Truck Trend Legends: The History of Maglite
It’s not called a Maglite because it’s magnetic: the casing is actually anodized aluminum, so it’s only somewhat sticky. No, this famous flashlight was named after the man who originated it: Anthony Maglica.
Maglica was born in New York City in 1930 to a family with Croatian roots. He actually grew up in Croatia and did not speak any English during the early part of his life. In 1950, when a communist government was running a then-chaotic Yugoslavia, he decided to head back to the United States. Settling in Los Angeles, he taught himself English and, because he had trained as an experimental machinist, bought a lathe. Back in those days, Southern California had a strong aviation industry and Maglica went into business making specialist aluminum parts.
The mists of history are a bit murky as to exactly when and how the “light bulb moment” occurred that spurred Maglica to get involved with light bulbs, but we can safely assume that the only flashlights available at the time did not meet this engineer’s high standards. We do know that he applied his perfectionist approach and metalworking skills to fashion the Maglite from aero-grade 6061 aluminum.
Since its debut in 1979, Maglites have been used by police and fire departments all over the country—and military units in all parts of the world—because they are tough and dependable, and they prove their worth whenever extreme conditions arise. They illuminated houses during Hurricanes Matthew and Sandy, and they‘ve even proved their worth in a nuclear submarine when the power supply went down.
A Maglite will survive harsh winters and will still work even after being run over by trucks. One owner mislaid his Maglite on his property and found it buried in mud 22 years later. He cleaned it up, put in new batteries, and the thing functioned perfectly. Maglica even developed underwater lighting that was used by the renowned Jacques Costeau.
Maglites are known for their efficient use of battery power, which is great for everyone, but especially for the eye surgeon (and patient) who had to perform an operation in the wilds of Belize with only a Maglite to help him see what he was doing.
And they look really cool too. The Maglite has been honored by the Institute of Design in Japan and Germany’s Museum for Applied Art. Recognized as one of the top 100 products that America makes best, described as “the Cadillac of flashlights” and “a work of art that works.” That latter description is surely every industrial designer’s dream.
The tail caps of some models hold a spare bulb. The spread of the beam can be changed by twisting the lens. Or remove the head completely for “candle mode.” As technology marches inexorably on, the range now includes light-emitting diodes (LED) and rechargeable batteries.
Maglites are made in America and always have been. The company is based in Ontario—the one in Southern California, not Canada. It is also the birthplace of musician Frank Zappa, incidentally.
The company makes a point of doing the right thing beyond manufacturing. It donated 3,000 flashlights to search and rescue teams at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon following the 9/11 attacks. It also contributes to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and several other deserving causes, including the American Red Cross. No wonder so many of us carry a torch for Maglite.
Shop around and you’ll find a Maglite suitable to put in a purse or on a keyring for under $10. That’s a pretty reasonable price for an American icon. Oh, by the way, there’s a National Flashlight Day in the United States. Who knew? Fittingly, it’s on December 21, the shortest day of the year.