Mag Instrument, Inc.
Mag Instrument, Inc.
Incorporated: 1974 as Mag Instrument, Inc.
Sales: $150 million (2003 est.)
NAIC: 335129 Other Lighting Equipment Manufacturing
Mag Instrument, Inc. is a producer of high-quality flashlights under the Maglite brand. A believer in the American dream, company founder Anthony Maglica has kept manufacturing inside the United States, thanks in part to extensive use of automation. The company began work on a new facility in Ontario, California, in 2004. The flashlights are exported to more than 85 countries around the world; one-quarter of sales come from outside the United States.
Company founder Anthony Maglica was born in New York City in 1930, at the beginning of the Great Depression. He moved with his mother to her homeland of Croatia at age two. He was eventually trained as a machinist in Europe.
In 1950, Maglica returned to the United States with little knowledge of English but ample faith in the free enterprise system. According to the Business Press of California, he was unable to find anything but sewing work in New York City, so he moved west. He operated a lathe for Long Beach-based Pacific Valve Co. and then A.O. Smith Water Products Co., an East Los Angeles manufacturer of water heaters.
In 1955 he set up a small job shop in his garage in Los Angeles as a side venture. His start-up capital was the $125 he had saved, just enough for a down payment on a $1,000 lathe.
The business was incorporated on September 25, 1974, as Mag Instrument, Inc. By this time, Maglica was producing artillery shells. He also was making components for a flashlight manufacturer. Dismayed by the poor quality of their product, in 1976 he decided to build a better flashlight. At the time, most were cheap and virtually disposable.
After three years, Maglica came up with a design that was tough and durable, with anodized aluminum housing rather than plastic. Called the Maglite, it was initially marketed toward law enforcement and rescue personnel. The flashlight also was designed to be attractive to civilians. Sportsmen were another early target market.
The Maglite, introduced in 1979, was a critical and commercial success. It won numerous accolades from product design circles as it made its way into home improvement chains and department stores. The Maglite Rechargeable Flashlight System (Mag Charger) was introduced in 1982.
That year, Maglica relocated the firm, which then had 80 employees, to a new 126,000-square-foot factory in Ontario, California, about 50 miles east of Los Angeles. Using his tooling experience, Maglica designed the machinery for the plant himself.
Defending Its Trademarks in the 1980s
According to California's Business Press, a 1984 lawsuit against U.S. retailers who had imported cheap knock-offs of the Maglite flashlights was a turning point for the company in more ways than one. While Mag won the suit, instead of pursuing a cash award, Maglica had the retailers buy five Mag flashlights for every imported copy they had sold. This was an effective way to gain a great deal of shelf space, as the merchants included Sears, Roebuck & Co. and Kmart Corporation.
The original Maglite ran on D cells. In 1984 the company unveiled a smaller flashlight called the Mini Maglite, which ran on AA batteries. A still smaller AAA version came out three years later. The keyring-sized Solitaire flashlight was introduced in 1988. In the mid-1980s, Maglica also developed underwater lighting for eminent sea explorer Jacques Cousteau.
In 1987 the company won $3.1 million in a copyright infringement suit against Streamlight, Inc. Another judgment soon followed against Kassnar Imports, Inc. ($2.75 million, 1989) and The Brinkmann Corporation ($1.2 million, 1990). More imitations by potential competitors—some 50 different companies around the world—would follow. Mag spent $17 million from 1986 to 1989 to fight cheap knock-offs. This was more than three times the company's advertising budget, noted the Wall Street Journal.
It was often difficult to collect on such judgments, as manufacturers who lost suits were prone to declaring bankruptcy. Nevertheless, Mag spent millions to aggressively defend its trademarks for the design and manufacturing process of its flashlights. According to Management Review, the United States lagged behind other countries in protecting design features. In 1997, however, the "shape, style and overall appearance" of its Mini Maglite flashlights received copyright protection, followed by the other designs in 2003.
Inc. magazine reported revenues were in the range of $70 million in 1989. ADWEEK mentioned reports the company held a 25 percent share of a U.S. flashlight market worth $400 million. Mag ended the decade with about 500 employees. Maglica was committed to keeping manufacturing operations in the United States. Extensive use of automation on the factory floor helped keep costs down.
A loyal Republican, Maglica donated 40,000 Mini Maglite flashlights for President George H.W. Bush's 1989 inauguration celebration. They reinforced the "thousand points of light" theme. He also supplied them for the younger Bush's inauguration in 2001. Audience members lit the lights as part of a grand finale.
Exporting in the 1990s
Although an impassioned advocate for U.S. manufacturing, Maglica remained sensitive to the situation in the former Yugoslavia where he was raised. In 1994, Mag donated 40,000 flashlights inscribed with "Remember Sarajevo" for the closing ceremonies at the Lillehammer Winter Olympics. In 1997, Maglica established the nonprofit Maglite Foundation in Croatia. Its mission was the environmental cleanup of the region, particularly on the island of Zlarin, where Maglica grew up.
Mag entered the European market in 1995. The flashlights fared well even in Germany, known for its "over-engineered" products. They also were accepted in quality-conscious Japan. Total sales were reported at about $240 million per year.
The company was soon looking to expand its manufacturing space. It sought to take over the coating process done to the aluminum flashlights by a Kalamazoo, Michigan company.
Continued Growth in the Early 2000s
In the first years of the new millennium, Mag Instrument employed 850 people and had 450,000 square feet of manufacturing space scattered across 11 buildings. In November 1999, Mag began leasing another, 300,000-square-foot facility as a stopgap measure to meet increasing demand.
