The Last Thirty-Two Years

During the late forties and early fifties, the value of the name Lansing as a trade identification was extremely high.  Although it strictly belonged to the Altec Lansing Corporation, the new company made use of the name Lansing in the style of Jim Lansing “Signature” loudspeakers.  The use of the word Signature implied that one could not take a man’s name away from him, even though the name had been given or sold previously as a commodity in a business transaction.

Up to about 1955, the James B. Lansing Sound Company sold loudspeakers with the identification “Jim Lansing Signature Sound” emblazoned boldly on the pot structures.  The company was quite small at that time, but by the mid-fifties it had become apparent that the new company was here to stay and was becoming a more significant force in the marketplace.  At that time, Carrington was pressed by many of his field people to do something about this flagrant use of the name Lansing by the new company. George Carrington and Alvis Ward of Altec then entered a long round of polite out-of-court negotiations with Thomas, and they agreed that the new company would cease and desist in labelling of the product as Lansing.  A decision was made by Thomas to capitalize on the initials, JBL, in identifying the company.  The initials JBL, along with the familiar exclamation point have become synonymous with the current identity of James B. Lansing Sound, incorporated, (Nobody remembers exactly where the exclamation point came from.)

Early in his stewardship of the company, William Thomas made a commitment to design excellence and engineering integrity.  These have been apparent over the years in innovative designs in both technical and visual aspects.  In 1957, JBL departed from the standard method of making pot structures using sections of seamless steel tubing.  They introduced sand cast pot structures made of ductile iron.  This simple change decreased manufacturing costs and raised the flux density in the gap by approximately 25%.

As the consumer high fidelity movement got under way in the early and mid-fifties, Thomas secured the services of industrial designer, Robert Hartsfield, and together they created the Hartsfield system (which was still built in Japan as late as the mid eighties).  In 1954, Thomas introduced an Alnico V version of the Western Electric 594 high-frequency/driver, a four-inch diaphragm compression driver whose basic design dated back to the early thirties.  The basic design had not been available for some twenty years or so.  The new driver was dubbed the 375, and it immediately put JBL into the theatre business.  Contracts with both the Ampex Corporation and Westrex, the export division of Western Electric, brought forth a number of ancillary developments in the design of acoustic lenses and radial horns for theatre use.

One of the most striking consumer high-fidelity designs of the period was the “Paragon.”  The acoustical concept was that of Richard Ranger, a colonel in the Signal Corps who had earlier been responsible for many innovations in motion picture sound engineering.  The striking design of the Paragon remained a viable acoustical design for about a quarter century after its introduction in 1957.  Arnold Wolf of Berkeley, California, took credit for the stunning industrial design of the product.

The work completed during the mid-fifties on theatre systems provided the basis for a major thrust into the professional sound business in general.  The first area to be pursued by the company was that of studio monitor systems.  During the early 1960’s, JBL worked closely with Capitol Records to design a basic monitor system, the 4320, which put JBL into the monitor business in a big way.  Through Capitol Records’ International connections, JBL became the standard monitor of the worldwide Electrical and Musical Industries Company (EMI) of England.  These early designs and extensions of the basic technology made JBL a leading supplier of monitors worldwide.

During the Sixties

The coming of age of Rock and Roll music during the sixties underscored the need for heavy-duty transducers that could take the mighty abuse given them during concerts.  The basic Lansing design, the D130, became the signal example of what could be done in this area.  It was Leo Fender of the Fender Guitar Company who identified the D130 as the ideal loudspeaker for his electric guitar designs.  Through a contract with Fender, JBL provided a specialized version of this loudspeaker for that company.  Subsequently, JBL has manufactured a number of other designs from ten-inch models all the way up to eighteen-inch models targeted for the music performer.

The professional line as we know it today took form in the late sixties, and it was a largely consolidation of previous OEM work that had been done for various companies, such as: Ampex, Westrex, General Railway Signal, and Fender.  Thus, in a relatively short period of time, JBL came up with a full-blown line of products to serve many segments of the professional market.

In 1969, Thomas sold JBL to Sidney Harman of the Jervis Corporation.  Under the stewardship of Harman, the company grew from a relatively modest $8M gross business per year to about $60M.  In early 1977, Sidney Harman sold JBL, along with his other holdings in the high-fidelity industry, to Beatrice Foods.  Three and a half years later Harman re-acquired JBL, and the company continues as a major force in both consumer high-fidelity and professional markets.  JBL is the leading producer of branded loudspeakers in the United States today.  The company is also a significant force overseas, with more than half of the output of the company sold in export markets.

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