Bill Lear was born in 1902 in Hannibal, Missouri. His formal education never went beyond eighth grade.
During World War I, Lear served in the U.S. Navy as a self-taught radio operator. In the 1920s, he and a partner, Elmer Wavering, invented the first practical car radio. He later sold his patents to the Galvin Corp., which eventually became the Motorola Company.
In 1930, Lear founded Lear Developments, which specialized in aerospace instruments and electronics. He invented the all-wave radio receiver, which Radio Corporation of America purchased, setting him on the road to success. He also invented the first working automobile radio, the Lear-o-scope, the automatic direction finder, the F-5 autopilot, and the first fully automatic aircraft landing system.
In 1963, Lear manufactured the Lear Jet, the first mass-produced business jet. The following year, he developed the 8-track music cartridge.