In 1930, AT&T‘s Western Electric established a division to install and service loudspeakers and electronic products for motion picture use. Named Electrical Research Products, Inc. and commonly referred to by the acronym ERPI, it was the target of an anti-trust suit brought by Stanley K. Oldden. By 1936, Western Electric had shed its audio equipment manufacturing and sales division, bought by International Projector and Motiograph, and was looking to dissolve the associated service division. ERPI was purchased as part of a consent decree in 1937 by a group of ERPI executives, including George Carrington, Sr., Leon Whitney “Mike” Conrow, Bert Sanford, Jr., and Alvis A. Ward, with funding from three Wall Street investors. They reincorporated as “Altec Service Company”, the “Altec” standing for “all technical”. Company executives promised they would never make or sell audio equipment.
The Altec Services Company purchased the nearly bankrupt Lansing Manufacturing Company and melded the two names, forming the Altec Lansing Corporation on May 1, 1941. The first Altec Lansing power amplifier, Model 142B, was produced that same year. James Bullough Lansing worked for Altec Lansing, then in 1946 he left to found the James B. Lansing Company (JBL), another manufacturer of high-quality professional loudspeakers, which competed with Altec Lansing.
Altec Lansing produced a line of professional and high-fidelity audio equipment, starting with a line of horn-based loudspeaker systems. First developed for use in motion picture theaters, these products were touted for their fidelity, efficiency and high sound level capability. Products included “biflex” speakers where frequency range was increased by a flexible “decoupling” of a small center area of the speaker’s cone from a larger “woofer” area; the 604-series of coaxial speakers employed a high efficiency compression drivermounted to the rear of the 604’s low-frequency magnet, and exited through a multicellular horn that passed through center of the woofer’s cone.
Altec Lansing also made the Voice of the Theatre systems. The design was the result of a collaboration between John Hilliard and Jim Lansing. The smallest of these, the A-7, used a medium-sized sectoral metal horn for high frequencies, which featured dividers (sectors) to provide control sound dispersion, plus a medium-sized wooden low-frequency enclosure, which functioned as a hybrid bass-horn/bass-reflex enclosure. The most often used Voice of the Theatre system was the A-4, many of which are still in use in motion picture theaters today. The efficiency of all of these products originally provided high sound pressure levels from the limited amplifier power available at the time. The original Voice of the Theatre series included the A-1, A-2, A-4, and the A-5. The A-7 and A-8 were designed for smaller venues.
The early products were revised and enhanced over time with the addition of rubberized speaker surrounds and other modern features. Bill Hanley used Altec high frequency drivers and horns along with JBL bass drivers in his custom built loudspeaker system for the Woodstock Festival in 1969. Some professional Altec Lansing products remained in use well into the 1990s.