The Anatomy of a Speaker: Pt 3

15 Dec 2014

Here are some miscellaneous speaker facts:

  • The first loudspeaker was patented on December 14, 1877 by Ernest Siemens of Germany.‚Äč
  • Chester W. Rice and Edward E. Kellogg patented the modern moving loudspeaker in 1924 while working for General Electric.  Their design, sold as a feature of AC-powered radios by RCA under the name Radiola, set new standards for audio quality.  They cost $250 each, which is equivalent to about $3,000 today.
  • In the 1920s, speaker technology was developed first with movie theatres in mind.  In 1926, the Vitaphone sound system was developed at Bell Labs.  The mouth of the speaker covered 40 square feet.
  • In 1927, James Lansing formed a company that built 6- and 8-inch speaker cones for radios at a factory in South Los Angeles.


  • The first standard theatre speaker system—the one blessed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences—was installed at Loews’ Capital Theatre on Broadway in 1935.  The theatre sat 5,000 patrons. The first film to benefit from this new technology was Romeo and Juliet starring Norma Shearer, the sister of Douglas Shearer, one of the co-inventors of the new system at MGM.  It was known as the Shearer-MGM System.
  • In 1938, Western Electric, the dominant company in movie sound, was forced by the US government to divest itself of certain parts of the company.  This resulted in the formation of a new company called Altec (short for “All Technical”) Service Corporation.  Lansing sold his company to Altec in 1941, creating Altec Lansing.
  • Paul Klipsch’s design for the corner horn speaker was granted a patent on February 8, 1943.
  • JBL—the initials of James B. Lansing—was created in October 1946 after sitting out a five-year non-compete clause following the sale of his first company to Altec.
  • JBL provided speaker components for Fender amplifiers so they could handle the heavy demands of rock music.  The company also became well known for its studio monitors.
  • In 1954, Edgar M. Villchur invented the acoustic suspension woofer.  This breakthrough in speaker design allowed for small speakers cabinets to pump out more bass.  When his company, Acoustic Research, marketed the AR-1 to consumers ($185 at the time or about $1,500 today), the home hi-fi revolution really got underway.  Good sound no longer required speakers the size of refrigerators.  Villchur sold the company in 1967.  His new non-profit company developed a device that’s the basis of much of what is used in today’s hearing aids.
  • The Quad ESL, the first consumer electrostatic loudspeaker, was launched in 1957.
  • Cabesse, a French company, began selling the first box-enclosed loudspeakers in 1958.
  • The first movie to use the THX sound system designed by George Lucas and Tomlinson Holman was Return of the Jedi in 1982.
  • One of the most expensive pieces of consumer stereo gear ever created were a pair of custom made Organic Harmony speakers by Shape Audio.  They were constructed out of 18k solid gold and sold for $6,950,000.
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