981 January 1)
First flight of Lear Fan 2100
1981 August
WPL inducted into International Air & Space Hall of Fame
1981
MOL awarded honorary doctorate by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
1985 June
Lear Fan Limited shut down
1986
LearAvia Corporation closed
1988 January
MOL flew on Friendship One, an around-the-world-flight via a Boeing 747SP
1990
Gates Learjet Corporation bought by Bombardier, Inc.
1993
WPL inducted into National Inventors Hall of Fame
2001 December 5
MOL died
Biographical Note: Moya Olsen Lear Moya Olsen Lear was a philanthropist, businesswoman, and the wife of aviation pioneer Bill Lear.

Moya Marie Olsen was born on March 27, 1915 in Chicago, Illinois to John Sigvard “Ole” Olsen (1892-1963), a famous vaudevillian, and Lillian Louise (Clem) Olsen (1890-1990). She attended Ohio State University for a single year and then studied shorthand and typing at Pace Institute in New York. In her own words, Moya worked as a “Girl Friday” (office assistant) for her father on his Broadway show, Hellzapoppin’. It was here, through her father's show, she met Bill Lear.

Moya and Bill's first meeting had been brief; Lear had come backstage at the 46th Street Theater one night, in September 1938, to offer his regards to Olsen for the evening's show and her father introduced the two. She wrote, "No angels sang. No bells chimed. No fireworks went off." It was just a quick greeting and they parted. However, on their second meeting on December 24th, 1938 Bill invited Moya out for a drink and their relationship took off.

Moya married Bill Lear in 1942, becoming his fourth wife. In spite of Bill's infidelities, she "loved Bill with an intense, unconditional love" and the couple had four children together (John, Shanda, David, and Tina) in addition to Lear’s children from previous marriages (Mary Louise, Bill, Jr., and Patti). Although Bill gave Moya a place as a board member for his various companies, she remained mostly only tangentially involved in his work during his lifetime, primarily acting as a welcoming, stable, and supportive presence to Lear and his partners, employees, and contacts. After Lear’s death, Moya was made Chairman of the Board of LearAvia Corporation, the parent company of Lear Fan, and attempted to take his final project, the Lear Fan, through completion and FAA certification, but was ultimately unsuccessful.

Moya was active in many philanthropic causes, particularly in the Reno, Nevada area where the Lears lived near the end of their lives, including serving on the boards of the Nevada Opera Association, the Nevada Festival Ballet and the Sierra Arts Foundation. She established the Bill and Moya Lear Foundation Scholarship Fund and used her Amelia Earhart Pioneering Achievement Award to fund scholarships for women majoring in aeronautical science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, where she also established the Moya and Bill Lear Endowed Scholarship.

Moya received many honors, including her inductions into the halls of fame of such organizations as the Women in Aviation Pioneers, the United States Achievement Academy, Nevada Business Leaders and the Nevada Women’s Fund. She also received six honorary doctorate degrees: Doctor of Humane Letters from National University and University of Nevada, Reno; Doctor of Laws from Northrop University, Pepperdine University and Clemson University; and Doctor of Aviation Management from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. She was also the first winner of the Katharine Wright Memorial Award from the National Aeronautic Association in 1981.

Moya Olsen Lear died on December 5, 2001 in Washoe, Nevada.

Sources:

Lear, Moya. An Unforgettable Flight. Reno: Jack Bacon and Company, 1996.

"Memorializing Aviation Pioneer and Philanthropist Moya Lear." Nevada Legislature. March 26, 2003. Accessed November 18, 2020. https://www.leg.state.nv.us/Session/72nd2003/Journal/Senate/Final/sj052.html.

"Philanthropist widow of Learjet developer dies at 86." Napa Valley Register. December 7, 2001. Accessed November 18, 2020. hhttps://napavalleyregister.com/news/local/obituaries/philanthropist-widow-of-learjet-developer-dies-at-86/article_7ec9325e-a668-51c1-b877-82d1289d7aeb.html.

Rashke, Richard. Stormy Genius: The Life of Aviation's Maverick, Bill Lear. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985.
Historical Note: Quincy Radio Laboratories (1922-1924) Established in 1922, Quincy Radio Laboratories (QRL) custom built and repaired home radios, sold related parts, and eventually built antennas.

QRL was founded in Quincy, Illinois by William P. Lear and businessman Julius Buerkin in November 1922. Buerkin financed the company and was president while WPL supplied the knowledge and ran the day-to-day business. The company hired Elmer Wavering to wire radios and Irving Johnson as manager.

QRL was an innovator in that it was the first to offer a public workshop. Customers could buy parts from QRL and then use the workshop area to build their radio. Additionally, the company was the first shop to offer home services, such as installation and repair and hook up of roof antennas, and to become a radio parts distributorship. In mid-1924, WPL sold his share of QRL to Buerkin and left the company.
Historical Note: Radio Wire and Coil Company (1928-1931) Radio Wire and Coil Company was a company founded by William P. Lear in late 1928 in Chicago, Illinois that innovated coil design for radios. WPL had designed a more efficient frequency coil for radio than was currently being used. The radio industry had been using a "large coil two to two and a half inches in high and wide with one strand of copper wire around it." He cut the size in half by utilizing ten strands of enamel-coated Litzendrat wire and twisted them into a single silk-coated strand.

