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Escaping WWII in Croatia to Founding Maglite: Tony Maglica's Story

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
September 7, 2022 3:00 am

Escaping WWII in Croatia to Founding Maglite: Tony Maglica's Story

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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September 7, 2022 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Tony Maglica's family escaped the horrors of World War II and left their homeland of Croatia; however, his flashlights are proudly made in America—and his dreams were too.

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MUSIC Here's the story of this Croatian immigrant who started with nothing and ended up with something.

MUSIC Tony Magdlika was born in New York City in November of 1930. But with the Great Depression in full swing, he and his family moved back to his mother's native island in Croatia. 1932, my mom went back to Europe. My father stayed here.

They thought things were going to blow up in no time, so things were going to be good right away. But he said he didn't have no money, he didn't have no jobs. My father didn't even have the money to send my mom back. He had to borrow money on a future job that he gets and pay it back. So I went over there with my mom and we were supposed to go back in a couple of years.

So they said we're going to save a little more money and this and that. And we are quite caught in a war, World War II, and that wasn't very pleasant to anyone. It was very difficult to live on the Mussolini. If they suspect that you are a communist or you are on the other side, whatever side that it is, they simply torture you and kill you. One torture there was by rich in oil, castrol, and they would put a tube in your throat and they would give you maybe a quart or so of this oil. And you die. I mean, it's just simply not immediately, but you know, it's just it's a horrible way to die. There was no freedom to leave the town.

We have no income. Then when the Italians got defeated, they got involved with Germans. When a German comes in the town, it was so frightening because they wanted all the people in the town to come down to the town.

And they put entirely town in a semi-circle against a big wall with three machine guns, one here, one there, and one on the center. And I was just a young man. I remember my mom was there standing up. I was right on the center. So I went under my mom's skirt.

This guy was really upset. They tell us to come out. They tell us to re-expose somebody. They said that they know that we killed somebody in town to dispose the person who had committed this crime. Well, there was no one that committed a crime. We don't know if somebody committed a crime. If you don't say it, we're going to kill all of you.

So what are you going to do? Just point a finger on the innocent person? And the people at that time, even if their life wasn't aligned, they wouldn't lie. There was a priest there, and he was begging that his people never commit any kind of crime.

And the priest said, you have the power to kill us all. I understand that, but if we tell you that this person committed a crime, we don't know that anybody committed a crime. And in this town, there's never been a person in jail.

There's never been anyone. You know, they believe in God by doing a crime like that. So anyway, at the end of about four hours, they're standing up and you don't know when they're going to pull the trigger. It's almost like being dead anyway. You don't know any second that they're going to turn around and start shooting. So my mom was terrified, and of course I was terrified. I mean, the whole town was terrified. Then they let us go. It wasn't the same thing everywhere in the country, you know, or the town. You know, they put the people against the wall just to shoot them. And you're listening to the voice of Tony Maglica, and he's telling the story of his life in Croatia around World War II and letting folks know what real totalitarianism looks and feels like to a small village where he had set up until these grand inquisitions and interrogations by, well, by the Nazis, that there had never been a person in jail in his town.

And yet they were looking for a murder, a murder suspect, and make one up. We don't care. When we come back, the story of Tony Maglica continues from nothing to something, a part of our American Dreamers story here on Our American Story. Lee Habib here, the host of Our American Stories. Every day on this show we're bringing inspiring stories from across this great country, stories from our big cities and small towns.

But we truly can't do the show without you. Our stories are free to listen to, but they're not free to make. If you love what you hear, go to and click the donate button. Give a little, give a lot.

Go to and give. And we continue with Our American Stories and the story of Tony Maglica. When we last left off, Tony was telling the harrowing story of living under both Italian and German occupation in war-torn Croatia during World War II. But if there was anything positive about this time in Tony's life, it was his mother. Here's Tony telling the story of what she did to help the family during this traumatic time. Anything, what she did, we sold everything that we brought from U.S. We sold blankets, the cups, the spoon, the plates, whatever we have traded for corn. My mom would have them, would save the corn and the various seeds and various grains, various beans and stuff like that. And I learned something from it. No matter how hungry we was, my mom would go to the pillowcase and she would take a cup of wheat. And I tell you, it's hard for me to even talk about it.

There is no one like the mother. By 1950, Tony had had enough of living in war-torn Croatia and made the decision to come back to the United States. Well, there was a boat that, a war boat, personnel boat, big ship, and they got it, England got it for the damage that they did. I guess they had to pay, so they took the boat and so they used that to transport the people.

I know it was like they were making a tourist zone out of it. So you have two, three classes on that boat. The third class, it was just shelves, like a shelf where you store your cans.

There was a six-bed in this little closet. So it was myself and five other people. So I have it tough, but there's other people have it even tougher than I am. The family was tortured.

