Your garage holds more than just your cars and rarely-used power tools. It holds the potential for greatness. The wide-open floorplan and separation from the rest of the house mean that the garage is the perfect room for making noise, as countless hobbyist handymen or teenage bands have discovered. It should come as no surprise, then, that many of the greatest companies in the world got their starts in garages.
Join us as we explore these achievements through a running blog series, updated every Monday. We’re interested in learning all there is to know about the creativity produced in the most pivotal garages in history, and we’ll bring all of our findings straight to you.
Welcome to Garage Greatness.
Tony Maglica, founder of Mag Instruments and inventor of the famous Maglite Flashlight, may be eighty-four years old, but that doesn’t stop him from works over seventy hours a week in his factory, located in Ontario, California. Tony has always been a dreamer and a dedicated worker, and only someone with his level of dedication could have created Mag Instruments, a multi-million dollar company, completely without using overseas production or reducing his standards of quality. And Maglica grew his company from just a $125 down payment and a tiny rented garage.
Maglica was born in New York in 1930, but when he was two years old he moved with his mother back to Croatia, her homeland. He lived through starvation and war in Europe, becoming trained as a machinist, and in 1950, moved back to America with his wife and child. Unable to find decent work on the East Coast, Maglica moved to California and found employment working as a machinist. Soon, however, he realized that he wasn’t happy working for someone else. The union of shop leaders complained that he was skipping mandatory breaks and out-producing everyone else, so he saved up $125 to pay for the down payment of his own lathe and became his own boss.
He began filling contracts for the US government, who appreciated both his superior skill with machining parts and his tireless work ethic. He incorporated under the name Mag Instruments in 1974, and later that year was given the inspiration to begin working on a flashlight design when he became dissatisfied with the low quality of the flashlights he was producing parts for.
All of this took place in his small garage in L.A.
Maglica was driven. He slept on his workbench and patented improved tool designs. He worked long hours but maintained a higher standard of quality than any competitor could match. By 1979, Maglica had innovated the design of the handheld flashlight enough that he released it under the name Maglite. An American legend was born.
To this day, Tony Maglica remains an inspiration for American entrepreneurs and innovators. The first Maglites were heavy-duty and bright, perfect for service personal like police officers or firemen. Even now, Maglite prides itself on dependable quality, but in 1979, Maglite was a revolution in an otherwise stagnant industry. Flashlights were considered disposable and manufactured cheaply, but once the Maglite entered the market, competitors had to emulate it or disappear. While the competition tried to catch up to Maglica’s superior machining skills, he continued to grow his hold on the market with the release of the Mag Charger, the Mini Maglite and cutting-edge underwater lighting solutions.
In 1984, Maglica won a lawsuit against U.S. retailers who were selling cheap foreign knockoffs instead of Maglites. He won the suit, but instead of pursuing a monetary reward, he required the retailers (Including Sears, Roebuck & Co., and Kmart) to buy five Maglites for every imported light they had sold. This brilliant settlement put Maglites on shelves around the nation and just improved Mag Instrument’s claim to the market share.
This was the first of many lawsuits that Mag Instruments used to defend their brand and their intellectual property. Maglite, amazingly, is an American-owned company that has kept all of their production in the United States. Making mass-produced products in the U.S. is a rare practice these days, when outsourcing to lower-wage countries provides an easy way to cut costs, but Maglica has always been a firm believer in keeping their jobs in the U.S. They do this through automation and smart business practices, rather than increasing their pricing, but Maglica also owns over 200 patents and the Mag Instruments legal team make sure that no one else can steal Maglica’s ideas and profit from his hard word. By maintaining their standards of quality and working tirelessly for over half a century, Maglica has grown his company to 800 employees and has managed to keep the price of a Maglite the same since they were invented in 1979.
Maglica looks at his employees as family, and although he knows that he could make a much larger profit by moving overseas, he is resolute on continuing to run his company on the same principals that he founded it on. Gus Hawthorne, the company’s director of engineering, says “Tony will be the first one to tell you that had this been a publicly owned company, they would have fired him,” but because Maglica has never taken Mag Instruments public, he can continue to maintain his ideals while still running the company he grew from nothing.
Although Maglite has grown to a 700,000-square-foot factory, Maglica has never moved the company away from the core values he began with. The same dedication of quality that allowed him to be successful machining parts from a tiny garage in L.A. made Maglite a world name in quality flashlights, and his story of pursuing the American dream continues to inspire young entrepreneurs today.
This is not an isolated story; great companies and inventions seem to naturally find their starts in garages. Next Monday, Garage Greatness will look at the origins of Amazon, the largest internet sales retailer in the United States. Jeff Bezos founded Amazon to join in on the growing internet business market and originally only sold books, but after growing at an alarming rate to selling $20,000 a week after only two months, Bezos diversified and guided his company to be the biggest name in online retail. Find out how Bezos built an empire out of his garage, next week, on Garage Greatness!
Does your family own a Maglite flashlight? Are you willing to pay more for an American-made product? Let us hear your response by using the share links on the left side of this page!