An Extraordinary Achievement: The First Handgun-Mounted Light?

posted on October 24, 2013
colt-tan-br.jpg

The first hand-held battery-operated flashlight was invented by Russian/American immigrant Conrad Hubert in 1902, and patented the next year. Soon after that, firearm-oriented inventors explored the idea of mounting the new flashlight on a gun. Immediately, there was a big problem: When the gun fired, the recoil force would destroy the delicate filament in the bulb.

In 1911, inventor George A. Seely of San Francisco completed work on a firearm-mounted light that solved the problem. He filed for a patent in October 1911, and the Patent Number 1,029,951 was granted on June 18, 1912. The “Night Sight For Firearms” was made with watch-like precision. As you would expect, one of its main features was a careful spring-and-rubber cushioning of the delicate bulb.

The drawing on the patent copy shows the device mounted on what appears to be a .22 rifle, but the only known example is attached to a Colt Police Positive .38 Spl. revolver. Obviously, the inventor wanted to show that his system would survive the recoil of the “magnum” of that time period. The light unit was fastened securely to the barrel and frame, and two small steel tubes at the rear carried insulated wires into the frame. From there, internally, the wires went to the battery in the grip-frame.

A large aluminum “over-grip” housed the Winchester-brand 3-volt battery. Incredibly, the original battery, which has not leaked, still produces 0.6 of a volt! A bar-type pressure switch at the front of the grip turns on the light. Four small screws on the light unit allow the beam to be adjusted to point-of-impact, in the same manner as a modern-day laser unit.

The Police Positive, serial number 113775, was made early in 1915. On April 9, 1915, it was one of 10 guns shipped to the Dunham, Carrigan & Hayden Co. of San Francisco. I think we can assume that the inventor, Seeley, bought his test gun from that firm. The revolver is in an original black-leather-covered fitted case, with recesses for the gun, battery, spare bulb, and a small screwdriver. The condition, overall, is 98 percent-very fine.

This is probably the only surviving example of the Seely Night Sight. It is presently owned by collector/dealer Randall Bessler of Carson City, Nev. As an experiment, a modern functional custom battery was made to the original dimensions by noted Nevada gunsmith Martin Scott. Once installed, the unit worked perfectly.

Along with George A. Seely, the patent lists a one-half assignment to “J. Salsbury,” who must have assisted in either the design, or perhaps, the funding. Today, with LEDs and lasers, we see gun-mounted light as an ordinary thing. For 1912, it was an extraordinary achievement.

Latest

right side bolt-action rifle gray wood silver metal steel stainless
right side bolt-action rifle gray wood silver metal steel stainless

NRA Gun of the Week: Kimber 84M Pro Varmint

On this week’s “Gun of the Week” video preview, watch as American Rifleman staff take a short-action Kimber 84M rifle to the range for discussion.

The Armed Citizen® Oct. 15, 2021

Read today's "The Armed Citizen" entry for real stories of law-abiding citizens, past and present, who used their firearms to save lives.

Rifleman Q&A: M1 Garand Vs. M1 Carbine Rebarrels

It seems to me that few World War II-vintage M1 Garand rifles retain their original barrels today, whereas most M1 Carbines of the same era I have seen still have the original barrels?

Record Setting Participation In USA Clay Target League Fall Season

This fall season of the USA Clay Target League has reached new heights, with a record breaking 651 high school and college teams, equating to 11,783 of the young enthusiasts, participating.

NRA Museums: 85 Years Of Preserving The Past For The Future

In June 1923, the Official Journal of the National Rifle Association became The American Rifleman, a bi-monthly publication with a staff that included Maj. Julian S. Hatcher, Lt. Col. Townsend Whelen, Capt. Charles Askins, Sr. and a host of others whose names read like a who’s who of legendary gun writers and experts.

Savage A17: The Semi-Automatic .17 HMR Rifle

Introduced in 2015, the Savage A17 rifle line was one of the first semi-automatics to be chambered for the tiny but hot .17 HMR cartridge. 

Interests



Get the best of American Rifleman delivered to your inbox.