He also designed a coil-winder and a wire making machine. WPL then hired mechanic Melvin King to build both machines and placed Don Mitchell, an engineer and designer, in charge of production. WPL sold the company to Paul Galvin and Galvin Manufacturing (later known as Motorola) in 1931.
Historical Note: Lear-Wuerfel, Inc. (1930-1931) Lear-Wuerfel was a short-lived company that built radios and chassis for other manufacturers. William P. Lear and audio engineer Robert "Bob" Wuerfel formed the company in November 1930. The company operated in the Chicago, Illinois area. It ceased operations in mid-1931 when WPL and Wuerfel amicably parted ways due to a difference in interests.
Historical Note: Lear Developments (1931-1939) Lear Developments manufactured direction finders and aircraft receivers and transmitters, such as the RadioAire, as well as B-battery eliminators for car radios. It also manufactured aircraft equipment, such as antenna reels and radio compasses, also known as automatic direction finders (ADF).

The company was founded in Glenview, Illinois by William P. Lear in July 1931. WPL hired Reeder G. Nichols, Warren Knotts, and Freddie Schnell as radio engineers; Norman Wonderlich as Vice-President; and John Wehner as chief engineer.

The company’s first major ADF success was the 1935 Lear-O-Scope, which was marketed for commercial pilots and was one of the early radio-based direction finders for aircraft. Also in 1935, the company shifted its focus from car radio components to the design, development, and manufacture of airborne radio transmitters, radio receivers, and radio direction finder equipment.

At the end of 1939, WPL sold a 49 percent interest in the company to T.S. Harris, an investor. Lear then changed the name to Lear Avia Inc. and relocated both himself and the company to the municipal airport in Dayton, Ohio.
Historical Note: Lear Avia Inc. (1939-1944) Lear Avia Inc. was a manufacturer of aircraft radio and navigational devices in the early 1940s. The company grew out of Lear Developments when, in December 1939, founder William P. Lear got financial backing from his new investor and partner, T.S. Harris. The company relocated from Illinois to Dayton, Ohio near to Wright Field and eventually had a sales office in Los Angeles, California and research and development offices in New York, New York and Santa Monica, California.

In 1940, WPL hired Richard Marsen, an engineer and patent attorney, to develop a patent program for the company and run the New York laboratory. He also hired Richard “Dick” Mock as a sales engineer to help with the marketing and sales of Lear Avia products.

Lear Avia manufactured and sold aircraft radio and navigational devices, including the Learmatic navigator, as well as aircraft-related equipment like the “fastop” clutch, gearing components, actuators, motors, and screw jacks. Near the end of World War II, Lear Avia was without any set products to manufacture, and competition from companies such as General Electric, Bendix, and RCA was squeezing Lear Avia out of its previous niche. WPL pressured Harris to retire so in 1944 Harris sold his company shares. Immediately after this, WPL moved the company, which had started as a “marginal 40-man operation,” to Grand Rapids, Michigan and changed its name to Lear, Incorporated; a publically-owned company that now employed approximately 4,000 workers.
Historical Note: Lear, Incorporated (1944-1962) Lear, Incorporated was an aircraft radio development and electromechanical equipment manufacturing company operating from 1944 to 1962. In October 1944 Lear Avia Inc. became Lear, Incorporated and was moved from Piqua (near Dayton), Ohio to new headquarters in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Like Lear Avia, Lear, Inc. primarily focused on aircraft radio development and manufacture. However, Lear, Inc. also built electromechanical equipment for aircraft, such as screw jacks, motors, actuators, automatic controls. In addition, the company aimed to “break into the home radio business and to create a national appetite for wire voice recorders.” However, post-war shortages caused problems for Lear, Inc. so in mid-1948 the company phased out its home radio including the Learecorder. The company continued to produce automatic direction finders and a line of VHF transmitters and receivers, including the VHF Learmatic navigator.

In early 1947, the company developed the C-2 autopilot for the U.S. military. However, the military was beginning to move to jet fighters. The C-2 was designed for a piston engine fighter so was not compatible with the control system of jets. WPL and his team, including engineer Nils Eklund, redesigned the C-2 autopilot into the F-5 autopilot, suitable for jet control systems, in just four months and won a multi-year production contract. The F-5 was not only an autopilot, but also included components which made blind landings safe. WPL was awarded the 1950 Collier Trophy for the F-5 autopilot.

In 1948, the company acquired Romec Pump Co. based in Elyria, Ohio. Romec primarily built pumps of all kinds and after the merger Lear, Inc. began making submerged water injection pumps for several aircraft manufacturers and airlines, including the Boeing Company, British Overseas Airways, North American Aviation and Pan American Airways. Additionally, a new hangar was completed at the Grand Rapids facility for experimental work as well as installation of aircraft radio and automatic pilots.

Also in 1948, Dick Mock was elected president, replacing WPL, who remained chairman of the board and director of research and development. In 1950, the company moved its research and development offices to Santa Monica, California. It was here that the new Aircraft Engineering Division of Lear, Inc. began with the conversion of the Lockheed Lodestar to the Learstar.

WPL hired Gordon Israel as chief engineer. Israel had previously worked for Stinson Aircraft, designing the Stinson O-49; and Grumman Aircraft, designing jet fighters. He also hired Ed Swearengen as a designer, Benny Howard as a consultant, and Clyde Pangborn as chief test pilot. The Learstar made its maiden flight on May 10, 1954. Several months later, it became the first reconditioned aircraft to earn certification. The first Learstar was delivered in February 1955 to British American Oil Company Limited. Due to fiscal issues, Dick Mock sold the Aircraft Engineering Division to Pacific Airmotive Corporation in November 1956 and Learstar production closed down.

