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Inventors and Inventions - December 13, 2013

Q: Armed with just an eighth-grade education, this man helped develop the first practical car radio. He also invented the 8-track tape player to make the '70s sound even groovier. But most people know him best because of the cool corporate jets he built in Wichita. What's the name of this legend in aviation?William-Lear and Danny-Kaye-KHSWilliam Powell Lear, left, founder of the Learjet Corporation, with actor and entertainer Danny Kaye. Kaye, who was an excellent pilot, is shown holding a photograph of a Lear business jet. (Photo Courtesy of Kansas Historical Society /


A: Bill Lear  / William Lear (of Learjet fame)


8-track-layer Flickr_Rik-RuffThe eight-track was popular in the United States from the mid-1960s through to the early 1980s. Pictured is a 1974 Pioneer H-R99 8-Track Player/Recorder. (Flickr Photo by Rik Ruff)

William Powell Lear earned more than 100 patents for electronic devices that dramatically changed three industries - aviation, automotive and audio. Lear's inventions or co-inventions include the first practical automobile radio (made by Motorola), the airplane radio-compass and autopilot, and the eight-track tape player. Not bad for a kid who only attended Chicago public schools through the eighth grade.


Grade school gave him a good start. But so did the navy, which Lear joined at age 16, during World War I. Lear learned how to tinker with electronics. And that technical and electrical knowledge helped him later in life when he invented lots of cool stuff (again, like the 8-track tape player!). Lear was born in Hannibal, Mo., in 1902, but he became internationally famous after he came to Kansas and started building awesome personal jet planes for wealthy rock stars and the corporate elite.


Lear-Jet-Model23-SmithsonianThe first Learjets, the Model 23 Continentals (shown), were the first products of the original Learjet Corporation for the new field of business and personal jet aviation. (Photo via National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)The Learjet company he began in Wichita became the world's foremost supplier of corporate jets. It still is, even though its ownership has changed over the years. Lear died in Reno, Nev., in 1978. And while he may be gone, his iconic aircraft - the Learjet - lives on.


Fun Factoid: Bill Lear seemed to have a good sense of humor. He named one of his daughters Shanda. As in... Shanda Lear.

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