Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A Few Words on Flashlights

Those who don't know me well are reading the title of this post and thinking  'really?  Flashlights? She's scraping the barrel this time'.  But those who do know me well are thinking 'aw gee, Laurie and her flashlights'.

You see -- I like flashlights.  I mean, I REALLY like flashlights.  Don't know why, I just do.  I'd tell you how many I have, but it would take far too long to count them.  I have a couple of the big ones - you know, the kind that take one humongous battery.

I have floating ones, flashing ones, ones with red lens covers, flashlights with the little bulb at the end, and of course LED flashlights.  I have flashlights that I hold, and flashlights that I wear.  I have flashlights that take AA batteries, C batteries, and AAA batteries, .. and I even have one that takes no batteries at all, you just crank it.  Oh wait, I have another battery-less flashlight that you shake in order to charge it up.

Now, in case you haven't heard, here in New England we've had some tough weather lately.  We've had a few times when we keep flashlights handy because there's a worry about power outages, and on one occasion a  space heater left on too long blew a fuse, resulting in a trip down to the basement - with flashlight in hand, of course.

And all of this got me thinking --  where did the word 'flashlight' come from?  Before flashlights, I imagine people used lanterns.  So my guess was that perhaps one of the early reasons why flashlights became popular was because you could flick the switch on and off... in other words you could flash your light.  Yes, yes, I know my British friends use the word torch to mean a flashlight, because the flashlight replaced torches... but I'm not in Britain so I call them flashlights.

I headed off to the internet to see what I could find, and thought I'd share this with you.

First, the modern flashlight was invented in 1898 by Joshua Lionel Cowen -- more on him, later.  As I looked at the listing of different kinds and different power sources, I was pleased to see that I had at least one of each!  Oh Wait!!!  I'm missing one -- apparently there are solar powered flashlights.   I might have to find one of those.

But moving on...

The batteries used in early flashlights required periodic 'resting', in order to function.  In addition, they used very inefficient.  As a result of all of this, it was only possible to use them in brief flashes --  and so they were called flashlights.  Ok, so I was right that the light flashed, but it turns out it wasn't intentional, it was more of a design flaw until inventors could come up with better batteries and better bulbs.  Wow.  Turning on the light, and then having to rest it, and then turning it on again, and then resting it again...sounds like a real nuisance, but before you wonder why people bothered, remember that before flashlights - choices were limited to candles, lanterns, and torches. If flashlights had been around during the time of Frankenstein's monster, the Bavarian villagers might simply have stormed the castle, rather than burning it down!

So there you have it.. oh wait, I told you I had a bit more about Joshua Lionel Cowen.  Mr. Cowen invented lots of things one of which was an illuminated flower pot.  You never hear of this, right? That's because the idea never took off, and he gave the project away to one of his salesman. That salesman modified the idea and turned it into the American Eveready Company - - yes, the home of the Eveready battery.  Don't feel bad for Mr. Cowen though, because his true love was actually model railroads and trains, and he went on to become one of the founders of the Lionel Corporation - the maker of model railroads and toy trains.

From torches, to flash lights, to flashlights, to eveready batteries.  What more could you ask for?

And now, for a cup of tea.


  1. So the light at the end of the tunnel was indeed a train? ;-)
    Great story!
    Around these parts flashlights and similar are most often referred to as receptacles for dead batteries...

  2. And here I thought you were going to talk about the flashlight addiction that was passed down to you from your dad! That's certainly where I got mine.