Born in Fullerton, California, Fender expressed an interest in electrical engineering at a young age. He built and repaired radios as a hobby while in high school. After graduating from high school in 1928, Fender attended Fullerton Junior College, where he majored in accounting.
After working as an accountant for the California Highway Department, Fender began working on creating an electric guitar. In 1948, he and George Fullerton designed and produced the Broadcaster, the first electric guitar created by the Fender Electric Instrument Company.
Leo Fender is particularly unique in that he never learned to play an instrument, guitar or otherwise, himself. Therefore he could approach the electric guitar unrestrained by tradition, and bring his own vision of the instrument to the public. His method of building the guitar's neck and body separately, and then bolting them together was far less expensive than the usual set-neck approach, and made his guitars more affordable to the general public than the competition's (mainly Gibson) Leo Fender could be said to be to musial instruments in the 1950s & 60's, what Henry Ford was to the automobile in the 1920s & 30's.
Fender's business took off in the 1950s, as musicians adopted his Telecaster and Stratocaster electric guitars. He continued to design new guitars such as the Jaguar and the Jazzmaster into the 1960s. In 1965, in ill health, Fender sold his company to CBS for $13 million.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Fender made guitars for Music Man and G&L Guitars. Despite suffering several small strokes, Fender continued to design and make guitars. He died in 1991 from complications due to Parkinson's disease.