Dr. John F. Blackburn has to be considered the technical expert behind Lansing Manufacturing. He was also the link that brought MGM and Lansing Manufacturing together on the most significant loudspeaker development of the decade - the Shearer Project.
Dr. Blackburn received his doctoral degree in physics at the California Institute of Technology in 1932. After graduation, he continued to work at Cal Tech as a research associate. That employment led to his introduction to John Hilliard, whose wife Jessaime, was doing radiology research at the same lab. Through John, he became interested in broadcast and film work.
The depression was in its depths and it was a difficult time on a research associate's salary. In 1934, an opportunity arose to pursue his newfound interests and work full time in industry. That opportunity was to become a design engineer at Lansing Manufacturing. He met with James Lansing and his partner, Ken Decker, who agreed to offer him a position.
Shortly after joining the firm, Jim Lansing and Dr. Blackburn attended the Society of Motion Picture Engineers (SMPE) show at Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood. Their impressions of the poor state of movie sound systems demonstrated there, and Dr. Blackburn's close association with John Hilliard, started the chain of events that led to the Shearer Project. That project, under the auspices of the head of MGM's sound department, Douglas Shearer, had the intent of radically improving the quality of theater loudspeakers.
Dr. Blackburn's initial responsibility on the Shearer Project involved design work on the new Lansing model 284 compression driver. He also had involvement in the development of the 15XS bass driver; however, Jim Lansing had overall responsibility for that design. Later, he would work with Lansing to modify the 284 design to address a perceived patent issue which resulted in the model 285.
After the completion of the Shearer Project, Dr. Blackburn worked closely with Jim Lansing on the development of a new, small two-way loudspeaker project. That project was the development of the Lansing Manufacturing Iconic. In its market, that speaker was to prove as influential as the Shearer Horn.
The roles of Jim Lansing and Dr. John Blackburn in the design of Lansing Manufacturing systems and individual drivers are not entirely clear. Given his greater theoretical background, it is likely that Dr. Blackburn had greater responsibility in high level, technical design work. Jim Lansing's greatest strength was in translating theoretical designs into practical, production units. There is no doubt that Lansing and Blackburn worked closely together in all development work.
Dr. Blackburn left Lansing Manufacturing in 1938. He would go on to gain renown for a research career at MIT and Raytheon.
© 2000 Don McRitchie