Bill Lear

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Bill Lear
Born June 26, 1902(1902-06-26) Hannibal, Missouri
Died May 14, 1978(1978-05-14) (aged 75) Reno, Nevada
Cause of death Leukemia
Nationality American
Occupation Engineer, Inventor
Employer Learjet
Known for car radio, Lear Jet
Spouse Ethel Peterson Lear Madeline Murphy Lear Margret Radell Moya Olsen Lear
Children Mary Louise, William, Jr., Patti, John, Shanda, David, and Tina

William (Bill) Powell Lear (June 26, 1902 – May 14, 1978) was an American inventor and businessman. He is best known for founding the Lear Jet Corporation, a manufacturer of business jets. He also invented the first car radio and developed the 8-track cartridge, an audio tape system which was widely used in the 1960s and 1970s.

Early life

Lear was born in Hannibal, Missouri as an only child. He later moved with his family to Chicago, where he attended school until the eighth grade. He enlisted in the United States Navy during World War I, serving as a radio operator. Lear had no formal education past the eighth grade other than the courses which he took in the Navy.


In the 1920s, Lear and a partner, Elmer Wavering, invented the first practical car radio, calling it "Motorola" (a combination of motor and Victrola). The two couldn’t afford the booth fees at an automobile trade show to advertise their new invention, so they parked outside of the convention center’s parking lot and played the radio from their car, attracting orders as people walked by. They eventually sold their patents to Paul Galvin of the Galvin Manufacturing Corporation (which would later become Motorola). In 1930, Lear used his profits from the sale of his car radio patents to found Lear Developments, a company specializing in aerospace instruments and electronics. Lear developed radio direction finders, autopilots, and the first fully automatic aircraft landing system. Lear also developed and marketed a line of panel-mounted radios for general aviation. His "LearAvian" series of portable radios, which incorporated radio direction finder circuits as well as broadcast band coverage, were especially popular.

Lear changed the name of Lear Developments to Lear Incorporated and in 1949 opened a manufacturing facility in Santa Monica, California.

In 1960, Lear moved to Switzerland and founded the Swiss American Aviation Company. In 1962 he sold Lear Incorporated to the Siegler Corporation after having failed to persuade its board to go into the aircraft manufacturing business. That company thereafter was known as Lear Siegler. Bill Lear next moved to Wichita, Kansas to manufacture the Lear Jet. On October 7, 1963, Lear Jet started test flights on the Learjet 23, the first mass produced business jet.


Lear developed the Lear Jet Stereo 8 music cartridge in 1964, better-known as the "8-track". This was an eight track variation of the four track Muntz Stereo-Pak tape cartridge, marketed by Earl "Madman" Muntz in California in 1962, itself a version of a 3-track system, Fidelipac. The 8-track was a commercial success that had good audio quality and was easily adapted to vehicle and home use. It was a solution to the need for a convenient music source for his new business jets. The consumer version of players for these tapes first appeared in September 1965 in 1966 model Ford automobiles with RCA and Lear offering the first pre-recorded Stereo 8 Music Cartridges.

The successful Canadair Regional Jet is largely based on Lear’s design for the LearStar 600, which Canadair bought and turned into the Canadair CL-600 Challenger business jet. Lear Jet was acquired in 1990 by Bombardier Aerospace.

In 1968, Lear also started work on a closed circuit steam turbine to power cars and buses, and built a transit bus and converted a Chevrolet Monte Carlo sedan to use this turbine system. It used a proprietary working fluid dubbed “Learium”, possibly a chlorofluorocarbon similar to DuPont Freon.

In 1969 Lear, and his friend Art Linkletter, offered their support for Craig Breedlove’s supersonic car project.

In the early 1970s, Lear backed the Foxjet ST600 with its first order. The Very Light Jet project failed, but the VLJ concept became popular again 30 years later.

One of Lear’s most innovative projects was his last — a revolutionary aircraft called the LearAvia Lear Fan 2100, a seven-passenger aircraft whose single pusher propeller was powered by two turbine engines. The fuselage of this aircraft was made of lightweight composite materials, instead of the more typical aluminum alloys. Though many years in development, the Lear Fan was ultimately never completed. At the time of his death he begged his wife, Moya, to finish it; with the help of investors, she attempted to do so, but the aircraft failed to obtain FAA certification and never made it into production.

Personal life

Lear had a total of seven children, born from 1925 to 1954. With his first wife, Ethel Peterson Lear, Mary Louise was born January 1925. He married his second wife Madeline Murphy in October 1926. Their son, Bill Lear, Jr., was born on May 24, 1928. His third marriage to Margret Radell was childless.[citation needed] In 1941, Lear married his fourth wife Moya Marie Olsen, daughter of Vaudeville comedian John "Ole" Olsen. Bill and Moya Lear would have four children together: John Olsen Lear was born in 1942, Shanda in 1944, David in 1948 and Tina in 1954.[citation needed] Lear’s son John is an accomplished pilot and renowned ufologist.

Although he had a reputation of being difficult, Lear reportedly had a good sense of humor, as evidenced by naming his second daughter Shanda (~”chandelier”).

The 75-year-old Lear died of leukemia in Reno, Nevada on May 14, 1978. His remains were cremated and scattered at sea.

Tributes and honors

  • In 1974, Lear was awarded the Tony Jannus Award for his distinguished contributions to aviation.
  • In 2003, Hannibal Municipal Airport was renamed the Hannibal Regional Airport, William P. Lear Field in honor of Lear.
  • He was awarded the Elliott Cresson Medal in 1972.


  • On aerodynamics: “If it looks good, it will fly good.”
  • On management: “If you put up half of the money, you get to make half of the decisions.”
  • On electronics: “There’s only one thing worse than an intermittent, that’s an intermittent intermittent.”
  • On weight reduction in the Learjet: “I’d sell my grandmother to save one pound.”


  1. Stim, Richard and David Pressman. “Patent Pending in 24 Hours.” Nolo, 2007, p. 20. ISBN 1-41330-511-3.
  2. “Vintage Audio History .” Video Interchange. Retrieved: April 14, 2009.
  4. William Lear, Jr. died December 14, 2009, age 81, in Daytona Beach, Florida.
  5. “Moya Lear.” All Aviation FlightLine OnLine, Airport Fence Productions, Inc. Retrieved: April 14, 2009.
  6. Close 1989
  • Boesen, Victor.They Said It Couldn’t Be Done: The Incredible Story of Bill Lear. New York: Doubleday & Co., 1971. ISBN 0-385-01841-X.
  • Close, Dan. “Love Him or Hate Him. Bill Lear was a Creator”. The Wichita Eagle, April 29, 1985. Retrieved: July 7, 2007.
  • Rashke, Richard.Stormy Genius: The Life of Aviation’s Maverick, Bill Lear. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1985. ISBN 0-395-35372-6.

External links