Another significant product developed by Lear, Inc. was the Lear Integrated Flight Equipment (LIFE), manufactured in the late 1950s for commercial airlines. LIFE displayed information on two indicators instead of four, making the pilot’s work safer and simpler.

Two smaller companies were established circa 1955-1956 as Lear, Inc. subsidiaries: Lear SA, located in Geneva, Switzerland and Lear Electronic GmbH, in Munich, Germany. Lear SA built receivers to assist in blind landings and Lear Electronic GmbH built automatic direction finders, gyros and fuel pumps.

In 1959 Al Handschumacher replaced Dick Mock as president of Lear, Inc. In that same year, WPL began the process of designing a corporate airplane. However, the Board of Directors did not want the Lear name associated with the new aircraft design for fear of upsetting investors, nor would they allow company finances to be used on WPL’s private endeavor. Thus, in 1960, WPL created a new company, based in Switzerland, solely to build his executive jet aircraft: Swiss American Aviation Corporation (SAAC).

Due to multiple concerns and conflicts in business approaches, WPL was eventually forced out of Lear, Inc. When Siegler Corporation approached the company about a merger, WPL was persuaded to sell his shares to Siegler by his friend and board member Dick Millar. Millar’s argument was that WPL could use those funds to finance the new corporate aircraft he was designing. WPL agreed and in February 1962, Lear, Inc. merged with Siegler Corporation and shortly thereafter, WPL was no longer a part of the company.
Historical Note: Swiss American Aviation Corporation (1960-1962) The Swiss American Aviation Corporation built the SAAC-23, a private jet designed specifically for corporate flight. Its design was influenced by the FFA P-16 aircraft.

SAAC was founded by WPL in April 1960 and was based in St. Gallen, Switzerland. In 1962 WPL named Buzz Nanney, previously a security consultant for Lear, Inc., as General Manager of SAAC. Due to a variety of issues, the company was relocated to Wichita, Kansas in August 1962. At the same time, SAAC changed its name to Lear Jet Corporation with the SAAC-23 renamed as the Lear Jet Model 23.

SAAC affiliate company Aviation Development, Inc. was also established by WPL and contributed in the design, engineering, supervision of manufacturing of the SAAC-23. The company was under the direction of Hans Studer.
Historical Note: Lear Jet Corporation (1962-1969) Established in 1962, Lear Jet Corporation built the Learjet, a small executive transport jet, as well as the 8-track player.

In August 1962, William P. Lear’s company Swiss American Aviation Corporation changed its name to Lear Jet Corporation (LJC) and relocated from St. Gallen, Switzerland to Wichita, Kansas. The SAAC-23 designed by SAAC became the Learjet Model 23.

The prototype Learjet Model 23 (N801L) made its first light on October 7, 1963 but a few months later, on June 4, 1964, N801L was destroyed, without injuries to crew, in a “forced landing” due to pilot error. Shortly after that, on July 31, 1964, the Model 23 was FAA type certificated. The first delivery of the Model 23 occurred on October 13, 1964 to Chemical & Industrial Corporation located in Cincinnati, Ohio. The FAA awarded the Model 23 its production certification, for highest quality control standards, on September 28, 1965. The Learjet Model 23 earned many achievements and set multiple records, including a successful 10 hour, 17 minute transatlantic flight from Wichita to Frankfurt, West Germany on April 17, 1965 and three speed records on May 21, 1965 when a Model 23 flew from Los Angeles to New York and back to Los Angeles in 10 hours and 22 minutes. LJC’s aircraft division announced two new models in October 1965; the Learjet Model 24 and the Lear Liner Model 40 “for airlines and business markets.”

In early 1963, WPL became interested in the Muntz 4-track car stereo player. He began to work on improvements but eventually started the design process over, resulting in the invention of the 8-track player by the fall of 1964. Lear and his team also designed cartridges specifically for the 8-track player. In February 1965 Lear Jet Corporation formally established the Stereo Division to produce 8-track players and cartridges, in Detroit, Michigan. Meanwhile, the Wichita-based Industrial Division restructured to become the Avionics Division.

In 1966 the company rebranded to Lear Jet Industries and bought Brantly Helicopter Corporation (as a subsidiary), although it was sold off circa 1968. The Learjet Model 25 debuted in 1967. In April 1967, due to the company’s financial struggles, WPL sold his controlling shares of stock to Gates Rubber Co., although he still continued to serve on the Board of Directors. He and MOL resigned from the board in 1969 when the company merged with Gates Aviation Co. to become Gates Learjet Corporation.

In 1987, Gates Learjet was acquired by Integrated Acquisition and the next year the name was changed to Learjet Corporation. In 1990, Bombardier Aerospace purchased the Learjet Corporation and rebranded the company to Bombardier Learjet. In 2021, the company issued an announcement to end production on all Learjets.
Historical Note: William Lear Enterprises (circa 1967) William Lear Enterprises (WLE) was likely formed as an affiliate or subsidiary to one or more WPL-initiated companies to support their business activities. It was established circa 1967 and based in Reno, Nevada. No further information is known.
Historical Note: Turbo-Lear, Inc. (1968-?) Turbo-Lear, Inc. was a subsidiary or affiliate of Lear Jet Corporation in the area of jet engine manufacture. The company also supported other Lear companies, including Lear Motors Corporation and Dyna-Lear, Inc. It was established in February 1968 by WPL and based in Reno, Nevada. No further information is known.
Historical Note: Leareno Development (1967/1968-2006) Leareno Development (LD) was responsible for the commercial and industrial development of land formerly used as Stead Air Force Base near Reno, Nevada. Its responsibilities included issues related to water usage and other natural resources in the area in the late 1960s. It was established in 1967 or 1968 when William P. Lear purchased the land.

