JBL TO 1981

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EARLY YEARS
LANSING MANUFACTURING
ALTEC LANSING
FOUNDING JBL
JBL TO 1981
THE MAN


Current JBL Headquarters
8500 Balboa Boulevard, Northridge California



 


During the late 1940s and early 1950s the value of the name Lansing as a trademark was rising rapidly. Although it strictly belonged to the Altec Lansing Corporation, the new company made good use of the name in the style of Jim Lansing "Signature" loudspeakers. The use of the term signature implied that one could not take a manís name away from him, even though the name had been given or sold previously as a commodity in a business transaction.


Original JBL Logo
© Harman International, Courtesy Mark Gander and John Eargle

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 the 1960s.

Early in his leadership of the company Bill Thomas made a strong commitment to design excellence and engineering integrity. An early example of this was the conversion from machined pot structures to sand cast structures that were both less expensive and provided an increase in gap magnetic flux density of 12%.


375 Compression Driver
© Harman International, Courtesy Mark Gander and John Eargle

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.


D44000 Paragon
© Harman International, Courtesy Arnold Wolf

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.


JBL D140F "Fender" Musical Instrument Driver
© Harman International, Courtesy Mark Gander and John Eargle

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 market.

The JBL Professional product line as we know it today took form in the middle to late sixties, principally under the direction of noted consultant George Augspurger.

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
(updated 2003)

 

 
 

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