THE HISTORY OF JBL
JBL was founded by James Bullough Lansing (1902–1949) who was an American audio engineer and loudspeaker designer most notable for establishing two audio companies that bear his name, Altec Lansing and JBL, the latter taken from his initials.
Lansing and his business partner Ken Decker started a company in 1927, in Los Angeles, manufacturing six- and eight-inch speaker drivers for radio consoles and radio sets. The company was called "Lansing Manufacturing Company", from March 1, 1927.
In 1933, head of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) sound department, Douglas Shearer, dissatisfied with the loudspeakers of Western Electric and RCA, decided to develop his own. John Hilliard, Robert Stephens and John F. Blackburn were part of the team that developed the Shearer Horn, with Lansing Manufacturing producing the 285 compression driver and the 15XS bass driver. The Shearer Horn gave the desired improvements and Western Electric and RCA received the contracts to each build 75 units, with Western Electric calling them "Diaphonics" and RCA using them in their RCA Photophones. Lansing Manufacturing was the only one selling them as Shearer Horns. In 1936, the Shearer Horn received the Academy Scientific and Technical Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Based on the experience developed with the Shearer Horn, Lansing produced the Iconic System loudspeaker for cinemas. The Iconic was a two-way speaker using a 15-inch woofer for the low frequencies and a compression driver for the highs.
In 1939, Decker was killed in an airplane crash, the company soon began having financial troubles and, in 1941, Lansing Manufacturing Company was bought by Altec Service Corporation, after which the name changed to "Altec Lansing". After Lansing's contract expired in 1946, he left Altec Lansing and founded Lansing Sound in which later the name changed to "James B. Lansing Sound" and was further shortened to "JBL Sound".
In 1946, JBL produced their first products, the model D101 15-inch loudspeaker and the model D175 high-frequency driver. The D175 remained in the JBL catalog through the 1970s. Both of these were near-copies of Altec Lansing products. The first original product was the D130, a 15-inch transducer for which a variant remained in production for the next 55 years. The D130 featured a four-inch flat ribbon wire voice coil and Alnico V magnet. Two other products were the 12-inch D131 and the 8-inch D208 cone drivers.
The Marquardt Corporation gave the company early manufacturing space and a modest investment. William H. Thomas, the treasurer of Marquardt Corporation, represented Marquardt on Lansing's board of directors. In 1948, Marquardt took over operation of JBL. In 1949, Marquardt was purchased by General Tire Company. The new company, not interested in the loudspeaker business, severed ties with Lansing. Lansing reincorporated as James B. Lansing and moved the newly formed company to its first private location, on 2439 Fletcher Drive, Los Angeles.
A key to JBL's early development was Lansing's close business relationship with its primary supplier of Alnico V magnetic material, Robert Arnold of Arnold Engineering. Arnold saw JBL as an opportunity to sell Alnico V magnetic materials into a new market.
Lansing was noted as an innovative engineer, but a poor businessman. Decker, his business partner, had died in 1939 in an airplane crash. In the late 1940s, Lansing struggled to pay invoices and ship product. Possibly as a result of deteriorating business conditions and personal issues, he committed suicide on September 4, 1949. The company then passed into the hands of Bill Thomas, JBL's vice-president. Lansing had taken out a $10,000 life insurance policy, naming the company as the beneficiary, a decision that allowed Thomas to continue the company after Lansing's death. Soon after, Thomas purchased Mrs. Lansing's one-third interest in the company and became the sole owner. Thomas is credited with revitalizing the company and spearheading a period of strong growth for the two decades following the founding of JBL
Early products included the model 375 high-frequency driver and the 075 ultra high frequency (UHF) ring-radiator driver. The ring-radiator drivers are also known as "JBL bullets" because of their distinctive shape. The 375 was a re-invention of the Western Electric 594 driver but with an Alnico V magnet and a four-inch voice coil. The 375 shared the same basic magnet structure as the D-130 woofer. JBL engineers Ed May and Bart N. Locanthi created these designs.
Two products from that era, the Hartsfield and the Paragon, continue to be highly desired on the collectors' market.
In 1955 the brand name JBL was introduced to resolve ongoing disputes with Altec Lansing Corporation. The company name "James B. Lansing Sound, Incorporated", was retained, but the logo name was changed to JBL with its distinctive exclamation point.
The JBL 4320 series studio monitor was introduced through Capitol Records in Hollywood and became the standard monitor worldwide for its parent company, EMI. JBL's introduction to rock and roll music came via the adoption of the D130 loudspeaker by Leo Fender's Fender Guitar Company as the ideal driver for electric guitars.
In 1969, Thomas sold JBL to the Jervis Corporation (later renamed "Harman International"), headed by Sidney Harman. The 1970s saw JBL become a household brand, starting with the famous L-100, which was the best-selling loudspeaker model of any company to that time. The 1970s were also a time of major JBL expansion in the professional audio field from their studio monitors. By 1977, more recording studios were using JBL monitors than all other brands combined, according to a Billboard survey. The JBL L-100 and 4310 control monitors were popular home speakers. In the late 1970s, the new L-series designs L15, L26, L46, L56, L86, L96, L112, L150, and later the L150A and flagship L250 were introduced with improved crossovers, ceramic magnet woofers, updated midrange drivers, and aluminum-deposition phenolic resin tweeters. In the mid-1980s the designs were again updated and redesigned with a new titanium-deposition tweeter diaphragm. The new L-series designations being the L20T, L40T, L60T, L80T, L100T, the Ti-series 18Ti, 120Ti, 240Ti, and the flagship 250Ti. To test speaker drivers, JBL in Glendale and Northridge used the roof as an outdoor equivalent to an anechoic chamber.