Officers of the company included WPL as Chairman of the Board, Gian Carlo Bertelli, Lear's son-in-law, as President, and James Sweger as Vice President. The company was dissolved in 2006, per Nevada records.
Historical Note: Lear JeTravel (1968-?) Lear JeTravel was a small commuter airline established in northern Nevada by William P. Lear in 1968. Its inaugural flight was on December 5, 1968 and was piloted by WPL. Jill Van Ness served as stewardess. Prominent passengers included then-Governor of Nevada Paul Laxalt and Mrs. Laxalt as well as Dean Phillips, a banking executive.

Morgan Hettrich was made general manager and chief pilot, though he served as co-pilot on the airline’s first flight. Phil Mench, who had previously worked for Bonanza Air Lines and Air West, was hired as sales manager.

The airline offered twice daily service, seven days a week, from Reno Municipal Airport to Hollywood-Burbank airport, with a fleet of two aircraft, likely Learjets although confirmation has not been found, capable of carrying six to eight passengers. It is unknown how long the airline was in existence.
Historical Note: Titanium West, Inc. (1968-1972) Titanium West, Inc. developed, manufactured, and marketed titanium products and produced titanium sponge. It was established in early/mid-1968 by William P. Lear and based in Delaware although it was licensed to operate in Nevada. The company had a plant on the Leareno property.

Company officers included Joseph L. Wosser, Jr. as President, Moya Olsen Lear as Vice-President, and Ronald Blanc as Secretary. It was sold to the Whittaker Corporation, circa 1972. No further information is known.
Historical Note: Dyna-Lear, Inc. (1968-?) Dyna-Lear, Inc. was incorporated in April 1968 by William P. Lear. Information about its operations is unknown.
Historical Note: Lear Motors Corporation (1968-1976) Lear Motors Corporation (LMC) developed and successfully tested a steam turbine engine for passenger cars and transit passenger buses and also developed brushless motors and deep-well pump/motors. The company was established by William P. Lear in 1968 on land formerly used as Stead Air Force Base, Nevada.

In 1968, WPL hired Hugh Carson as chief engineer and Ken Wallis as an engineer specifically tasked to build a steam-powered race car for the Indianapolis 500. Wallis built two engines, Delta and Delta II, but after Delta II exploded in 1969, WPL became frustrated and fired Wallis. The car was built but never participated in the Indy 500, although it was displayed at the New York International Car Show in 1969. WPL and his team were also simultaneously working on a steam-powered passenger car. After the failure of Delta II the steam project stumbled for a bit until June 1970 when LMC signed a contract with the State of California to build a steam-powered passenger transit bus. LMC then ran two engineering teams; one for the steam bus and one for steam passenger cars.

By September 1970 LMC had developed a 30-pound, single wheel steam turbine. Ed Cole, General Motors president, gave the company a transit bus to test the engine. The company held several successful public demonstrations of the Lear Vapor Turbine Powered Coach, which used “Learium,” in 1972. In the fall of 1972, WPL took the steam bus to Washington, D.C. with the goal of gaining millions of dollars’ worth of funding. However, LMC was given just under $1 million by the EPA. Shortly after, on January 26, 1973, LMC completed a successful first drive of a steam-powered 1971 Monte Carlo. WPL was the inaugural driver.

In 1974, WPL named his son-in-law, Gian Carlo Bertelli, as president of both LMC and Leareno Development. Other officers of LMC included WPL as Chairman of the Board and Delos W. Hood as Vice President. However, Bertelli left in 1975 after disagreements with WPL regarding business decisions and finances.

Despite successful demonstrations and lower emissions than standard combustion engines, WPL lacked outside funding and had already spent about $15-17 million of his own money on the steam turbine project. After failing to gain support or additional funding from the federal government or other corporations, such as General Motors, the project was terminated around 1974-1975. Lear Motors Corporation was sold in early 1976.
Historical Note: LearAvia Corporation (1968-1986) LearAvia Corporation developed and manufactured a variety of avionics products as well as three aircraft from the late 1960s through the 1980s.

Established in April 1968 by William P. Lear, LearAvia Corporation (LAC) was headquartered in Reno, Nevada at the site of the former Stead Air Force Base, alongside Leareno Development and Lear Motors Corporation, other companies Lear established at the same time. Their products included the Learjet sound suppressor, a helicopter muffler system for the Bell 47 series helicopters, and the Lear Charger, a portable battery charger for recharging 6-, 12-, or 24-volt batteries. Additional products they manufactured include the AFC-75, a yaw damper, a battery temperature indicator, a cabin temperature control unit, a nose wheel steering system, an altitude data system, and a synchroscope. LAC operated an aircraft service center, an aviation instruction training school, and a helicopter leasing/charter service.

