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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Great American Flashlight

So that the record of history is absolutely crystal clear. That there is no alternative way, so far discovered, of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by a free enterprise system. — Milton Friedman

If you watch any CSI or other police show you will see the detectives and criminalists perusing the crime scene with those little flashlights. They use them to look about the crime scene whether day or night. Those little flashlights are called Maglites and come in many sizes including the favorite of police offices, the 5D battery size than can double as an effective truncheon and illuminate a scene up to 100 feet away. Maglites are the largest selling flashlights in the world with annual sales surpassing $150 million dollars a year.

Many police officers carry Maglites, as they are durable, focusable, and generally produce better output than inexpensive mass market flashlights.

Maglite flashlights have been known to be used as mêlée weapons. Security and police personnel often carry Maglite flashlights as they can be employed as a defensive weapon, especially at night or in dark locations. Police officers will often use Maglites during traffic stops or suspect confrontation, as the beam can disorient an attacker and the flashlight can be swung as a baton as a measure of last resort in self-defense.

Maglites are manufactured by Mag Instrument, Inc. at its plant located inMagLiteFlashlight Ontario. Mag Instrument employs 900 people and in 2004 reported sales of $150 million dollars. In 2006 the company began construction of a new $80 million, 700,000-square-foot facility. It was expected to house a total of 2,400 employees after its scheduled opening in 2006. The company's long-term goal was to increase exports to at least half of total sales.

So how did this little flashlight make such a hit and why is its company founder, Tony Maglica, a perfect example of the “American Dream.”

Maglite was introduced in 1979. Constructed principally of anodized 6061 aluminum, they have a variable-focus beam. Maglites are produced in several colors such as black, silver, blue, and red and different finishes. Originally Maglite flashlights used krypton or xenon incandescent bulbs. Current models have LEDs.

Accessories include belt holsters, mounting brackets, colored and glass lenses, attachable fiber optics extensions, higher-powered incandescent bulbs, and LED conversion modules. The Maglite was an improvement over the Kel-Lite, after which the Maglite was patterned.

Company founder Anthony Maglica was born in New York City in 1930, at the beginning of the Great Depression. He moved with his mother to her homeland of Croatia at age two. He was eventually trained as a machinist in Europe.

According to Maglica the WWII occupation of Croatia and the severe policies carried out by the Nazi puppet government of Ante Pavelić and ultranationalist Ustaše thugs were very hard on his mother and him. As poor farmers there were many times they nothing to eat and at one point his mother took a rock and knocked out her gold tooth to use to purchase food. He saw people rounded up and summarily executed or relocated to concentration camps where the eventually died from disease, starvation or brutality.

After the fall of the Nazi puppet government Croatia fell under the sphere of the Soviet Union and the equally brutal policies of Stalin. By the age of twenty Tony was very familiar with the tyranny of Socialism, Fascism and Communism. He wanted nothing to do with any of them and looked toward the West and the United States where he could live free and pursue his own course.

In 1950, Maglica returned to the United States with little knowledge of English but ample faith in the free enterprise system. According to the Business Press of California, he was unable to find anything but sewing work in New York City, so he moved west. He operated a lathe for Long Beach-based Pacific Valve Co. and then A.O. Smith Water Products Co., an East Los Angeles manufacturer of water heaters.

In 1955 he set up a small job shop in his garage in Los Angeles as a side venture. His start-up capital was the $125 he had saved, just enough for a down payment on a $1,000 lathe.

The business was incorporated on September 25, 1974, as Mag Instrument, Inc. By this time, Maglica was producing artillery shells. He also was making components for a flashlight manufacturer. Dismayed by the poor quality of their product, in 1976 he decided to build a better flashlight. At the time, most were cheap and virtually disposable. They had lousy reflectors and weak incandescent bulbs that drained batteries very quickly.

After three years, Maglica came up with a design that was tough and durable, with anodized aluminum housing rather than plastic. Called the Maglite, it was initially marketed toward law enforcement and rescue personnel. The flashlight also was designed to be attractive to civilians. Sportsmen were another early target market.

The Maglite, introduced in 1979, was a critical and commercial success. It won numerous accolades from product design circles as it made its way into home improvement chains and department stores. The Maglite Rechargeable Flashlight System (Mag Charger) was introduced in 1982.

That year, Maglica relocated the firm, which then had 80 employees, to a new 126,000-square-foot factory in Ontario, California, about 50 miles east of Los Angeles. Using his tooling experience, Maglica designed the machinery for the plant himself.

