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LED Flashlights – How They Evolved

Humans have always needed a portable light source and they initially carried wooden torches, candles, oil lamps and kerosene lamps around with them at night. The need to emulate the sun at night has not changed in humans for millennia; we need light to prevent falling over objects, falling into uneven surfaces and to protect us from stepping onto dangerous creatures. Since these always used the flame as a source of light, they were often dangerous.

Flame Torch

Why We Need Lights

We are not nocturnal creatures and our eyes cannot adapt to the dark. From the moment we managed to harness the power of light, human advancement took the greatest leap ever and gave us civilization as we know it today.

The end of the 19th century there was an exciting time with many inventions. The incandescent electric light bulb and the dry battery were two of these that solved the problem of carrying a live flame everywhere at night.

Some of the many inventors who left their mark in the history of lighting were Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, William Sawyer, Albon Man and Joseph Swan. The light bulb was developed, patented and commercialized and electric lighting was installed in cities around the world, making life easier for all its population.

Edison Electric Light


The safe portable light came into being in 1898. The invention of the flashlight cannot be credited to one single person. It evolved out of a discordant series of events and many people independently working on various ideas which we will examine, below to see how we finally got to the LED flashlight.

A Historic Breakdown

Daniel Mcfarlan Moore created the first commercial arc tube lamp in 1898. The idea behind the lamp was very similar to the fluorescent lamp that we know today, which sent an electrical current through an inert gas to create light.

David Misell, a British inventor, applied for and was awarded a U.S. patent N0.617592 in 1898. It was for a simple paper and fiber tube lantern which was powered by the world’s first dry-cell battery. This battery was safer and more reliable than an invention two years prior to that. Rather than having a liquid electrolyte in its casing it had a dry paste. Conrad Hubert was his boss and owner of American Electrical Novelty and Manufacturing Company and Misell assigned the manufacture of these torches to him. This was the beginning of the first ever mass produced hand torches: the Ever Ready electric hand torches.

Ever Ready Flashlight Ad

The Ever Ready trademark started to appear on the end cap of flashlights for the first time in 1902. The incandescent lamps were improved as bulb makers started using better quality filaments. These were more consistent, lasted longer and were much cheaper making the flash light a popular item among consumers.

American Ever Ready Company was born in 1905, out of the reorganization of American Electrical Novelty and Manufacturing Company by its owner Conrad Hubert.

Ever Ready’s new tungsten filament bulbs were introduced in 1910, and the popularity of their flashlights continued to grow in popularity. By that time they were the top name among flashlight manufacturers in the world.

A Real Big Hit

By 1922 there were 10 million users of flashlights and there were several styles available. The choices were the classic cylindrical, the standing lantern, reflector or flood and the pocket size. All were extremely popular.

Richard Thayer and George Inman invented the modern fluorescent lamp in 1934.

Ever Ready shortened their trademark to EverReady in 1937 and introduced the first pre-focused bulb. This was more efficient as it was a pre-assembled bulb and reflector and required less power but produced the same amount of light.

Vintage Flashlight

Energizer became the new trading name of EverReady during the 1950s. Their batteries were still using the EverReady trademark.

James R. Biard and Garry Pittman were working on developing semiconductors in 1961, when they accidentally invented the first Light Emitting Diode (LED).

Texas Instruments began selling the first LED to IBM in 1962. The cost was $130 each and they were used to replace tungsten bulbs used in punch-card readers.

Introduction Of Rechargeable Flashlights

In 1967 the first EverReady rechargeable flashlight was introduced by Energizer. This allowed for the flashlight to be recharged doing away with the complete dependency on batteries.

The first fluorescent lantern was introduced in 1968 by Energizer. This was more efficient and lasted longer than the filament bulbs.

Energizer again came up with a first – a water resistant flashlight – which was introduced in 1970. The flashlight came with a push-button switch – the first ever- and the switch had lifetime warranty.

In Come Maglite

Tony Magilca had started a small shop called Mag Instrument in California in the 1950s with a capital of $125. In 1974 the business became Mag Instrument Inc and in 1979 they introduced the first Maglite flashlight.

Mag-Lite Flashlight

The 1980s saw huge strides in the design and technology of flashlights. The pocket-sized flashlight was born and so was the halogen-bulb flashlight, which emitted a brighter light.

The LED flashlight was only introduced 40 years after the invention of LED. The initial bulbs were not suitable for use in flashlights. Only in 1999 did a California based company called Lumineds introduce the Luxeon LED bulb which was brighter, more efficient, lasted longer and could be smaller than the previous types of bulbs used in flashlights. This LED bulb was the most important development in the many years since the invention of the flashlight. Every watt fed into a LED produces 100 lumens, ten times less than an incandescent bulb needs to produce the same light.

The First LED Flashlight

The first LED flashlight was designed in 2001 by Luxeon and was the Arc LS.

LEDs are now the most popular bulbs for flashlights as they are dependable, cheap to manufacture and are sold at a good price. LED flashlights today can produce a vast range of outputs from an equally wide variety of batteries, accumulators and super- capacitors. The battery life of a LED flashlight will last much longer and they are less fragile than other lamps. With a different spectrum of light compared to incandescent globes they can also be made in several ranges of color temperature and color rendering index. The LED bulb might never need to be changed because they do not burn out easily.

Colored LED flashlights are used in certain jobs which require signaling, special inspection tasks, forensics examiners and are used to track blood trails by hunters and game rangers. The color of these LED bulbs depends on the task it is needed for, but red is used to preserve dark adaption of vision, ultraviolet for inspection lights which can detect gases and leakages in machinery such as air conditioners. Ultraviolet is also used to examine paper currencies or checking ticket holders and for UV-fluorescent marks on laundry. LED flashlight can be used in conjunction with night time devices.

LED Special Requirements

Since LEDs must have a limited current through the diodes LED flashlights using one or two disposable batteries need a boost converter to provide the higher voltage required by white light which needs 3.4 volts to function. Two batteries usually will only reach about 3 volts. Those with three or more dry cell batteries may only use a resistor to limit current. Other LED flashlights electronically regulate current through the LEDs and stabilize light output as the batteries discharge.

The color temperature of the older flashlights rapidly decline and become redder and less visible as their batteries discharged but with LEDs it remains constant regardless of input voltage or current.

Some LED flashlights come with user-selectable settings which help the user regulate the light according to the task it is needed for. These can be adjusted for anything from reading at a lower light and a stronger light for looking for smaller objects in dark areas. This was not something that could be achieved with older flashlights.


LED Benefits

LED flashlights produce heat as well as light and the life of an LED decreases with temperature. The need to avoid heat dissipation for the LED requires that smaller high-powered LED flashlights have high heat conductivity bodies which could be made from aluminium or other conductors, and they also have reflectors so that they don’t become warm during use.

They come in the tiniest of shapes which can fit in pockets; they are made in key rings, pens, used as headlamps on helmets used by builders, miners and even hunters. Light outputs can vary according to the size of the batteries operating them. Keychain LEDs run on button batteries and similarly a single 5mm LED may only produce a couple of lumens. A small LED flashlight operating on one AA battery can emit 100 lumens and the most powerful LED flashlights produce more than 32,000 lumens and may be fitted with multiple LEDs.


Since man carried those first wooden torches until today flashlights have been a necessity for safety and moving about. As far as we have progressed we all still need to be able to move around safely in the dark, and the LED flashlight is making this easier than ever before with its bright light and smaller sizes.

If your looking for a modern, well made LED flashlight check out the link below rating the best flashlights available at different price ranges.

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