The flashlights were sold in more than 85 countries; exports accounted for 25 percent of total sales, which were reported at between $100 million and $250 million in various sources. The company was valued at $775 million, Maglica's attorney told Ontario's Business Press in 2000 after settling a palimony suit brought by Maglica's longtime companion. The Business Press added that the company had produced 39 million flashlights the year before.
Mag Instrument is dedicated to the highest standards of integrity. We seek performance and a reputation reflecting the very best we can achieve. Each Mag Instrument flashlight represents a culmination of more than 20 years of research, development and continuous state-of-the-art refinement in every precision feature. We are proud to offer products designed and manufactured in the United States of America.
We believe the spirit and character of the company is most clearly defined and expressed by our founder, owner and President Anthony Maglica. Each flashlight is a result of his obsession with fine engineering, craftsmanship and his commitment to perfection. An experimental machinist by training and a manufacturing innovator by practice, Mr. Maglica has guided his company's growth from a one-man machine shop in 1955 to an enterprise that employs over 800 dedicated employees today. But his work does not stop there. Mr. Maglica continues his commitment to quality by continually improving upon the product that bears his name.
Mag Instrument is proud to be a leader in the current renaissance in American manufacturing. Maglica himself, a fervent believer in the importance of manufacturing in the United States, insists that all Mag Instrument products be made domestically and bear the "Made in the U.S.A." label. He has dedicated himself to proving that American-made products can excel in the global marketplace by using technology to continually improve quality and reduce costs. Over the last two decades, Maglica's innovations have enabled Mag Instrument to offer consumers a consistently better value than the competition.
Anthony Maglica sets up shop in his Los Angeles garage.
The business is incorporated as Mag Instrument.
The Maglite flashlight is introduced.
The firm relocates to a plant in Ontario, California.
The Mini Maglite is introduced.
A smaller AAA-battery Mini Maglite is introduced.
The company enters the European market.
Construction begins on a new plant.
In 2003, Mag won a rare monetary award ($113,000) against a Japanese manufacturer, Asahi Electric Corp., which was found to have infringed upon Mag's patent. The 17-year patent on Mag's flashlight, however, was due to expire in March 2005. U.S. Representative Joe Baca was sponsoring a bill to extend the patent for two more years. According to the Business Press of California, part of Mag's appeal was an eight-year gap after the request of a renewal in 1995 in which Mag had no patent protection.
The company began construction of a new $80 million, 700,000-square-foot facility in 2004. It was expected to house a total of 2,400 employees after its scheduled opening in 2006. The company's long-term goal was to increase exports to at least half of total sales.
The Black & Decker Corporation; Dorcy International; Energizer Holdings, Inc.; First Alert/Powermate, Inc.; Garrity Industries, Inc.; Rayovac Corporation.
Ascenzi, Joseph, "With Palimony Suit Over, Mag Instrument to Shine," Business Press (Ontario), March 20, 2000, p. 6.
Barrier, Michael, "Why a Quality Pacesetter Chooses to Hide His Light Under a Bushel—Tony Maglica, Flashlight Manufacturer," Nation's Business, June 1991.
Benson, Don, "Mag-Lite Shines On; Ontario Center for Expansion; Planning Commission Approves Proposal to Double the Size of Plant," Business Press (Ontario), March 29, 1999, p. 3.
Brown, Paul B., "Magnificent Obsession; Company Founder Obsesses Over Quality Control and Spends Millions on Patent Protection, All to Keep His Product Unique," Inc., August 1989.
Chacon, Robert, "$2 Mil. Judgment Shines Light on Family Affairs," Business Press (Ontario), July 22, 2002, p. 4.
Emshwiller, John R., "Copycat Flashlight Firms Are Hit by Battery of Suits," Wall Street Journal, Enterprise Sec., August 22, 1989.
Eventov, Adam, "Anthony Maglica; Mag-Lite Creator Finds His Personal Life in Unwanted Spotlight," Business Press (Ontario), August 16, 1999, p. 16.
——, "Growing Demand Forces Mag-Lite Maker into Lease," Business Press (Ontario), November 15, 1999, p. 3.
Hammond, Teena, "Is It Lights Out for Mag-Lite Maker?," Business Press (Ontario), August 12, 1996, p. 1.
Herrera, Paul, "Mag Outlines Growth Plan," Press-Enterprise, August 26, 2004, p. D1.
"High-End Flashlights Hot," MMR, July 29, 2002, p. 45.
Hinsberg, Pat, "Mag Instrument Lights Up Grey-L.A.," ADWEEK, Eastern ed., April 10, 1989, p. 2.
Mag Instrument, Inc., "Anthony Maglica and Mag Instrument—An American Success Story," August 25, 2004.
"Mag Wins Lawsuit," Ontario Business Press, Business Briefs, January 27, 2003.
Messinger, Rob, "Maker of Popular Mag-Lite Likely to Stay in Ontario," Business Press (Ontario), November 18, 1996, p. 7.
—, "Ontario Sweetens the Pot for Growth-Minded Mag," Business Press (Ontario), November 25, 1996, p. 4.
Park, Carol, "Ontario, Calif.-Based Flashlight Maker Seeks Patent Protection," Business Press (San Bernardino), October 4, 2004.
Powers, Kemp, "Anthony Maglica: Mag Instrument," Fortune Small Business, September 1, 2004, http://www.fortune.com/fortune/smallbusiness/articles/0,15114,681497,00.html.
Reynolds, Larry, "Is Your Product Design Really Protected?," Management Review, August 1, 1991, p. 36.
—Frederick C. Ingram
"Mag Instrument, Inc.." International Directory of Company Histories. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 17, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/books/politics-and-business-magazines/mag-instrument-inc
"Mag Instrument, Inc.." International Directory of Company Histories. . Retrieved February 17, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/books/politics-and-business-magazines/mag-instrument-inc
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