According to California's Business Press, a 1984 lawsuit against U.S. retailers who had imported cheap knock-offs of the Maglite flashlights was a turning point for the company in more ways than one. While Mag won the suit, instead of pursuing a cash award, Maglica had the retailers buy five Mag flashlights for every imported copy they had sold. This was an effective way to gain a great deal of shelf space, as the merchants included Sears, Roebuck & Co. and Kmart Corporation.

The original Maglite ran on D cells. In 1984 the company unveiled a smaller flashlight called the Mini Maglite, which ran on AA batteries. A still smaller AAA version came out three years later. The key ring-sized Solitaire flashlight was introduced in 1988. In the mid-1980s, Maglica also developed underwater lighting for eminent Sea Explorer Jacques Cousteau.

In 1987 the company won $3.1 million in a copyright infringement suit against Streamlight, Inc. Another judgment soon followed against Kassnar Imports, Inc. ($2.75 million, 1989) and The Brinkmann Corporation ($1.2 million, 1990). More imitations by potential competitors — some 50 different companies around the world — would follow. Mag spent $17 million from 1986 to 1989 to fight cheap knock-offs. This was more than three times the company's advertising budget, noted the Wall Street Journal.

It was often difficult to collect on such judgments, as manufacturers who lost suits were prone to declaring bankruptcy. Nevertheless, Mag spent millions to aggressively defend its trademarks for the design and manufacturing process of its flashlights. According to Management Review, the United States lagged behind other countries in protecting design features. In 1997, however, the "shape, style and overall appearance" of its Mini Maglite flashlights received copyright protection, followed by the other designs in 2003.

Inc. Magazine reported revenues were in the range of $70 million in 1989. ADWEEK mentioned reports the company held a 25 percent share of a U.S. flashlight market worth $400 million. Mag ended the decade with about 500 employees. Maglica was committed to keeping manufacturing operations in the United States. Extensive use of automation on the factory floor helped keep costs down.

A loyal Republican, Maglica donated 40,000 Mini Maglite flashlights for President George H.W. Bush's 1989 inauguration celebration. They reinforced the "thousand points of light" theme. He also supplied them for the younger Bush's inauguration in 2001. Audience members lit the lights as part of a grand finale.

Although an impassioned advocate for U.S. manufacturing, Maglica remained sensitive to the situation in the former Yugoslavia where he was raised. In 1994, Mag donated 40,000 flashlights inscribed with "Remember Sarajevo" for the closing ceremonies at the Lillehammer Winter Olympics. In 1997, Maglica established the nonprofit Maglite Foundation in Croatia. Its mission was the environmental cleanup of the region, particularly on the island of Zlarin, where Maglica grew up.

Mag entered the European market in 1995. The flashlights fared well even in Germany, known for its "over-engineered" products. They also were accepted in quality-conscious Japan. Total sales were reported at about $240 million per year.

The company was soon looking to expand its manufacturing space. It sought to take over the coating process done to the aluminum flashlights by a Kalamazoo, Michigan company.

99 percent of the Maglite Flashlight is made in the USA. The item not produced here is the bulb. There were no manufactures that produced the halogen bulb used by the original Maglite so Maglica found a company in Germany that was in financial trouble that had the machinery and expertise to make the bulbs he wanted. Maglica decided to buy the machinery and patents and ship the machinery to the United States so he could make the bulbs here. He wanted to make 100% of the flashlights in America.

This is where the U.S. Government stepped in a denied Tony a permit for relocating the bulb making equipment here. This was due to the U.S. Government’s EPA policy on banning the production if incandescent bulbs in the U.S. So Tony had to continue making the bulbs in Germany or switch to the more expensive and less powerful LED lights that are not being made here.

Under U.S. law you do not have to make 100% of a product here to claim it is made in America. The Maglite at 90% qualified for a Made in America sticker, but not in California where it has to be 100%. So Tony was between a rock and a hard place. He could not bring the bulb making equipment here so he could make all of the flashlights in the United States, but qualified to make that claim, except in California.

One day a slip and fall attorney was walking through Home Depot in California when he noticed a display of Maglites with the made in America sticker. He immediately filed a suit against Home Depot and Tony’s company in a California court. Home Depot was forced to remove all of the Maglites with the made in America sticker from their shelves and Tony had to recall all of flashlights in California.

In the first years of the new millennium, Mag Instrument employed 850 people and had 450,000 square feet of manufacturing space scattered across 11 buildings. In November 1999, Mag began leasing another, 300,000-square-foot facility as a stopgap measure to meet increasing demand.

The flashlights were sold in more than 85 countries; exports accounted for 25 percent of total sales, which were reported at between $100 million and $250 million in various sources. The company was valued at $775 million, Maglica's attorney told Ontario's Business Press in 2000 after settling a palimony suit brought by Maglica's longtime companion, Claire Halasz that was settled in an Orange County Court. The Business Press added that the company had produced 39 million flashlights the year before.

In 2003, Mag won a rare monetary award ($113,000) against a Japanese manufacturer, Asahi Electric Corp., which was found to have infringed upon Mag's patent. The 17-year patent on Mag's flashlight, however, was due to expire in March 2005. U.S. Representative Joe Baca was sponsoring a bill to extend the patent for two more years. According to the Business Press of California, part of Mag's appeal was an eight-year gap after the request of a renewal in 1995 in which Mag had no patent protection.

So here we have a virtual immigrant (although born in the United States) who suffered under the brutal, tyrannical regimes of Fascism and Communism and came to the United States in 1950 with no money. He worked hard, invested the little money he had for his dream of building not a better mousetrap, but a superior flashlight. The government gave him nothing, in fact they blocked his attempts to build 100% of the Maglite here and employ more people. When I heard Tony interviewed he claimed he looked on the United States as the freest nation in the world where you could pursue one’s dream. He also stated he never took a dime from the government and built his business through hard work, savings, increasing productivity, hiring good people and making a superior product. This was the American way. For a timeline of the milestone events in the history of the Mag Company click here.

William John Henry Boetcker (1873–1962) was an American religious leader and influential public speaker.

Born in Hamburg, Germany, he was ordained a Presbyterian minister soon after his arrival in the United States as a young adult. The Rev. Boetcker was ordained in Brooklyn, New York.

He quickly gained attention as an eloquent motivational speaker, and is often regarded today as the forerunner of such contemporary "success coaches" as Anthony Robbins.

An outspoken political conservative, Rev. Boetcker is perhaps best remembered for his authorship of a pamphlet entitled The Ten Cannots that emphasizes freedom and responsibility of the individual on himself. Originally published in 1916, it is often misattributed to Abraham Lincoln. The error apparently stems from a leaflet printed in 1942 by a conservative political organization called the Committee for Constitutional Government. The leaflet bore the title "Lincoln on Limitations" and contained some genuine Lincoln quotations on one side and the "Ten Cannots" on the other, with the attributions switched. The genuine Lincoln quotations may have been from an address on March 21, 1864 in which Lincoln said "Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another; but let him labor diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence when built." The mistake of crediting Lincoln for "The Ten Cannots" has been repeated many times since, notably by Ronald Reagan in his address to the 1992 Republican National Convention in Houston.

There are several minor variants of the pamphlet in circulation, but the most commonly accepted version appears below:

  1. You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
  2. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
  3. You cannot help little men by tearing down big men.
  4. You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
  5. You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.
  6. You cannot establish sound security on borrowed money.
  7. You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
  8. You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than you earn.
  9. You cannot build character and courage by destroying men's initiative and independence.
  10. And you cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they can and should do for themselves.

Tony Maglica has built his flashlight business on here principles and continues to over a superior product and customer service.

As an aside, tonight is Halloween, my least favorite holiday. It is a night when little gremlins, many in tow by their parents or older siblings go door to door begging for treats (mainly sugar-filled candy) that they feel they are entitled to. If you do not comply with their requests for hand-outs you run the risk of being labeled as Scrooge or suffering vandalism to your property by the older beggars. These little tykes come dressed in some sort of popular costume holding open bags or pillow cases waiting for you to fill them with candy. Some, like Michelle Obama, may claim that you use healthy treats like nuts and fruit. Just try that and see the scornful looks you will get. Instead you have to go to the supermarket or big box store and stock up on those mini candy bars such as Snickers, Baby Ruth, Mounds Bars and other confectionary offerings. In essence you are spreading the wealth by spending your money to subsidize the sweet tooth of the neighbor kids. In some cases, like where I live, kids from other less affluent neighborhoods are bused in to roam the streets in search of their entitled candy. This bodes ill for when they grow up and continue the search for their entitled goods. It’s pure plunder.

Am I a scrooge? No. I am just tired of every year on this date sitting at a table with the garage door open doling candy. I use the garage as my staging area as I get annoyed at the door bell ringing every two minutes and my dogs barking.

2 comments:

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