Until recently, very little had been known about Jim Lansingís start in the loudspeaker business. However, thanks to Fred Peterson, some light can be shed on the earliest days. Fred is the brother-in-law of Jim Lansing and has the unique distinction of being his very first employee. The following is drawn from Fredís recollection of his association with James B. Lansing.
Jim left his family home in Springfield, Illinois in 1924, and for a period of time, worked as a shipís telegrapher on oceangoing steamships. Eventually, he ended up in Salt Lake City in 1925 for reasons that are still unknown. He apparently first worked at a local radio station as an engineer and later gained employment at the Felts Auto Parts Company. It was there that he began to pursue his interest in electronics. The owners of that business allowed him to set up a small workspace that he used to experiment with radios and loudspeakers in his off hours. Fred recalls being given an early radio that had been hand built by Jim. Fred states that this radio was superior to any that he had previously heard.
These experiments led Jim to try and seek employment in his newfound field of interest. Initially, Jim sought employment from the Baldwin Radio Company in the small farming community of East Mill Creek (now part of Salt Lake City). That firm was one of the nationís largest loudspeaker companies and was renowned as the inventor of the headphone. Jim met with the owner, Nathaniel Baldwin, but was turned down for a job. Jimís only option was to start his own company and thus he left Feltís Auto Parts in 1926 to found the Lansing Manufacturing Company.
Jim hired Fred to be his one and only employee. At the time, Fred was just 17 years old and was recruited straight out of high school. Fred was introduced to Jim through his sister, Glenna Peterson, who had met Jim at a local dance and had begun dating. They would later marry in Los Angeles in 1928.
Fred remembers that Jim set up his business in the small basement of a building in downtown Salt Lake City where access was gained through a hand operated elevator. The two of them worked together turning out loudspeakers for radio sets. Jim did all of the product development and worked side by side with Fred in building these speakers. For a time, Fredís father Andrew was drawn in to work for Jim.
The new company shipped speakers to radio manufacturers around the nation and gained enough of a reputation to attract the attention of Nathaniel Baldwin. Fred remembers when Nathaniel personally came to visit Jim Lansing in his basement workshop with an offer to buy out his business. This time, Jim Lansing turned Nathaniel Baldwin down.
Around 1926, Ken Decker became involved in the company. Jimís connection to Ken would again be the Peterson family since Ken and Fred's fathers were close childhood friends. Andrew Peterson introduced Jim to Feramorz Decker and his son Ken, who was living in Provo, Utah. Jim convinced Ken to join the company where he became a part owner and handled the business side. Ken was eight years older than Jim and brought experience and maturity to their nascent business.
Shortly after Ken joined the company, he and Jim came to the conclusion that their location in Salt Lake City held little potential for expanding the company. They decided to move the firm to Los Angeles to take advantage of a much larger market. Fred was invited to come along, but decided to stay in Salt Lake City for the time being. Up until this move, there had only ever been four people involved with Lansing Manufacturing Ė Jim Lansing, Fred Peterson, Andrew Peterson and Ken Decker.
Jim and Ken established Lansing Manufacturing as a California corporation on March 9, 1927. Their first location was on Santa Barbara Avenue (now Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd) near Figueroa St. in Los Angeles. The company expanded quickly and moved to larger premises at 6626 McKinley Avenue. The need for new staff caused Jim Lansing to again recruit his original employee - Fred Peterson.
Fred remembers getting a long distance phone call from Jim in 1929 and was convinced to join Jim's new venture. Fred had remained in contact with Jim during the two years that he stayed in Salt Lake City. He recollects that Jim would send him examples of the latest speakers he had developed and particularly recalls one unique speaker that was intended to be wall hung.
Fred started work at 6626 McKinley Avenue where he joined a workforce of around 40 employees. They were primarily turning out loudspeakers for radio companies. In fact, the McKinley location was likely chosen to be close to their largest radio customer, the Jackson Bell Co. Ltd. That company was located at the southwest corner of McKinley Avenue and Gage Street and Lansing Manufacturing was just a few buildings south. McKinley Avenue would become a center for the radio business with Jackson Bell, Lansing Manufacturing and the Peerless Transformer Company all located on the same block.
Fred worked for Lansing Manufacturing for the next five years. During this time, the company nearly doubled in size, necessitating another move in 1933 to larger premises at 6900 McKinley Street. At the new location, Lansing Manufacturing began targeting the movie sound industry in addition to their traditional radio market. In 1934, the company would begin collaboration on the Shearer horn project that firmly established Lansing Manufacturing as a major player in the movie sound market.
However, 1934 would be the last year that Fred Peterson worked for Jim Lansing. As Fred put it, to this day he is not sure if he quit or was fired. An office argument grew out of hand when Fred said he would leave by noon. Jim told him there was no point staying that long and thus they parted ways.
While they did not part on the best of terms, Fred Peterson still has fond memories of his association with Jim Lansing. As Fred states, ďworking for a relative can be difficultĒ. Nonetheless, because of their relation and longstanding association, Jim came to rely on Fred as more than just a production worker and would seek out his advice. On a number of occasions, Jim would call Fred out of the assembly plant and have him listen to development prototypes. Jim built a special sound proof room at 6900 McKinley to test loudspeaker response. Fred would often be called in to offer his opinion on the sonic performance of various design modifications.
To this day, Fred states that Jim Lansing was the most brilliant person that he has ever met. Unfortunately, Jimís intellect was countered by a temper that was prone to get out of control. Nonetheless, the singular trait that defined Jim Lansingís professional life was his dedication to his work. Fred relates that every spare hour was spent in the pursuit of perfection in the design and fabrication of loudspeakers. He would spend hours on end at the plant, often sleeping there overnight. This dedication to quality is the lasting legacy of James B. Lansing that lives on today in his namesake company.
© 2002 Don McRitchie