Maglite founder Tony Maglica continues to make his company’s flashlights in the United States through “desire, determination, dedication and discipline.”
Maglite is arguably the best-known brand of flashlight worldwide, and they’re regularly included as some of the best on the market. Maglites were first introduced in 1979 by the company Mag Instruments, and in the years since have grown from a small business into a multimillion-dollar corporation — all the while remaining dedicated to manufacturing in America.
The story of Mag Instruments is intertwined with that of their founder, Tony Maglica. Maglica was born in New York City to Croatian immigrant parents, but in 1932, he returned to his home on the small island of Zlarin before he was 2 years old, where he would grow up amidst the tumult of the Great Depression and World War II.
Maglica’s childhood was tough. “I went through World War II, I’ve been [in front of] a firing squad, I’ve been barefooted and I’ve hardly existed to survive — I’ve been through everything,” Maglica reflected in an interview with AAM.
Maglica remained optimistic, however, and with the help of his mother, persevered through the hardships of his childhood. He also had the opportunity to develop his skills as a mechanic and handyman, and when he finally returned to America in 1950, with little to his name and speaking little English, he took on jobs as a machinist. By 1955, he had set up his own machine shop and was making parts for a wide array of clients.
“It’s hard work,” Maglica explained, but you can succeed by following what he calls the Four Ds: “desire, determination, dedication, and discipline.”
Maglica’s fortunes continued to rise when he received a contract to provide aluminum tubes to protect police officers’ flashlights from breaking. This created an opportunity for innovation, and Maglica ultimately designed one of the first-ever aluminum encased flashlights that was reinforced to be durable enough for work in public safety.
Maglica did not rest there, however. He continued to innovate, designing new models of flashlights that were stronger, brighter, and smaller to fit needs in industrial, medical and personal use applications. Maglites quickly became a success, and Maglica had transformed himself from a penniless immigrant to a multimillionaire manufacturer.
In an interview, Maglica was pretty nonchalant about his success. “It’s actually not that hard to do it if you have these Four Ds. Anybody can do it…because if you have the first D, you have the will and you’ll work to get ahead.”
But Maglica’s desire extended beyond just making products or making money. Instead, he displayed a remarkable patriotism and dedication to ensure that his company produces not just for himself, but for the greater good through his commitment to manufacturing in America.
“Why should I go to China, or any place there, and make them rich and make our country poor?” Maglica questioned. “I can make a product here, and I’m not gonna make as much profit, but I can build a future here for my family, for my future, and for my country.”
Of course, manufacturing in America has not been without its challenges, and Mag Instruments initially struggled to get retailers to carry their products because the margins were lower than cheap foreign imports.
“They don’t care about quality of product, they just care about the margins that they’re making, and it makes it very hard to compete because the margins are so much larger when you’re shipping in cheap crap from China,” explained a Mag Instruments spokesman.
But the cost of chasing low margins is a loss of jobs at home, Maglica argued. “[People] think ‘I got it very cheap, I got a great deal!’ but at the same time, you’re taking a job away from someone else,” he said.
“If I make the flashlight, look at where the money goes. It goes to the guy who makes the boxes, makes the cardboard, the guy who makes the aluminum, the guy who makes the ingots, the guys who roll the stuff — it just mushrooms out.”
Despite the challenges, Maglica has remained steadfast in his commitment to manufacturing in America. He has thousands of employees at his plant in California, pays them living wages, and sources his supply chain from the U.S. whenever possible.
“I made myself a promise that if I live long enough, I’ll make a product as economical as they can over there, not with the slave labor, but with automation and technology,” Maglica said.
That being said, there’s still a role for the government to play in supporting American manufacturers as they overcome foreign competition. Often, that role comes down to domestic content requirements in public procurement, which is important for Mag Instruments, because they have benefitted from selling Maglites to government employees — police officers, firefighters, EMTs.
Maglica noted that when tax dollars are spent, they shouldn’t go overseas but instead stay with American manufacturers, “because if I make money, it goes back to the people anyway. I pay taxes that people have the benefit of.”
And the consequences of losing our manufacturing base are simply too grave.
“If we don’t make anything, we are not a country. How are we gonna exist, what will we have to sell?” Maglica said. “The weather in California, that’s it.”