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History Files: James B. Lansing & The Creation Of JBL

From modest beginnings, James B. Lansing was to create a leading producer of branded loudspeakers in the United States

By John M. Eargle March 29, 2016

Lansing Manufacturing Employees (James B. Lansing, Front Center). © Harman International, Courtesy Mark Gander and John Eargle.

The Early Years
James Bullough Lansing was born James Martini, 14 January 1902, in Macoupin County, Millwood Township, Illinois.

His parents were Henry Martini, born in St. Louis, Missouri, and Grace Erbs Martini, born in Central City, Illinois. The elder Martini was a coal mining engineer, and his work required that the family moved about quite a bit during Lansing’s early years.

Lansing was the ninth of fourteen children, one of whom died in infancy. For a short time, Lansing lived with the Bullough family in Litchfield, Illinois. He later took their name when he changed his from Martini to Lansing.

Not much is known about Lansing’s early days, and we are indebted to Bill Martin, one of three surviving brothers, for providing most of the information presented here.

Lansing graduated the eighth grade at the Lawrence School in Springfield, Illinois. He also attended the Springfield, Illinois, High School. Later, he took courses in a small business college in Springfield.

As a young lad he was very interested in all things electrical and mechanical. At about the age of 10, he built a Leyden Jar which he used to play pranks on his playmates. He also constructed crystal sets, and at one time, probably about the age of 12 or so, built a small radio transmitter from scratch.

The signals from this set were apparently strong enough to reach the Great Lakes Naval Station in Illinois; naval personnel determined the source of these signals and later supervised the timely dismantling of the young Lansing’s radio transmitter.

For a while Lansing worked as an automotive mechanic, specializing in fine engine repair work. He attended an automotive school for mechanics in Detroit through the courtesy of the dealer he worked for in Springfield.

Lansing’s mother died 1 November 1924 at the age of 56, and at that time Lansing left home. As best we can determine, he went directly to Salt Lake City.

Mrs. Lansing, the former Glenna Peterson of Salt Lake City, tells of meeting Lansing in 1925 in that city.

At the time he was working for a radio station as an engineer. In addition, he worked for the Baldwin loudspeaker company in Salt Lake City for a time. He also met his future business partner, Ken Decker, in Salt Lake City.

The Lansing Manufacturing Company
Lansing and Decker moved on to Los Angeles where they set up a business manufacturing loudspeakers to be used primarily in radio sets and consoles.

The Lansing Manufacturing Company was registered as a California corporation 9 March 1927.

Just prior to this, James Martini changed his name to James Bullough Lansing. We have no idea why he chose the name Lansing, while most of his brothers had simply adopted the name of Martin.

Bill Martin came out to join his brother in 1930, and another brother, George, came at a later date. In 1930 there were no more than 40 employees at the Lansing Manufacturing Company.

Some of the early products included armature loudspeakers, which are known today only as museum curiosities. Other loudspeaker products made use of traditional field coils as well as early permanent magnets.

This was truly a cottage industry. The family would make cones and wind coils at home in the evening, and the parts would be taken in to be assembled the next day. The company experienced hard times during these years of the depression.

Most of Lansing’s customers were radio set manufacturers, many of them located in the Midwest.

The company’s products were largely eight- and six-inch loudspeakers. What few larger models were made were used only in luxury console radios. The company established its permanent headquarters at 6900 McKinley Avenue in South Los Angeles.

The Rise Of The Motion Picture Sound Business
In the late twenties, the success of “The Jazz Singer” established sound as the new standard for the motion picture theater. Western Electric, the manufacturing arm of AT&T, was destined to rule that business for many years.

The vast resources of Bell Laboratories had been brought to bear on problems of recording, reproducing, and allied arts, and as a result they were able to mount the required technology for manufacturing in fairly short order.

Electrical Research Products Incorporated (ERPI) was set up as a distribution company by Western Electric as a means of servicing the motion picture industry.

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