In addition to avionics products, LAC also developed three aircraft: the LearStar 600, the Lear Allegro, and the all-composite turboprop Lear Fan 2100. In 1976 Canadair bought the design and production rights to the LearStar 600 and eventually changed the name to the Canadair Challenger. The Allegro, designed in 1977 as an improved version of the LearStar 600, was never built due to lack of interest from Canadair. It was followed by the Lear Fan program which began in March 1977. The Lear Fan 2100 was WPL’s last aircraft design and was briefly known as the “Futura” and possibly the “Finesse” prior to being named the Lear Fan 2100.

Work was not complete on the Lear Fan before WPL’s death from leukemia in May 1978. Per his wishes, his wife Moya Olsen Lear took over the project with assistance from other Lear personnel.

LAC’s company structure and hierarchy was complex and is not always clearly outlined by supporting documentation. According to internal documents, LAC had at least three subsidiaries to support Lear Fan production by April 1980 including Lear Fan Limited, based in Belfast, Northern Ireland and Stead, Nevada; Lear Fan Corporation, based in Stead, Nevada, and Lear Fan Sales Limited, based in Stead, Nevada. However, additional documentation states that another related company, Lear Fan Corp., based in Delaware, was a subsidiary of Lear Fan Ltd., itself a subsidiary of LearAvia Corporation. Eventually Lear Fan Corporation (Nevada) and Lear Fan Corp. (Delaware) formed the Lear Fan Research Limited Partnership.

Company officers for LAC included WPL as Chairman of the Board until his death when MOL took over and Kenneth Kramer as Vice President (who had also served as Executive Vice-President for LearAvia, Lear Motors Corporation, and Leareno Development.) After WPL’s death, Sam Auld and Maxine Zimmerman served as President of LearAvia at different times.

Additional identified company officers for the various entities included former Vice President of Operations at LearAvia Corporation William Surbey as President and CEO of Lear Fan Corporation and J. Sheldon “Torch” Lewis as Vice President of Sales for Lear Fan Sales Limited. By September 1982, Lear Fan Limited was no longer a subsidiary of LAC, having incorporated on its own with Bob Burch serving as Chairman and President. In 1983, LAC sold its interests in LFL to a large group comprised mostly of foreign investors, Fan Holdings, Inc., for whom Burch also served as Chairman and President.

LAC was in bankruptcy by the end of 1986 and ceased operations.
Historical Note: Microcom, Inc. (1968-1973) Established as an affiliate of LearAvia Corporation in April 1968 by William P. Lear in Reno, Nevada, Microcom, Inc. designed and produced an advanced line of avionics, including the AFC-70 autopilot. In late 1972, Microcom, Inc. was absorbed into LearAvia Corporation. No further information is known.
Historical Note: Lear Fan Limited (1977-1985) Initially established in 1977 as a subsidiary of LearAvia Corporation, Lear Fan Limited (LFL) developed and produced the Lear Fan 2100, an all-composite, twin engine “pusher” business jet.

In 1976-1977, the Lear Fan aircraft design and development was begun within LearAvia Corporation. Circa 1980, Lear Fan Limited was established as a subsidiary of LearAvia Corporation, with funding from the British government, to build and sell the Lear Fan 2100, an all-composite aircraft designed by WPL and his team. After William P. Lear’s death on May 14, 1978, Moya Olsen Lear took over as Chairman of the Board of LearAvia and helped guide the Lear Fan program in its efforts to attain FAA certification and commercial production.

Briefly called both the “Futura” and “Finesse” prior to the Lear “Fan” 2100, the initial prototype (E-001/N626BL) completed its first flight on December 32, 1980 (January 1, 1981), a date created by the British Government to secure funding good only until the end of 1980.

Development and certification proved expensive and money was always in short supply. Lear Fan Limited restructured again in 1982 as Fan Holdings, Inc., this time with funds from the British government and an investor group, Zoysia Corporation. However, due to continued problems attaining FAA certification and financial strife, Lear Fan Limited filed for Chapter 7 liquidation and closed its operations in early June 1985. Only three prototype aircraft were ever built and flown. The first prototype was numbered N626BL, using WPL’s birthdate of June 26th and initials for “Bill Lear.” The second prototype was numbered N327ML using Moya’s birthdate and initials. It was later changed to N21LF. The third prototype was designated N98LF.

The company restructured as Lear Fan Technology Inc. for possible buyout after the shutdown of the Lear Fan program. The end result is unclear but it appears as many assets as possible were sold and proceeds were divided amongst the nearly 500 creditors listed on the Chapter 7 filing.
Historical Note: Lear Siegler, Inc. (1962-) Lear Siegler, Incorporated was an avionics manufacturing company that began in 1962 after a merger between Lear, Inc. and Siegler Corporation.

Siegler Corporation was initially incorporated in December 1950 as Siegler Heating Company. After a merger in 1954 its name changed to Siegler Corporation. In early 1962, Siegler Corporation and Lear, Inc., Bill Lear’s aircraft radio manufacturing company, completed a merger becoming Lear Siegler, Incorporated (LSI). After that point, Bill Lear was no longer associated with the company.

Siegler President John G. Brooks became LSI’s Chairman and CEO. In 1964, he also served as President, a position he held until his death from a stroke in 1971. LSI was an early conglomerate with several acquisitions, initially focusing on the areas of aerospace-technology, automotive parts, and industrial-commercial manufacturing.

