Up to about 1955, James B. Lansing Sound
sold loudspeakers with the signature logo emblazoned boldly on the pot
structures. The company had grown rapidly, and by the mid-1950s it became
apparent that the company was becoming a very significant force in the
marketplace. Carrington was pressed by many of his field people to do
something about this flagrant use of the Lansing name. Carrington and Alvis
Ward of Altec Lansing entered into polite out-of-court negotiations with
Bill Thomas, and all agreed that the
new company would cease and desist from labeling the product as Lansing. A
brilliant decision was made by Thomas to label the product as JBL, while
retaining the company name James B. Lansing Sound, Incorporated. The JBL
initials, along with the familiar exclamation point, soon became known
worldwide. In a sense, the new logo was to represent the rapid ascent of the
companyís fortunes and reputation during the late 1950s and the decade of
Thomas projected a new technical image for the company with the introduction of many new transducer products, all of them designed and built to the highest standards. The Western Electric 594 driver, long absent from professional sound, was effectively "re-invented" using Alnico V as the model 375 and was adopted by both Ampex and Westrex (the export wing of Western Electric) as an essential component in their theater systems. With the further introduction of radial horns, various acoustic lenses, and the remarkable 075 UHF ring radiator, Thomas was positioning JBL for a major entry into the professional sound field, an area long held as the private preserve of Altec Lansing and RCA. Noted engineers Bart Locanthi and Ed May were was responsible for most of these designs.
As the high fidelity market grew through the 1950s, the introduction of such models as the Hartsfield and the Paragon gained high visibility for JBL. The 1957 Paragon, a stereo system in a single large enclosure, was the concept of Richard Ranger, who had earlier been involved in the conversion of motion picture sound to multichannel. Berkeley industrial designer Arnold Wolf was responsible for the stunning visual design of the Paragon. Though it clearly speaks to its own era, the design is essentially timeless. More than 1000 Paragons were built by JBL over a 25-year period.
During the 1960s JBL began to make inroads into the recording studio market. Through Capitol Records in Hollywood, JBL introduced the 4320 series monitors. The basic design and derivatives of it were broadly adopted worldwide by Capitolís parent company EMI.
The coming of rock and roll music in
the1960s underscored the need for heavy-duty transducers that could handle
the heavy abuse given them during live concerts. Leo Fender, of Fender
Guitar fame, identified the D130
as the ideal driver for his electric guitar systems, and JBL provided a
specialized version of this driver for the Fender company. Subsequently, JBL
designed comprehensive product groups aimed at all aspects of the music
In 1969 Thomas sold James B. Lansing Sound, Incorporated, to Sidney Harman of the Jervis Corporation. Under the astute leadership of Harman, the company grew from relatively modest gross sales of about $8 million in 1969 to about $60 million in 1981. Prior to joining the Carter Administration in 1977, Harman sold JBL and his other holdings in consumer and professional sound to Beatrice Foods. Three and one-half years later, Harman reacquired a number of these companies, including JBL. The company continues as a leading producer of branded loudspeakers worldwide, with more than half its output sold in export markets.
© 1981 John Eargle