The History Behind Zippo Lighters


The History Behind Zippo Lighters

In late 1932 Mr. Blaisdell decided to reconstruct the Austrian lighter. He fabricated a small rectangular case and attached a lid with a hinge. He preserved the chimney design which protected the flame.

The result was an attractive lighter that was easily operated with one hand. The name “Zippo” was created by Mr Blaisdell. He liked the sound of the word “zipper” so he formed variations on the word until he settled on “Zippo,” which he felt had a “modern” sound.

The new lighter sold for $1.95 each and was backed by Mr. Blaisdell’s, now famous, unconditional lifetime guarantee ­–"It works or we fix it free.™” The application for the original Zippo patent was filed on May 17, 1934, and patent number 2032695 was granted on March 3, 1936.

That first Zippo lighter, produced in 1933, is on display at the Zippo/Case Museum in Bradford.
In the mid-30’s, Kendall Refining Company in Bradford, placed an order for 500 Zippo lighters. These lighters are believed to be the first company-advertised lighters produced by Zippo and are highly prized collectibles.


World War II had a profound impact on Zippo. Upon America’s entry into the war in 1941, Zippo ceased production of lighters for consumer markets and dedicated all production to the U.S. military.

This initiative led to the production of the steel-case Zippo lighter with black crackle finish. The fact that millions of American military personnel carried the lighter into battle was a significant catalyst in establishing Zippo as an American icon throughout the world.

Supplying the military market resulted in full production for the plant and enabled Zippo to become financially strong and made it a viable company.

The zippo car era

At the end of the war in 1945, Zippo returned to selling lighters to a peacetime America and resumed producing lighters for the consumer market. A promoter at heart, Mr. Blaisdell wanted to hit the road with a car that looked like a Zippo lighter and in 1947 the Zippo Car was born.

By the end of World War II, Zippo had become a national treasure. Seeking to capitalize on the good will Americans felt toward Zippo lighters, founder George G. Blaisdell decided to take to the streets of America selling Zippo lighters.

How better to do that than with a product mobile - a vehicle that is immediately recognizable as representing the iconic Zippo lighter.

Blaisdell envisioned a car that looked like a Zippo lighter. He hired Gardner Display of Pittsburgh to design the vehicle, a 1947 Chrysler Saratoga with larger-than-life lighters stretching above the roof line, complete with removable neon flames.

The lids of the lighters snapped shut for travel. The word Zippo was painted on the side in 24-karat gold. The Zippo Car was a hit, heading up parades and special events.

In the two years after its creation, the Zippo Car traveled to all 48 continental U.S. states and participated in every major parade in the nation but the remarkable car had some problems.

The weight of the giant lighters put enormous pressure on the tires, which blew out easily.The armor-plated fenders made the car impossible to jack up for a tire change.

Zippo Car and Jeep

 ther 1947 Chrysler New Yorker Saratoga and started over again, making the car lighter and with a sturdier suspension. The new Zippo Car is just as popular as its predecessor, making rounds across America -

now in a truck instead of being driven across the nation. When not on the road, the Zippo Car makes its home at the Zippo/Case Museum in Bradford, Pennsylvania.

The Zippo Jeep®

In 2011, Zippo unveiled a new Zippo Jeep® at the 2011 Zippo 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Watkins Glen International. Completely customized, the Zippo Jeep will serve as a promotional vehicle, supporting the company’s popular Outdoor utility products.

Unveiled in Victory Lane, the new Zippo Jeep immediately went to work, as it led the Nationwide field in the first warm-up lap of the Zippo 200.
“We could have chosen any number of vehicles for this project, but the Jeep was the most fitting said George Duke, Zippo owner and chairman of the board.

“There are many parallels between our brands – American-made, rugged, tough and dependable. In addition, the nature of the Jeep makes it the ideal vehicle to help us promote and share all the great things we’re doing with our Outdoor products.”

The Zippo Jeep® was customized by West Coast Customs ®, the most recognized name in the custom automotive industry. West Coast Customs made significant modifications inside and out to a stock 2011 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited and transformed it into the ultimate Zippo vehicle.

Stand out features include a full lift kit, supercharger, custom built front bumper and grill, LED lighting around the outside of the vehicle to simulate fire, and a giant Zippo windproof lighter which has replaced the Jeep’s standard spare tire mount.

The production of the new Zippo Jeep was the focus of an episode of “Inside West Coast Customs” filmed live on site at the 2011 Zippo 200

In February 2010 Zippo acquired the Ronson Consumer Products Company brand of lighters and fuel.

In 2010 the company introduced an all-metal hand warmer, launching the Zippo Outdoor products. The hand warmer uses Zippo premium lighter fluid and provides a steady source of heat longer than any other product on the market.

Zippo’s continued expansion in overseas markets, particularly India and China, as well as strong domestic sales led to record sales increases in 2011 and 2012.
In 2011 the Zippo Outdoor product selection expanded to include an emergency fire starter kit and flex neck utility lighter.

In 2012, during its 80th anniversary year, Zippo production surpassed the landmark 500 millionth lighter.

Also in 2012, the Zippo/Case Museum was remodeled to better reflect the Zippo brand. The new modern design features a combination of rich and rugged textures, like leather and brick, and a mix of vintage artwork and lifestyle photography.

In 2013 Zippo launched a line of robust Zippo-branded camping gear and fire accessories.

Companies around the world continue to use Zippo lighters as an advertising and promotional tool. These “advertiser” lighters continue to be among collectors’ favorites.

Perhaps one of the biggest influences on collecting is Zippo’s ties to popular culture, Hollywood, Broadway, and the music industry. The Zippo lighter has been featured in more than 2,000 movies, stage plays and television shows over the years.

Zippo lighters have “starred” in such diverse productions as “I Love Lucy” “The X-Men” and “Hairspray – the Musical.” Often the lighter is a key prop, used as a device to move the plot forward or to reflect the personality of a character or time period being depicted.

The famous Zippo “click” sound has been sampled on songs, and the lighters themselves have been featured on album covers, tattooed on rockers’ skin, and wielded in Rolling Stone photo shoots.

In a world where most products are simply disposable or available with limited warranties, Zippo remains backed by its famous lifetime guarantee. In more than 84 years, no one has ever spent a cent on the mechanical repair of a Zippo lighter regardless of the lighter’s age or condition. The lighter is ingrained in American culture and is a global icon of durability and reliability.

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