Flashlight, "USALite Swivel-Head", 1941. Gift of Max Pine. 1999-53-12-a,b.

A handheld light

Our constant quest for illumination has driven such inventions as oil lamps, batteries, phosphorescent matches, electricity, the light bulb, and, most recently, LED technology. In the late 1890s, the first flashlight was conceived for safe handheld use. Powered by a large dry-cell battery pack, it generated only enough power for the light to shine for a moment or two at a time—ergo, the name “flashlight.” New York City police were among the first to use these early flashlights.

The flashlight became a popular household tool beginning in 1910 due to advancements in batteries and the introduction of the tungsten filament bulb. Flashlights began taking the form of portable vest-pocket models, lanterns, and lamps. A brochure by manufacturer Eveready, titled 101 Uses for an Eveready, describes the flashlight as “the light that does not flicker in a draught, extinguish in the wind, and is controlled instantly by finger pressure. It’s the light everyone needs.” The brochure included such suggested uses as reading fruit labels, identifying refrigerator contents, filling gas stove tanks, and signaling with Morse code.

Museum Number: 
1999-53-12-a,b