A member of the family got killed. All these things, you have to have a desire to survive. You have to have a desire to accomplish something.

And Tony would accomplish something. But for right now, he was just one of many immigrants arriving in New York speaking very little English and with no money. So his first task was finding work. When I come into New York, I went to work in a sewing company, making clothes. So make a collar, sleeves, or whatever, fifty-five cents an hour. That was a lot of money then.

Well, at least for me it was anyway. I didn't know anything in the interest, you know, metric. So I said I want to learn how to do it. So the guy says to me, go to school, there's three schools. So I went to three schools.

I was there one week and the guy said, look fella, you need to go get a job. You don't need to go to school for this. You can teach other guys how to do that. I couldn't speak English.

How can I teach anybody? So I went to Denver, Colorado, got a job in a machine shop. But before Tony was hired at the shop he would work at, he faced some aversion there because of his lack of English. They said, you can't. How can you do this job? You can't work. I said, give me a job. If I can't do it, you don't have to pay me anything. I work for free. I said, oh, we have a union here and stuff.

We can't do that. And the guy says over there was speaking Italian. So my Italian was not really good, but it was the only thing I had and nobody speak Croatian. So the guy talked to me in Italian. He said, you really think you can do that? I said, yeah. So the guy said to the guy, why don't you give a guy opportunity? Give him a chance. The guy said, come on. In the office, he won't like that that we're doing. I said, look, nobody knows anything.

Why don't you just, maybe we can get a big laugh out of it. The guy gave it to me. He gave me a machine that wasn't running for years. I cleaned that machine, made the slides move, turned the machine on, and I made the parts in one week. Just as good as the people was doing now, another machine that was costing at that time probably maybe $8,000. I worked there for a year or something.

But then these people said, you know, Tony, why don't you go to California? It's a nice weather and you can make it $3 an hour. $3 an hour?

God. You know, that's a lot of money. $3 an hour?

More than three times what I'm making now. And I bought a 1947 Surya Bega. And that was the piece, I'll tell you. The guy that I worked with gave me a dollar and a quarter an hour. He gave me his car to drive. That's the first taste of me in this country, a people, pleasant.

They want to help me. I felt so guilty that I have to leave. I said, I got to get it. I got to get it. I had. So anyway, I only made about 10 miles away from the Denver. My car overheated. Nevertheless, Tony made it to California, where he would eventually find work at the A.O.

Smith Company, a manufacturer of everything from car bodies to water heaters. It was a really good job. I was making over $3 an hour.

But there was a downside. We have known that you have to produce at least that much to keep your pay rate. And so I will make that. I will even give some parts to the people next to me. You're making the same parts. Remember, the inspector will say, this is not your part. This is Tony's part to the other guy.

So the guy would let it go. But the one thing that I didn't like, they didn't want me to make so many parts. They didn't want me to shop my own to a very strict union. The guy said, look, you don't have to make that many parts.

I said, but look at how many people are lying waiting to get a tool sharp. I said, I can do it in five minutes and I can go back to work. The guy said, Tony, if you're going to do that, you're going to get in trouble.

And it was right. I did. The people, when I got to the bathroom, they were over there, slowing me down everywhere I can. They messed with Tony's machine, hampering his ability to produce. I said, my God, I was thinking about my mom telling me you work hard and do a good job. Why this?

Why do people do stuff like that? I was really sick in my stomach. Tired of spending his days at a company where he was being held back, Tony decided to use $125 he had saved up to make a down payment on his own machine. Soon he was able to rent a garage in South El Monte, California, and would pick up some contract jobs, initially working for his supervisor at A.O.

Smith Company, who would offer him some advice. He said, Tony, I heard you have a late home. And he said, what about making these sheds for me? And I said, sure. Here, you show me what you can do.

The guy gives me that. He said, Tony, you know, you're doing a good job, but I need thousands of these parts, not just 50 or 100. Why don't you just quit the job and do this in your garage? You can make more money than you make in here.

I said that was my goal. But I didn't know where to get to work. And you're listening to Tony Maglica tell the story of his journey from Croatia through Europe to the United States, from New York City to Denver and ultimately to California, where he was looking for that $3 a day job. But in the end, fellow workers were holding him back from his potential and what he could do with his life. And what happens next? Well, you'll hear more of Tony Maglica's story.

Our American Dreamers here on Our American Story. And we continue with our American stories and the story of Tony Maglica. When we last left off, Tony had just been given a bit of advice. He was told that he could make more money being his own boss. So in 1955, Tony founded Mag Instrument.

Let's pick up where we last left off. I was doing the work for James Bonner Clark. And I was doing also the business for Cloud and Multi-Flyer.

