Thursday, April 15, 2010

Conrad Hubert [Akiba Horowitz] and the "flashlight"

Conrad Hubert [Akiba Horowitz]
April 15th, 1856 to March 12th, 1928

Today is the birthdate of Conrad Hubert [Akiba Horowitz] and a name few have heard and know for a product that every household has stuffed in a kitchen drawer. No, not the can opener but the "flashlight". And no, he wasn't the inventor of the flashlight [that is the product of David Misell] but an entrepreneur who successfully marketed the item via his corporation the American Ever Ready Company.

Soylent Communications...

Russian immigrant Akiba Horowitz changed his name to Conrad Hubert when he came to America, where he ran a cigar store, and later a restaurant, a boarding house, and finally a novelty shop. At the novelty shop, his best-selling item was a battery-powered flashing tie clasp. With the development of smaller, more powerful "D" cell batteries, it became practical to carry a hand-held battery-powered torch or "flash light", so called because the battery was only able to sustain light for a few seconds.

The flashlight was invented by David Misell, a British man working in Hubert's New York shop in 1898. Little is known about Misell, but he had previously invented a wooden-cased signal light and a bicycle light, and he assigned the flashlight's patent rights to Hubert's new business, American Electrical Novelty and Manufacturing Company, which marketed flashlights under the Ever Ready brand name, and eventually became the American Ever Ready Company. (Numerous sources claim that the flashlight was invented by Joshua Lionel Cowen, of Lionel toy trains fame, but beyond the fact that both Cowen and Hubert lived in New York City in the late 1890s, there is scant evidence to support this story. Cowen invented a flash lamp, a completely different device that used electricity to set off a small chemical reaction, creating the flash needed for indoor portrait photography.)

The Great Idea Finder...

Although a flashlight is a relatively simple device, its invention did not occur until the late 19th century because it depended upon the earlier invention of the electric battery and electric light. A flashlight, or torch (as it is known in the United Kingdom), is a handheld portable electric spotlight. A typical flashlight consists of a small electric light bulb with associated parabolic reflector, powered by electric batteries, and with an electric power switch. The components are mounted in a housing that contains the necessary electric circuit and provides ease of handling, a means of access to the batteries for replacement, and a clear covering over the light bulb for its protection.

In 1898 the National Carbon Company introduced the first D cell electric battery, designed specifically for use in a flashlight. The National Carbon Company was founded in 1886 by the then Brush Electric Company executive W. H. Lawrence. The company would supply carbon items needed in electrical devices such as carbon-arc electrodes, motor brushes and rods used in carbon-zinc batteries.

By 1898 the electric light was in wide spread use and provided a practical light source for the flashlight. The electric light with a carbon filament invented by Thomas Edison in 1879 was able to provide about 1500 hours of illumination. The industry had matured and was controlled by General Electric and Westinghouse.

Late in the 19th century, many attempts to devise a portable electric lamp had been made, but the early ones were unsuccessful. Now a common household item, the lowly flashlight was once considered a novel toy. The first flashlight, or electric hand torch, was invented about 1896. Early portable electric lights were called "flash lights" since they would not give a long steady stream of light. The flashlights introduced in 1898 by Conrad Hubert's company, that would later become Eveready, were more trustworthy making Eveready the leading name in flashlights.

Akiba Horowitz born on April 15, 1856 in Minsk, Russia came to the United States in 1891 and changed his name to Conrad Hubert. He was flat broke. He did what he could to earn a living. He worked in a cigar store, ran a restaurant for a while and managed a boarding house. He even tried repairing watches. Whatever he did, however, he never made much money. All he wanted was to stop worrying about making ends meet.

Conrad Hubert became aware of the novelty item side of the electric industry and the tremendous profits to be gained and decided to start his own company. Hubert, came up with portable fans, a novelty pocket light, lighted stick pins, and even an illuminated flowerpot. Hubert named his company American Electrical Novelty & Manufacturing Company...In 1897, Hubert, seeing the potential of the flashlight, hired David Misell, an inventor who had patented a portable electric lamp in 1895 and a early bicycle head lamp in 1896. As an employee of Hubert's David Misell continued inventing improvements to lighting devices and together and separately they patented several flashlights..

