We have come to depend on them for over a century. Today, they come in many forms: built into smart phones, embedded in key fobs and planted at the end of writing instruments. New technology has enabled the development of sophisticated underwater flashlights used by professional divers and advancements to surgical lights as well. Beyond their broadening expanse however, flashlights in their most basic form are an everyday necessity; a necessity we all take for granted until we are, literally, left in the dark. But 100 years ago, things were just getting started.

Patented by Conrad Hubert, a Russian immigrant in America, the earliest flashlights were made from crude paper and fiber tubes with a rough glass reflector and a bulb. Hubert made a number of them and distributed them to the New York City police force in various precincts. After the favorable response to these new tools, Hubert pursued manufacturing them for the public, naming his business American Electric Novelty and Manufacturing Company. In 1906, National Carbon Company—who supplied them with materials to manufacture batteries—bought a half interest in the company for $200,000. Hubert was kept as president but the name was changed to The American Ever Ready Company, with the trade name becoming Eveready.

In 1916, National Carbon hoped to rebrand the name “flashlight” and held a wildly popular contest for suggestions. 530,000 people entered their ideas for a new name, with four different people entering the winning name of “DAYLO” Daylo was chosen based on it being easily pronounced, and because it was seen as the combination of “day” for light and “lo” for “behold!” or “see!” In spite of the enormous response, and the sizable cash prizes for the times (totaling $12,000 for the first prize winners) the Daylo name did not catch on with the public. The name was dropped by Eveready after 1922.

Designs from the early part of the last century are particularly beautiful in form and have become a stylish collectible for the home. The style and construction of these early lights included the introduction of metal, wood and leather. Some models were finished in metal only, while others were wrapped in leather, lizard skin and imitation alligator. Some sported a hard celluloid coating. During the teens, many flashlights took the form of a flask-like shape. These small models were intended to fit in a vest or coat pocket. Other models included search lantern designs, a ‘garbage can’ style lantern and many other variations of the ‘lantern’ concept.

By the 1920s, tubular designs had become predominant, and sizes varied greatly.  The tubular design delivered more light and with the ‘fish eye’ lens, tungsten light was magnified to give a wider diffused light overall. Many of these models were covered in leather or a vulcanite fiber wrapping. Moving into the 1940s and 50s, novelty flashlights promoting popular culture became big business. Space boys, cowboys, rockets, and missiles were turned into imaginative themes to capture a young customer.

Bringing a display of vintage flashlights into your home can create a great conversation piece. Line them up on a shelf, place a group on a table top or just rest one on top of your desk. Regardless of where or how you choose to exhibit vintage flashlights, they provide both visual interest and texture as a collectible in any style home.

Yearbook is regularly acquiring new additions to our collection of vintage flashlights. We invite you to stop by and discover the forgotten beauty of some classic flashlights from the last century and maybe shed new light on a new collection for yourself.