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The Invention of the Flashlight

Let There Be Light - Joshua Lionel Cowen


Hand holding LED flashlight,hand close-up
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"Let There Be Light" -- The flashlight was invented in 1898, and the biblical quote of "Let There Be Light" was on the cover of the 1899 Eveready catalog, advertising the new flashlight. A flashlight by definition is a small portable lamp usually powered by batteries.

Joshua Lionel Cowen

The original owner of the American Eveready Battery Company, Joshua Lionel Cowen, abandoned the hardware company to pursue his real passion of trains. Cowen was an inventor of sorts; he developed a fuse to ignite photographic flash powder. Though the invention failed in its intent, the U.S. Navy bought up the fuses to use with underwater explosives.

The Flashlight

Cowen next came up with an idea for a decorative lighting fixture for potted plants: a metal tube with a light bulb and a dry cell battery that could run the light bulb for 30 days. He passed the idea along to one of his Eveready salespersons, Conrad Hubert, along with his company. Hubert turned the metal tube, light bulb and battery into the world's first flashlight, and began selling the batteries and the flashlight, together and as separate items.

Success and Lionel Model Trains

Hubert became a multi-millionaire, Eveready became a huge company, and Joshua Lionel Cowen finally achieved the success he really wanted: he was the person who invented toy trains in 1900. As happened with the fuses and the flashlight, Cowen was actually trying to invent something else when he invented toy trains. He originally intended to create a store window display, a battery powered toy car that travelled on a circle of track. People wanted to buy the display more than the real merchandise for sale.

Joshua Lionel Cowen went on to start Lionel Model Trains.

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