Hubert's first flashlights were hand-made from crude paper and fiber tubes, with a bulb and a rough brass reflector. Misell and Hubert assembled a number of tubular flashlights and gave them to New York City policemen in different precincts. They began receiving favorable testimonials from the policemen. In 1905 Hubert received a US patent in 1903 , number 737107 issued August 26, for a flashlight with an on/off switch in the now familiar cylindrical casing containing lamp and batteries.

In 1906, National Carbon Company which had supplied Eveready with materials for their flashlights, bought a half interest in the company for $200,000. Hubert remained president and there was little change in the general policies of the company. The name was changed to "The American Ever Ready Company" and the trade name was shortened to one word - Eveready.

Flashlight technology took a great leap forward around 1910, with the introduction of nickel-plated tubes to complement vulcanized fiber and the invention of the tungsten filament bulb. Vest pocket tungsten flashlights became popular, as did search lanterns, house lamps and intricate art deco candle lamps.

In 1914, American Ever Ready became part of Nation Carbon Company now forming a manufacturer specializing in both batteries and lighting products.

According to an Eveready brochure called "101 Uses For An Eveready," by 1916 the flashlight was an essential personal item—"the light that does not flicker in a draught, extinguish in the wind, and is controlled instantly by finger pressure. It's the light everyone needs." Some of the flashlight's 101 suggested uses included reading fruit labels, filling the tank of a gasoline stove, examining a refrigerator's interior and signaling with Morse Code.

In 1917 National Carbon Company merged with Union Carbide to form The Union Carbide and Carbon Co. and Eveready began using the name "DAYLO". The logo on the battery cap was changed to read "EVEREADY DAYLO". Daylo was never well accepted. The main reason for the non-acceptance was that only Eveready could use Daylo. The public still used the word "flashlight" and all other flashlight making companies called their products "flashlights". The advertising campaign was a success but the name was a dud. The Daylo name was dropped in 1921.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Eveready commissioned timeless pieces of art advertising flashlights and batteries that appeared in periodicals, Eveready catalogs, trade magazines, calendars and posters.

Artists like the late Frances Tipton Hunter, who produced covers for the Saturday Evening Post, captured Americana's essence. In her works for Eveready Hunter typically included a child, a pet and an Eveready flashlight, all executed in a Norman Rockwell-like fashion.

One Hunter classic features a little girl watching over a litter of kittens—with the aid of an Eveready flashlight, of course. This print proved so popular that reproductions suitable for framing were offered to readers for 10 cents. Readers responded by sending in 70,000 dimes—in the midst of the Depression. The poster has additional history, as well—the nine kittens were the genesis of the Eveready "Cat With Nine Lives" symbol.

An often repeated story in both book form and on the Web credits Joshua Lionel Cowan with inventing the flashlight. We have been told the story stems from an interview printed in The New Yorker magazine in 1947. Cowen stated he accidentally invented the flashlight in 1898, attaching small canisters containing batteries and light bulbs to a flower pot for the purpose of illuminating the plant. The invention was a flop, and Cowen sold the rights to the invention to Conrad Hubert, who decided to try selling the lights without the flower pot, the flashlight. Although the story could be true, they were both living in New York at the same time, Cowan had worked for both a battery and a lamp manufacture, Hubert (having newly arrived in America from Russia) was looking for work and at the time of the article Cowan was already rich and famous, Lionel Trains, and therefore did not need to remake history. But the only solid evidence is the New Yorker article. You can decide if the story is true.

Conrad Hubert invented the electric flashlight in 1898 and founded American Eveready (now Energizer) to market his many inventions. When he died in 1928, Hubert willed one-quarter of his estate to relatives and the remaining three-quarters to charity, leaving it to his executor to appoint three prominent Americans to oversee the disposition of the $6 million estate.

Hubert later made several improvements to flashlight technology, and within a few years he was a millionaire. He never married, and at his death in 1928 he left the bulk of his fortune -- about $8M -- to the Conrad Hubert Fund, with the stipulation that the money be dispensed jointly by a Protestant, a Catholic, and a Jew. After his death, these slots were filled by former President Calvin Coolidge, former New York Governor Alfred E. Smith, and former Sears Roebuck executive Julius Rosenwald, who distributed Hubert's fortune to thirty-four charities. American Ever Ready has evolved into the present-day Energizer Holdings.

No comments: