SEATTLE, June 28, 2023—The Museum of Flight Collections Department recently completed a project to catalog and digitize the world’s most comprehensive collection of materials documenting the careers of inventor/entrepreneur Bill Lear and his wife Moya Olsen Lear. And now hundreds of these rare documents and images are visible online via the Museum’s website. The collection illuminates the career of one of the most influential inventors of the 20th century, Bill Lear, whose innovations range from America’s first car radio in 1930 to the iconic Learjet of the 1960s.


The collection of William P. and Moya Olsen Lear includes more than 150,000 documents, 7000 photos, plus 2500 oversize documents and drawings. The digitized items range from 1910-2002, with selections representing more than 790 archival objects comprised of nearly 8,500 scanned pages. In addition, 215 3D objects from the collection have been photographed, with 33 sound recordings and 18 films also now digitized and online.


The collection follows the development of Lear’s career from his early days developing radios and navigational equipment, his founding of more than a dozen businesses—including the trend-setting Lear Jet Corporation—through the development of his last aviation project, Lear Fan. The collection also documents Moya's involvement in his work, her efforts to continue Lear Fan after her husband’s death in 1978, and her philanthropic endeavors. Moya Lear donated all of the materials to the Museum in 2000, and the final cataloging and digitizing of the materials was made possible with a generous grant in 2020 from the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of their Humanities Collections and Reference Resources program.


The Museum’s Supervisory Archivist, Nicole Davis, found that working with the Lear collection was constantly surprising. “He is very well known for the various business jets he designed—Learstar, Learjet, Lear Fan, etc.,” she said, “but his interests were so varied! He designed a rubber horseshoe and the 8-track player and steam-powered automobiles. He never stopped working.”


The archival finding aid with an inventory for the full collection is available on the Museum’s research portal. The collection is accessible to researchers by appointment in the Museum’s Dahlberg Research Center. To inquire about research, contact


Images: Lead image is a photograph of (from left to right) Hollywood stars Jerry Colonna, Fred MacMurray, June Haver and Bob Hope, with William P. Lear and Moya O. Lear standing beside a Lear Learstar aircraft, circa 1950s. All images credit: The William P. and Moya Olsen Lear Papers/The Museum of Flight.


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