Due to the merger, the former Lear, Inc. Grand Rapids facility became the Instrument Division of LSI and corporate headquarters were relocated to California. The Instrument Division developed precision electronic instruments for aircraft, missile guidance systems, and space vehicles. Its primary product lines were aircraft reference, navigation and communication instrument systems; radio navigation systems; weapon delivery systems and ground support equipment. Their instruments were used in the U.S. space program, including on Gemini and Apollo missions.

During the 1980s, product highlights were performance data computer systems and the flight management computer system. In 1986, the Instrument Division merged with Avionic System Division to form Lear Siegler, Inc., Instrument and Avionic Systems Corporation. A year later it was sold to Smiths Industries, a British aerospace and industrial products company.

As of 2014, LSI still existed as a part of URS Corporation.
Historical Note: Gates Learjet Corporation (1967-) In April 1967, William P. Lear sold his controlling shares of stock in the Lear Jet Corporation to Gates Rubber Co. He resigned from the board in 1969 when the company merged with Gates Aviation Co., a subsidiary of Gates Rubber Co., to become Gates Learjet Corporation. In 1987, Gates Learjet was acquired by Integrated Acquisition and the next year the name was changed to Learjet Corporation. In 1990, Bombardier Aerospace purchased the Learjet Corporation and rebranded the company to Bombardier Learjet. As of 2021, an announcement to end production on all Learjets had been issued by the company.
Historical Note: Canadair Ltd. (1944-) Established in 1944, Canadair Ltd. was an aircraft manufacturer and was initially owned by the Canadian government. In 1946, the controlling interest of the company was bought by the Electric Boat Company and the two companies became General Dynamics. The Canadian government acquired Canadair Ltd. from General Dynamics in 1976, but ten years later it was sold to Bombardier, Inc. for financial reasons. Bombardier, Inc. was able to stabilize its financial issues and it remains a component of Bombardier Aerospace, a division of Bombardier, Inc.
Historical Note: Static Power, Inc. Originally a division of Gates Learjet Corporation, Static Power Inc., a subsidiary of Gates Rubber Co., manufactured power supplies. Sam Auld served as President. No further information is known.
Historical Note: Lear Archives The Lear Archives came into existence as a result of early work by William P. Lear's secretaries and associates to retain all manner of items related to William P. Lear's work that they considered significant. Although its official start date is unknown, the Lear Archives really began to take shape in the early 1990s, when Vicki DeVine and Sheila Story organized the many boxes of materials that had been saved for years. In 1998 John LaFountaine and Susie Lyles, later joined by Greg Moe and Chamea Tausch, led efforts to create a website, exhibits, and continue the acquistion, organization and preservation of materials. The exact end date of the organization is unknown, but is likely just prior to the donation of the William P. and Moya Olsen Lear papers to The Museum of Flight in June 2000.

