William Lear: Inventor and Entrepreneur

William Powell Lear is an American inventor who designed the Lear jet. During his lifetime, he received more than 150 patents and established several companies. He was born in Missouri, United States on June 26 in the year 1902.

William Lear
William Lear (Credit: Kansas Historical Society)

The life of William Lear, also known as Bill Lear, is a classic American rags-to-riches story. He was born to a hardworking carpenter father and his parents separated when he was still a young boy. At 12, he devised a plan about his future. He wanted to stand on his own, earn money in a hurry by inventing something that people would buy. After completing 8th grade, he quit school. He found himself working for various companies and at 16, he lied about his age in order to be admitted to the US Navy. While with the navy, he studied radio and aircraft engineering including how to fly an airplane.

After being discharged, Bill designed his first radio but he could not produce it due to lack of money. In 1924, he sold it to Motorola. He continued to study electronics and design products such as speaker boxes and B-battery eliminator. In 1934, he designed a radio amplifier which he sold to Radio Corporation of America for a substantial sum. With this money, he set up Lear Avia Corporation to make radio and other navigational guides for aircraft. In 1939, he formed Lear Inc. to produce and market his inventions. The company earned millions of dollars supplying the US government with aircraft navigational equipment during World War II.

After the war, Bill’s company continued to introduce new electronic gadgets including miniaturized autopilot, sound systems, and communications satellite. In 1964, Bill patented the 8-track music cartridge. When his own company refused his request to finance the production of aircrafts, he formed Learjet, Inc. In 1963, it produced its first executive jet which became very popular with business executives. In the late 1960’s, he established Lear Motors Corporation to manufacture steam- powered vehicles.

William Lear died of leukemia in 1978 at the age of 75. He married 4 times and divorced 3 times. He had 7 children. In 1990, Learjet, Inc. was acquired by Bombardier Aerospace of Canada.

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