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A little more about Jim Lansing

An enigmatic and moody genius.

James Bullough Lansing
James Martini
January 14, 1902
Greenridge, Nilwood Township, Macoupin County, Illinois
September 24, 1949 (aged 47)
Cause of death
Engineer, inventor, designer
Lansing Manufacturing Company, Altec Lansing, JBL
Born James Martini, (1902 - 1949). Later took the name James Bullough Lansing.


Jim Lansing


  • Early years

He was born in 14 January 1902, in Greenridge, Nilwood Township, Macoupin County, Illinois to parents Henry Martini of St. Louis, Missouri and Grace Erbs Martini of Central City, Illinois. His father was a coal mining engineer which meant the family moved around quite a bit in James' early years. He was the ninth of fourteen children. He lived for a short time with the Bullough family in Springfield, Illinois and later took their name when he changed his from Martini to Lansing. No one knows where he got the name Lansing, it might have been from a street sign.

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

Lansing graduated the eighth grade from the Lawrence Middle School in Springfield, IL, and attended high school in Springfield. Even as a ten-year-old he was mechanically and electrically inclined and at one point built a Leyden jar which he used to play tricks on his friends. At about age twelve he built a small radio transmitter, which apparently reached as far as the Great Lakes Naval Station. Government representatives were soon at the family door to make sure that the set was completely dismantled.

As a young man he attended a small business college in Springfield, IL, and worked for a time as an auto mechanic specializing in precision repair work. In those days, spare auto parts were hard to come by, and Lansing developed the necessary skills in the machine shop to make many of these parts himself. At one point, the dealer for whom he worked paid his tuition for several courses at an automotive school in Detroit.

His mother died on November 1, 1924 when he was 21; he then left home. He met his future wife, Glenna Peterson, in Salt Lake City in 1925. At the time he was working for a radio station as an engineer. He also worked for the Baldwin loudspeaker company and met his future business partner, Ken Decker in the city.

  • Career

Lansing and Decker moved to Los Angeles where they set up a business manufacturing loudspeakers. It was called the Lansing Manufacturing Company. Just before the company was registered on March 9, 1927 Lansing changed his name from James Martini to James Bullough Lansing at the suggestion of his future wife, Glenna. Most of his brothers had adopted the surname Martin, two of which (Bill and George) came to LA to work with him.

Decker was killed in an airplane crash in 1939 and Lansing Manufacturing began to suffer financial difficulties without his business guidance. Altec Service Corporation bought Lansing Manufacturing in 1941, seeing the company as a valuable source for loudspeaker components. The combined company was named Altec Lansing. James B. Lansing was made VP of Engineering with a five-year contract.

In 1946, Lansing left the company on the day his contract expired and started a new company called "Lansing Sound, Incorporated". Altec Lansing had a problem with that name's similarity to trademarked brands they had developed, so James Bullough Lansing renamed his new company "James B. Lansing Sound, Incorporated". Eventually, this became shortened to JBL on product branding and then officially as the company name.

  • Death by Suicide

James Lansing was noted as an innovative engineer, but a poor businessman. As a result of deteriorating business conditions and personal issues, he took his own life by hanging himself from an avocado tree in the courtyard of his factory on September 24, 1949.

The JBL website, understandably, makes no mention of the fact that their founder and namesake killed himself, but I think this is an important insight into understanding this mysterious man, James B. Lansing.