Arrangement

After surveying the material, the Project Archivist determined that there was little overall original order to the collection. Thus, the collection was grouped into sixteen main series based on the companies that William P. Lear founded over the course of his career: Lear Developments, Lear Avia Corporation, Lear Incorporated, Swiss American Aviation Corporation, Lear Jet Corporation, Turbo-Lear, Inc., William Lear Enterprises, Leareno Development, Lear JeTravel, Titanium West, Lear Motors Corporation, LearAvia Corporation, Microcom, Inc., Lear Fan Limited, Personal, and Related Companies. These were further refined into subseries, primarily by function. As much as possible a parallel structure was maintained across the company series with the following subseries: Administrative records, Correspondence, Financial records, Legal records, Photographs, Publicity material, Research files, and Technical files. Not all series have all those subseries, and some have additional unique subseries. Some subseries are subdivided further. While most original folders were kept intact, the Processing Archivist imposed physical order where necessary to develop groups of related records arranged according to function or theme.
  • Series I: Lear Developments
    • Subseries A: Administrative records
    • Subseries B: Correspondence
    • Subseries C: Financial records
    • Subseries D: Legal records
      • Subseries i: Legal cases
      • Subseries ii: Patent documents
    • Subseries E: Photographs
    • Subseries F: Publicity materials
    • Subseries G: Research materials
    • Subseries H: Technical files
  • Series II: Lear Avia Inc.
    • Subseries A: Administrative records
    • Subseries B: Correspondence
    • Subseries C: Financial records
    • Subseries D: Legal records
      • Subseries i: Documents of incorporation
      • Subseries ii: Legal cases
      • Subseries iii: Patent documents
    • Subseries E: Photographs
    • Subseries F: Publicity materials
    • Subseries G: Research materials
      • Subseries i: Patent research files
    • Subseries H: Technical files
  • Series III: Lear, Inc.
    • Subseries A: Administrative records
    • Subseries B: Correspondence
    • Subseries C: Financial records
    • Subseries D: Legal records
      • Subseries i: Legal cases
      • Subseries ii: Merger
      • Subseries iii: Patent documents
    • Subseries E: Photographs
      • Subseries i: Aircraft-related
      • Subseries ii: Parts and products
      • Subseries iii: People
    • Subseries F: Plant 6 and Grand Rapids facilities
    • Subseries G: Publicity materials
      • Subseries i: Audiovisual materials
    • Subseries H: Research materials
    • Subseries I: Technical files
  • Series IV: Swiss American Aviation Corp.
    • Subseries A: Administrative records
    • Subseries B: Correspondence
    • Subseries C: Photographs and visual materials
    • Subseries D: Publicity materials
    • Subseries E: Technical files
  • Series V: Lear Jet Corporation
    • Subseries A: Administrative records
    • Subseries B: Correspondence
    • Subseries C: Financial records
    • Subseries D: Legal records
      • Subseries i: Gates Rubber Co. sale
      • Subseries ii: Patent documents
    • Subseries E: Photographs
      • Subseries i: Aircraft
      • Subseries ii: Facilities and personnel
      • Subseries ii: Parts and products
    • Subseries F: Publicity materials
      • Subseries i: Audiovisual materials
    • Subseries G: Research materials
    • Subseries H: Stereo 8 files
    • Subseries I: Technical files
  • Series VI: Turbo-Lear, Inc.
  • Series VII: Leareno Development
    • Subseries A: Administrative records
    • Subseries B: Financial records
    • Subseries C: Legal records
    • Subseries D: Photographs
    • Subseries E: Publicity materials
  • Series VIII: William Lear Enterprises, Inc.
  • Series IV: Lear JeTravel
  • Series X: Titanium West
  • Series XI: Lear Motors Corp.
    • Subseries A: Administrative records
    • Subseries B: Correspondence
    • Subseries C: Financial records
    • Subseries D: Legal records
      • Subseries i: Legal cases
      • Subseries ii: Patent documents
    • Subseries E: Photographs
      • Subseries i: Facilities and personnel
      • Subseries ii: Parts and products
      • Subseries iii: Steam-powered buses
      • Subseries iv: Steam-powered passenger cars
      • Subseries v: Steam-powered race car
    • Subseries F: Publicity materials
      • Subseries i: Audiovisual materials
    • Subseries G: Research materials
    • Subseries H: Technical files
      • Subseries i: Engineering notebooks
  • Series XII: LearAvia Corporation
    • Subseries A: Administrative records
    • Subseries B: Correspondence
    • Subseries C: Financial records
    • Subseries D: Legal records
      • Subseries i: Legal cases
      • Subseries ii: Patent documents
    • Subseries E: Photographs
      • Subseries i: Aircraft-related
      • Subseries ii: Facilities and personnel
    • Subseries F: Publicity materials
      • Subseries i: Audiovisual materials
    • Subseries G: Research materials
    • Subseries H: Technical files
      • Subseries i: LearStar 600
      • Subseries ii: Lear Allegro
      • Subseries iii: LearFan 2100
      • Subseries iv: Parts
      • Subseries v: General
      • Oversize technical diagrams
  • Series XIII: Microcom, Inc.
  • Series XIV: Lear Fan Ltd.
    • Subseries A: Administrative records
    • Subseries B: Correspondence
    • Subseries C: Financial records
    • Subseries D: Legal records
      • Subseries i: Legal documents
      • Subseries ii: Patents
    • Subseries E: Photographs
      • Subseries i: Aircraft and related
      • Subseries ii: Facilities and personnel
    • Subseries F: Publicity materials
      • Subseries i: Audiovisual materials
    • Subseries F: Research materials
    • Subseries G: Technical files
  • Series XV: Personal
    • Subseries A: WPL
      • Subseries i: Awards and honors
      • Subseries ii: Correspondence
      • Subseries iii: General
      • Subseries iv: Memberships and service
      • Subseries v: Patents
      • Subseries vi: Photographs
      • Subseries vii: Publicity
        • Subseries a: Audiovisual materials
      • Subseries viii: Writings
    • Subseries B: MOL
      • Subseries i: Articles
      • Subseries ii: Awards and honors
      • Subseries iii: General
      • Subseries iv: Memberships and service
      • Subseries v: Photographs
      • Subseries vi: Speeches, events, and appearances
    • Subseries C: Family
    • Subseries D: General
  • Series XVI: Related Companies
    • Subseries A: Lear Siegler, Inc.
    • Subseries B: Gates Learjet Corporation
    • Subseries C: Canadair
    • Subseries D: Static Power, Inc.
    • Subseries E: Lear Archives
The majority of the collection consists of textual and visual materials housed in document boxes, however there is a significant amount of oversize material in the collection as well. Oversized materials were cataloged according to their intellectual position within the collection, regardless of size or format. When there is oversized material connected to a folder, the oversize location is listed in the inventory alongside the folder of documents. There is an “Oversize technical diagrams” subseries within the LearAvia Corporation series due to the large quantity of oversize illustrations.

Organization by Format Storage

  • Paper and photographic materials: boxes 1-86, 87A-87B, 88-192
  • Audiovisual materials: boxes 215-220, 231, quadruplex videotape [unboxed]
  • Oversize materials: boxes 193-214, 221, 232-233; oversize folders 1-72; rolls [1-27, 29, 31, 33-41, 45-46, 48, 50, 52, 55, 57, 60, 62, 65, 67, 70, 72, 75, 77, 79-80, 82, 84, 86, 89, 91, 94, 96, 98] in boxes 222-230; and rolls [28, 30, 32, 42-44, 47, 49, 51, 53-54, 56, 58-59, 61, 63-64, 66, 68-69, 71, 73-74, 76, 78, 81, 83, 85, 87-88, 90, 92-93, 95, 97-100] in bagged storage 1-38

Additional Inventories

The following more detailed inventories for certain materials are also available upon request:

  • 2000-06-20_Lear Papers_AV material
  • 2000-06-20_Lear Papers_Library material
  • 2000-06-20_Lear Papers_Trade Literature


A list of objects can also be made available upon request. For more information contact us.

