Mechanically-powered flashlights — be they shake, crank or squeeze varieties — are one of those must-have items for every emergency kit. When a tornado knocks out power, or the Big One hits, it's nice to know that you won't be fumbling around in the dark looking for batteries. But you might be surprised to learn that mechanically powered flashlights have been around for nearly a century.
The April 1923 issue of Practical Electrics magazine included the photos above, along with a short piece about the benefits of this new squeeze-powered flashlight. If you think batteries are unreliable and quick to deplete now, imagine what they were like 90 years ago.
From Practical Electrics:
In purchasing batteries, the age of the battery must always be looked out for, as a dry battery gradually deteriorates by merely standing idle, and an old battery is frequently exhausted before being inserted in the hollow case of the flashlight.
The flashlight which we illustrate, while naturally somewhat higher in first cost, dispenses absolutely with the battery trouble, and flashlights of this type have acquired extensive use in Europe.
Within the case, which is given a sort of pistol-grip shape, there is contained a magneto. By pressing the handle the magneto is caused to rotate, and by releasing it, repeating the pressure again, and keeping up the process, the generator is kept in operation and the lamp is lighted as long as the fingers are kept in motion.
An interesting development is the operation of a pencil type lamp attachment for the use of physicians for diagnostic purposes.
The generator flashlight is supposed to be of French origin and is certainly a very interesting development of the flashlight.
As batteries became more reliable, compact, and affordable during the 20th century, the battery-powered flashlight would corner the market. But today, batteryless varieties are not only seen as vital for emergencies, they're also a better alternative for the environment. Each year about 3 billion batteries are tossed out by Americans — which equals 125,000 tons of batteries added to American landfills. It's a lot of waste, to say nothing of the workout our wrists are missing out on.