Law Enforcement Lights - Where we Were (c1939)

Today is the Anniversary of my Grandfathers passing at the too young age of 68 years old.

He died in 1985 after what we, today, would consider an awfully short life but it was a very busy one including being one of the original group of "Florida Highway Safety" Officers, a group later known as the Florida State Police.

As a tribute, and for the fun of it, I decided to do a brief retrospective of what a cop had to work with c1939 when my Grandfather had just started his patrols along the Florida coastal areas near Clearwater.

One of the really wonderful images I have of my Grandfather was an old photo my Father had of Grandpa David posing for a newspaper photo. The picture was Grandpa (about 22 at the time) holding his Colt police positive service revolver and a flashlight both pointed at another officer who was pretending to be the "bad guy". The picture gave a really clear view of the light and I was able to identify it as a mid 1930 production "USA Light" incandescent running on 3 "D" cell batteries.

A few years back the "Sundance" company ran a limited number of "reproduction antique" flashlights that, to my amazement, were nearly perfect replicas of Grandpas light with the notable exception that the reproductions have a leather wrapped handle.

So if you were a Florida cop in 1939, in a brand new department, with a brand new budget, THIS was the high tech illumination tool you were issued! (Just kidding, all the officers had to buy their own flashlights).

The reproduction I have tests at a solid 42 lumens in a super tight spot with the weirdest beam pattern you have ever seen. It takes about 4 hours to drop to 50% of initial brightness. Making a rough seat-o-the-pants calculation about older style zinc batteries and older bulbs I still think it reasonable to assume the officers were handling about 36 lumens for at least two hours "back in the day".

One of the really advanced design elements of this light was the tailcap which had a VERY strong "captured spring" design. This meant that the batteries were pressed together very firmly and forced to have solid contact with the cap that enclosed the base of the light bulb resulting in good conduction and the brightest possible light from the design. The switch also had dual-wipers, I assume for the same reasons of reliability and making a strong electrical connection.

In 1939 this was some serious technology for a lowly flashlight!

The head also had some really interesting features. There was at least an attempt to make the bezel "anti-roll". It wasn't much but the attempt was there and I'm sure it made the light rather more expensive to machine/produce. Also they were experimenting with stippled reflectors (which I clearly remember in Grandpa Davids light because I thought the reflector was broken as a kid). The turbo-head design took almost every available lumen and threw it out to maximum distance for use (roughly 50 yards tops).

Because bulb production was somewhat inconsistent, the head can also be screwed in or out much light maglight did later. This wasn't to give you a flood or spot, this was because different brands of bulbs had their filaments in slightly different locations so if you wanted the good tight searchlight beam you had to "fine tune" the reflector for each new bulb.

How did that work? Well by todays standards it was bad to the point of frightening, and any decent bump would move the bulb around inside the head giving you an off-center beam. But again, in 1939 a flashlight that could project out 50 yards was a SUPER LIGHT!

I hope you enjoyed this brief trip back into history with me.

And the pic of reflector? :smiley:

Awesome thread…thanks for sharing!

whoops, forgot to put that one in.

Look like a halogen bulb in there and you probably have alkline batteries in there. Your gramps would have had some old Rayovac’s with probably no more than 40% of the life of a good duracel and probably closer to 20%

I remember those lights that’d take PR2 bulbs, where just by random chance the beam could be quite tight, or flat-out suck, depending on the position of the bulb in the reflector. You could get a nice clean almost-circle, or a lopsided football-shaped beam that “leaned” to one side. Ugh.

Ah, the bad ol’ days…

The Middle Ages of flashlights!