There used to be a calculator that would go by division and multiplication. Anyway, they did a government job, so I was doing some job from there. And I was doing all different kind of stuff.

The 30-millimeter projectile, Marway 7-fuse bomb. And that was a very competitive job. For one penny, you can lose the job even if you run it now. And this job shop is very competitive business.

People don't know how competitive that is. Anyway, I was doing different job shop work, all kind of job shop work, including a component that actually took the first satellite up in space. I was making parts for everybody.

There's a company by the name of Bianchi Company. And they made aluminum lights. So I told the guy, you know, I can make a light better than anything that you guys have. So when I developed an assortment, he said, no, we want to make our own light. We don't want your light. But despite the setback, others were still interested in Tony's flashlight, including Neil Perkins, founder of Safariland, who was looking to make a new flashlight specifically designed for law enforcement. And he said, I heard that you have a flashlight. How about let me sell your flashlight? Okay, how many you can sell?

Last year we sold several thousand for the whole year. Yeah, he said the part of it that we couldn't get it. I said, well, if I'm going to make it for you, I want 15,000 a month. He said, Tony, 15,000 a month.

It's crazy. Well, I said, I know I can make it and I can sell it. And I can make it in production.

I can make it economically enough and be able to sell it. He said, I'm sorry, Tony, about the count. I wish you change your mind.

If it doesn't work, please come back. So a determined Tony took his flashlight to a trade show. We sold first show thousands.

You heard right. Tony had far exceeded expectations at his first trade show. And Maglit wasn't just popular with law enforcement. With the introduction of Minimag, it became popular with the average consumer as well. Tony was making a lot of flashlights. We average thousands a day.

All the flashlights combined, not just Minimag. But Minimag we sold millions. Tony Maglica, who came back to his birth country speaking no English and with very little money, had become a self-made millionaire. Tony didn't settle down, though.

And now in his 90s, he's still working and making maglights in America, nowhere else. I go to work every day. I never miss a day. I work from Monday through Saturday. Saturday I spend not quite full day. But during the week, I'm trying to be here before eight. And I never leave before six, maybe seven. Sometimes when it's nice, when the light is on, I don't go home till nine.

Then when I come home, I eat dinner, I go right on the drawing board upstairs. People say, why you do it? Don't you make enough money?

Yes, I have made enough money. I want the mag to continue. I want my children to continue.

Some of the people that are here, they've been with me from beginning to continue. So what do I do now? I just kick them in the butt and say, go home?

You can't do that. My conscience won't let me. When you make enough money for yourself and your family, you're secure. If you can do a good thing, good deeds, there is no biggest pleasure in the world than doing that. I could really go into it someday to have this company, before I leave this earth, that I can get good people to give them a little slice of that pie. For Tony, his mission is to keep his business in the country that made it possible for it to exist in the first place and to continue to help the people that open their arms to him. It's the least he can do. People retire or people call me and tell me that they thank me.

They thank me what I've done for them. One guy had it. I didn't have very much money.

I was really struggling there. The doctor told me he had to quit working. The guy comes in my office and he's crying. I said, John, what's the matter? I have to leave this job. I said, but that's not the end of the world. No, he said, I have a heart problem.

A doctor wants me to retire, stop working. He said, John, it's okay. I didn't have that much money. I wrote him a check of $100,000, sent them around the world.

I felt good to know that I was able to do that for him. I invest in equipment. I invest on the people. And I didn't want to go to China to make it. I didn't want to go there to China to make it. I made it multi-billionaire.

Why? This is the only place in the world that can do what I did. And everybody has that opportunity. There is no place in the world that you can have the opportunity that you have here. I will give up all my business, everything, for this country. I will give my life for this country. You're free to do whatever you want, as long as you stay within the law.

The best day I have, I think, when I landed in New York, it was a land of freedom. You don't understand what that is. Nobody understands what freedom is. Nobody understands what we got here.

They don't understand that our Constitution, like the something horrible thing, they think they want to change it. Why do you want to change it when it's perfect? Don't try to fix something that's now broken.

Then, compared with all the world, find a place that you can think you'd rather be than here. I don't care who you are. I don't care what you are. God bless you.

Be what you want to be. And you've been listening to the voice of Tony Maglica, and this may be as good a story as we've told, not just about him, but about the country that adopted him and the country he adopted, because it's a two-way street. And my goodness, did he adopt this country, and does he love it.

From Croatia, across Europe, and across America, from New York to Denver to California. And when he finally becomes his own boss and brings his Maglite to a trade show, 250,000 are ordered. And yet, he didn't cash out. He didn't make his Maglite in China. He wanted to keep it here in appreciation of the country that he so loves. The story of Tony Maglica, the story of American entrepreneurialism, and the American heart. This is our American Stories.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-17 17:18:52 / 2023-02-17 17:27:47 / 9

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