Profile - Everything is Illuminated

At 83, Tony Maglica Shows No Signs of Stopping

Tony MaglicaTony Maglica created one of the most notable products, and he shows no signs of stopping now.

The famous MAGLITE flashlight was almost never made. Back in the 1950s, before Mag Instrument, before Maglite Promo Direct (asi/68449), before the celebrated item itself, Tony Maglica was just a 20-year-old budding machinist in the Big Apple, trying to make his way in the world. Looking for opportunity, he went west with his young family and applied for a coveted position at Boeing, a Mecca for ambitious machinists in California.

If all had gone to Maglica’s plan, he would have been a loyal Boeing employee, designing and constructing components, and enjoying a long, satisfying career. But it wasn’t meant to be. “They didn’t believe I was an American,” Maglica says. “I was born in New York City but I grew up in Croatia, and I came back in 1950, after the War. They thought I didn’t understand English well enough.”

When Maglica was turned down for the last time, he needed another plan. Cutting his teeth at smaller shops, he eventually went into business for himself in 1955. As his clientele grew, he hired his first employees. But success didn’t come easily. “It was precarious at first,” he recalls. “I spent everything I had on the down payment for my first lathe. I slept on a bench in the shop. But I was in control of my own destiny.”

And the hard work paid off. Some of the components used in Project Vanguard, a U.S. Naval Research Laboratory program aimed at launching the first artificial satellite into orbit in 1958, came from Maglica’s burgeoning shop. While such a high-profile project was undoubtedly a boon, something was missing. “I didn’t want to just make components for other companies,” he explains. “I wanted to make my own product to sell to the public.”

That’s when Maglica decided to make a better flashlight, one that was sturdier and more reliable than the cheap plastic and stamped tin ones available at the time. “I thought, why not a flashlight that will last the rest of your life?” he says. “I designed and made one, and it just took off.”

Maglica went on to found Mag Instrument in Ontario, CA, and today, MAGLITE is one of the most popular brands of flashlights in production and the first one to carry a lifetime warranty. The largely unchanged design boasts a sturdy construction, an incredibly bright beam and significant heft, making it the preferred brand for both law enforcement and civilian use. Mag Instrument continues to manufacture new and improved products, all made of durable, heavy-duty, precision-machined aluminum.

Meanwhile, Maglica, now 83 years old, still plays a very visible role as president. Each week day, he arrives at the factory at 6:30 a.m. and spends most of his time in product development, automation design and production tooling and process. He is proud not only of the fine products his 800 employees continue to produce, but also of the fact that all of them are based in California. “We’re doing everything we can to keep it going in America,” he says. “We’re proving that high-quality manufacturing, at a competitive cost, is possible here.”

Maglica’s untiring work ethic and little need for sleep have helped him to receive more patents than most inventors could ever hope for, making him unique in the promotional industry. “My patent lawyer told me that Nicola Tesla had 111 patents, and I now have more than that,” he says. “I’ve since stopped counting. But I don’t really consider myself an inventor; I’m a manufacturer who develops products and solves technical problems.”