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When Was the Flashlight Invented? Flashlight History

It all started with the prehistoric handheld torches that used fire to illumine the trails on dark nights. With the advancement of human civilization, the flickering flame of the oil and kerosene lamps was replaced by the electrical flashlight.

Today, the flashlight is an indispensable part of our lives, and we take the convenience it offers for granted. But in reality, it took decades of human ingenuity and perseverance to develop a truly portable and durable light source.

You might be wondering when was the flashlight invented.

Let’s take a deep dive into the past and find out the answer.

old bulb light

Early Origins of the Flashlight

The first step towards the development of the flashlight was the invention of the electric arc lamp by Sir Humphry Davy in 1802. However, it was not until the invention of the dry cell in 1887 that portable electric lights became a practical option.

The dry cells could be easily stored and not prone to spills or damage like the wet cells used previously. The last decade of the 19th century saw the advent of mass-produced dry-cell batteries on the market.

In 1899, a self-taught English inventor, David Misell. developed the first flashlight and patented it under US law. The light has a paper casing and a brass reflector, with a light bulb at the front end. A set of three batteries were used as the power source.

Conrad Hubert, the founder of the American Electrical Novelty and Manufacturing Company, bought Misell’s patent. A few years later, the flashlight was commercially sold under the brand name of the American Ever-Ready Company.

News flash: the name Ever-Ready was changed to Eveready in 1906, and the brand is still in business. It also includes the Energizer line of batteries.

But why were they called flashlights?

Actually, the name does not reflect positively on flashlights, but it has stuck. The early lights could not deliver a steady beam for long periods. Not only were the carbon filament bulbs inefficient, but the batteries were weak too. So, users had to turn them off frequently to keep them running for longer periods.

Due to these drawbacks, the first-generation flashlights were not so reliable and remained a novelty item.

long full size old flashlight
old metal vintage light

The War Era and the Following Decades

Things changed with the development of the tungsten-filament lamp in 1904. These bulbs lasted longer than carbon filaments and were significantly brighter. At the same time, batteries technology was developed to deliver power for longer periods.

With more light output and instant control, flashlights started replacing combustion-based lamps. By 1912, sturdier flashlight models were available for mining and public safety purposes. In time, flashlights with more powerful bulbs and sturdier designs were mass-produced.

Beyond civilian torches, military flashlights with a boxy design and a bulb at the front were also developed. The US Army used the “Beacon Army Light” developed by Beacon Electric Works, in 1917. In 1918, the Germans developed a dynamo flashlight, which was motion-powered and fixed to the uniform of the soldiers. Modern crank or shake flashlights are an offshoot of this model.

During the Second World War, British troops were issued a small hand-held light that ran on two-cell batteries. A huge surplus stock of these lamps flooded the market in the 1950s and 1960s. In the second half of the war, the model was upgraded with a more compact version.

In the same period, the US Army developed the angle head TL122 flashlight that was attached to a soldier’s web gear. The final model of this flashlight was the TL-122D which was first issued in late 1944 and used till the Korean War.

A much improved and rugged version of this flashlight made from high-impact plastic was introduced during the Vietnam War. This version, the MX-99/U model, used two “D” cell batteries. To date, the basic design of the angle-head flashlights remains similar.

Note, rechargeable flashlight technology is not a new innovation. Energizer introduced rechargeable flashlights in 1967 to reduce the impact of limited battery life on flashlights. The brand proved itself as a leader in flashlight innovation again in 1970, by launching the first waterproof flashlight.

Besides, the advancements in thermoplastic molding technology in this period resulted in various flashlight shapes and better durability.

acebeam x75 in hand

A New Era- The Rise of the LED Flashlight

The history of flashlights took a turn again after 1962 when Nick Holonyak, Jr. invented the Light-Emitting Diode (LED). The extremely low energy consumption of LEDs greatly extended the battery life of flashlights. 

Generating between 75-110 lumens/watt, LED flashlights are almost 7 times more efficient than standard incandescent bulbs. Moreover, they delivered a white light, compared to the yellow light from the older bulbs.

The newer models achieved levels of brightness and efficiency that were never seen before from incandescent bulbs. Then again in 1984, Energizer developed a 2D Halogen torch that delivered an ultra-powerful beam.

By the 1990s, LED flashlights became a popular choice in the market. Additional advancements in materials and manufacturing technology resulted in the development of robust but lightweight flashlight models. While lanterns still remained available for indoor and outdoor use, LEDs replaced the flame.

In case you are wondering, how does a flashlight work, note that the basic operating principle has remained the same. With the advent of LEDs, an inverter IC, and a few other electronic components have been added. These components boost the low-voltage generated by the batteries into high-voltage DC needed for the LED.

In the last decade, manufacturers focused on adding more and more lumens to compact and durable flashlights. At the same time, the capacity of the rechargeable batteries improved.  Today, there are multiple LED flashlight variants designed for different activities. The best EDC flashlights are super compact, waterproof, shockproof, and can deliver outputs over the 1,000-lumen mark. 

Modern flashlights are not just handheld tools but can be mounted for tactical use or attached to a keychain. Flashlights with a high color rendering index light beam enable users to observe the true colors of objects at night.

Innovations like adjustable focus, advanced durability, and laser technology have made their way into flashlight design. New advancements have also helped in developing flashlights with a flexible silicone body.

Flashlights with a combination of floodlight and spotlight beams are already available. In the future, technology can lead to the development of nano flashlights that deliver a powerful light beam.

handheld vintage flashlight 1900s

Final Thoughts

Hope this answers the question of when was the flashlight invented.

Consider this. Even today, the average number of home candle fires reported daily is 20. Christmas is the peak period for candle fires.

For the first time, it dawns on you that the invention of the humble flashlight has prevented countless incidents of fire and subsequent deaths.

Astonishing, isn’t it?If you are looking to buy a top-grade flashlight, be sure to check out some of our expert reviews.

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