Custodial History

The materials were created by William P. and Moya Olsen Lear or their employees and were owned by them until being donated to the Museum of Flight. At some point, likely in the 1980s, the materials were gathered together by an entity known as the The Lear Archives. The Lear Archivies was based in Reno, Nevada and was staffed by some of the Lears’ secretaries and associates. The Lear Archives were initially led by Vicki DeVines and Shelia Story. In 1998 John LaFountaine and Susie Lyles took over management of the collection. They designated the collection as accession #7-13-001 because 7 and 13 were Lear’s lucky numbers. Portions of the collection were loaned to The History of Aviation Collection at the University of Texas at Dallas by Moya Lear in 1983 and were then returned to the Lear Archives in Reno by Moya Lear in 2000. Moya Lear donated the collection to the Museum of Flight in 2000.

Accruals

No further accruals are expected.

Related Materials at The Museum of Flight

Other processed collections related to William P. Lear include:



Note that there are additional related collections that have not yet been cataloged or processed but are available for research. Please contact us for details.
Related Materials at Other Institutions The Columbia Center for Oral History at the Columbia University Libraries holds a 1960 oral history interview with William P. Lear. Available online at Reminiscences of William Powell Lear

The Los Angeles Public Library Digital Collections includes a small number of photographs of Bill, Lear, Jr. Available online at Bill Lear, Jr.

Additional information about the LearCat Catamaran can be found in The Mystic Seaport Museum Records of the Minneford Yacht Yard

Separated Materials

As part of the processing steps, specific non-archival material was separated and moved to the appropriate location. Approximately 40 serials and newsletters, some with multiple issues, as well as seven manuals were moved to the Harl V. Brackin Library. More than 310 objects, including awards, hats, paintings, and radio and navigation parts, were relocated to Objects storage at the Museum of Flight. Over 300 documents, including annual reports, press kits, product brochures, and other corporate ephemera, were moved to the Trade Literature artificial collection. Note that some trade literature has remained within the archival collection, due to its contextual relationship with other materials (such as personal annotations or press releases). For more details, please contact The Museum of Flight Archives.

Processing Information

Before being donated to The Museum of Flight in 2000 the collection had been organized by Lear staffers and secretaries of the Lear Archives, specifically Vicki DeVines and Shelia Story. Some parts of the collection had some preservation work done such as interleaving of documents, as well as some sleeving of photographs. The collection was primarily maintained in filing cabinets and an initial inventory existed, however there was no overall arrangement of the collection or discernible order. Therefore, the Project Archivist imposed an arrangement on the collection and rearranged the files to fit that series structure.

Original folder titles were maintained as much as possible and are usually denoted in the inventory by quotation marks; all other folder titles have been derived by the Project Archivist. Due to the highly technical nature of the overall collection and the Project Archivist’s lack of certainty about how materials may be inter-related, the original order of the documents within the folders was frequently assumed to be best and left as is. In a few instances, the Project Archivist needed to regroup related records according to function or theme.

Many folders and documents include original identification numbers, such as "L-D-12" or "P-1100". No legend has been located to fully explain what each of these means, but they have been retained and given in folder titles as original context. Some are defined within the materials, such as P-# (project number) or “P/N” for part number. For others, the Project Archivist made judgment calls based on context. For example, “L-D” numbers seem to focus on disclosures (notice of invention) or possibly “development,” which fit into the patent sub-series. “L-I” numbers generally coincide with “infringement” or possibly “investigation,” thus were placed with legal cases. “L-P” matched with documents that focus on Publicity and were sorted accordingly. In some cases, there are exceptions such as an “L-P” marked clipping that was not Lear-specific and was placed in the Research files instead of Publicity.

Note that some folders are specifically marked as “[RM files]” in the inventory by the Project Archivist. These are the former office files of Richard Marsen, patent attorney and engineer for Lear Developments and Lear Avia Inc. Marsen also did additional later work on an apparent consulting basis and not as a direct employee of a Lear company. Because Marsen was involved in many different areas of several of Lear’s businesses, and because these files were originally scattered across the collection, the folders were integrated into the appropriate company series rather than segregated into a stand-alone series.

The project archivists also undertook many preservation measures. All materials were removed from the original filing cabinets and rehoused into archival-quality boxes. Photographs and negatives were sleeved. Fragile paper materials were often interleaved or housed in paper enclosures. Unless obvious damage was visible, staples and paperclips were left in place. The majority of files were re-housed into new folders, although original folders in good condition were maintained. Oversize materials were humidified, unfolded or unrolled, and flattened as necessary and placed in appropriate oversize folders, boxes, flat file drawers and/or rolled storage. Audiovisual materials were physically segregated from paper and photographic items. Films and open-reel audio tapes were all reformatted.
Title
Guide to the William P. and Moya Olsen Lear Papers
Status
Completed - Level 3
Author
Jenn Parent, Karen Bean, Nicole Davis, Charise Dinges, Kelci Hopp, Ali Lane, Arabella Matthews
Date
2022 October
Description rules
dacs
Language of description
English
Sponsor
The processing and cataloging of the collection and digitization of select items from the collection was made possible through a major grant from the Humanities Collections and Reference Resources program of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this finding aid or in the collection, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Edition statement
1st edition

Repository Details

Part of the The Museum of Flight Archives Repository

Contact:
9404 East Marginal Way South
Seattle Washington 98108-4097
206-764-7874


The Museum of Flight | 9404 E. Marginal Way South | Seattle WA 98108-4097 | 206-764-5874
Contact us with a research request
curator@museumofflight.org