Let us now praise Akiba Horowitz.

All this flashlight talk has had me thinking about them – like, where did the word “flashlight” come from anyway? The English call them “electric torches,” which is at least more descriptive.

It turns out there’s an answer, related directly to the poor performance of primitive technology.

Early portable electric lights were called “flash lights” since they would not give a long steady stream of light.

Akiba Horowitz, a Russian immigrant who changed his name to Conrad Hubert, was a literal 19th century rags-to-riches tycoon. He didn’t invent the flashlight but he tinkered with gadgets illuminated with small electric lights and formed the American Electrical Novelty & Manufacturing Company. In the course of all that he hired David Misell, the man who actually did invent the gadget still recognizable as the tubular flashlight, and bought his first patents. Then he put him to work improving it, because apparently the first commercial products were pretty sad. But they were such self-evidently useful tools that they quickly became popular despite their limitations.

Even I remember when flashlights had filament bulbs and drycell batteries that ran out fast, and for that reason were equipped with both constant-on and momentary switches. Because you got better battery life if you “flashed” the light.

I also learned that the American Electrical Novelty & Manufacturing Company is still around, sort of. Guess what it’s called? 🙂


About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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2 Responses to Let us now praise Akiba Horowitz.

  1. Claire says:

    Is it okay if I cheated and looked it up?


  2. jed says:

    I prefer the term Galvanick Lucifer, which is, unfortuately, not a real thing. “Electrical Novelty” makes me think of Spencer Gifts, which is still around.

    Yeah, I’m old enough to remember dry cells, and filament bulbs. I still have filament flashlight bulbs in my spares.

To the stake with the heretic!