Museum of Flight Receives NEH Grant to Work on Lear Collection

The Museum of Flight in Seattle has just received a significant grant from the NEH to work on the archives of the late aviation pioneer, William P. Lear. In this image, we see Bill Lear (left), then president of Swiss American Aviation Corp., and R.H. Breithaupt, VP of Reading Aviation Service, discuss the LearJet next to a mockup of the executive jet, one of the world's first such aircraft, at the RAS National Maintenance and Operations meeting, June 1962. (Images courtesy The William P. Lear and Moya Olsen Lear Papers/The Museum of Flight)

The Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington has just received a significant grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities which will allow the museum to process, and make more readily available, the massive collection of papers, photographs and other artifacts once belonging to aviation pioneer William P. Lear and his wife Moya Olsen Lear. Details of the project are as below…


SEATTLE, April 17, 2020—The National Endowment for the Humanities has recently awarded The Museum of Flight a $236,000 grant to process and digitize its William P. Lear and Moya Olsen Lear Papers, one of the Museum’s most important collections. Although best known for revolutionizing business air travel with the Learjet in the early 1960s, Bill Lear was one of America’s most prolific inventors from the 1920s until his death in 1978. The Museum’s collection includes corporate records from Bill Lear’s various ventures including the Learjet and LearFan, but also documents some of his earlier inventions such as the Learadio and the 8-track tape cartridge. The NEH grant will allow the Museum to not only to better care for the collection, but to increase its accessibility.

The Museum currently displays a 1964 version of his famous jet, the Learjet 23, and a prototype of his last project, the Lear Fan 2100, a radical, two-engine pusher propjet that first flew in 1981.

The William P. and Moya Olsen Lear Papers NEH Grant Project
The Museum of Flight’s NEH grant project to arrange and describe the papers of William B. and Moya Olsen Lear will create accessibility to this collection documenting Lear’s business ventures. 170 cubic feet of archival material spanning the 1920s-1995 will be arranged and described. Approximately 5,000 scans of unique items in the collection, including correspondence, photographs, patent documents, and other business materials will be made available online. In addition, approximately 260 artifacts, including model planes and invention prototypes, will be cataloged and photographed, plus 33 audio recordings and 18 films will be preserved and digitized. The collection will serve as a unique, scholarly resource that illustrates Lear’s ventures in not only aviation and consumer technology, but navigation, radio, motors, and more. The grant project will be undertaken from September 1st, 2020 through August 31st, 2022.

The Lear Development loft, circa 1935-1939. (Image courtesy The William P. Lear and Moya Olsen Lear Papers/The Museum of Flight)
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