Zippo was founded in Bradford, Pennsylvania in 1932 by George G. Blaisdell. He was born on June 5, 1895, in Bradford. On the surface of it, young George Blaisdell hardly seemed like someone who would find success in the brutal years of the Depression. He had very little formal education. He hated school; walked out of fifth grade and told his family he wasn’t going back.
His father bundled him off to a military academy, but young George Blaisdell lasted only two years there before he was summarily dismissed. His father put him to work in the family business – the Blaisdell Machinery Company – where he learned metal work, a skill that would come in handy in the germination stages of the Zippo lighter nearly thirty years later.
After World War I, he took over the family business, then sold the machinery company in 1920 and put the money in oil. The 20s roared – then stopped. Oil plunged – along with just about everything else – into the Great Depression. In Bradford, PA, where years of oil-boom business seemed invulnerable, the effects of the Depression were deeply felt.
Sarah Dorn provides this account of her father in the early days of Zippo: “My father hated the oil business. He wasn’t particularly good at it; in fact, he was a man for whom the boom was bust. He didn’t have the temperament for it. The one thing he did know in the early ‘30s was that he needed to do something, because those days were tough. There wasn’t a lot of money lying about then, but he went to everybody to get the money to launch Zippo Manufacturing Company. Nobody had any faith in it. It seemed like a foolish, harebrained idea. And it was. Imagine: manufacturing and marketing a lighter for $1.95 when that amount of money fed a family. What kept him going? I think whatever it was, it was tinged with desperation. He had to make this work. For him and his family, as they say now, there was no Plan B.”
The story of Zippo Manufacturing Company is the story of its people, from the founder, George G. Blaisdell, to the many Zippo employees, customers, and collectors who have played a part in its 75-year history. Their loyalty to Zippo has made this one of America’s great companies, one with a vivid history which is detailed here.
The Zippo timeline begins in the early 1930s, at the Bradford Country Club in Bradford, Pennsylvania. Mr. Blaisdell* watched a friend awkwardly using a cumbersome Austrian-made lighter. The lighter worked well, even in the wind, due to the design of the chimney. But its appearance was utilitarian. Its use required two hands, and its thin metal surface dented easily.
*From the beginning, this is how Zippo employees referred to George Blaisdell
He decided to refashion the Austrian lighter in the fall of 1932. Mr. Blaisdell fabricated a rectangular case and attached the top of the lighter to the case with a hinge. He retained the chimney design which protected the flame under adverse conditions. The result was a lighter that looked good and was easy to operate. The first lighter, currently displayed at the Zippo/Case Museum in Bradford, was produced in early 1933.
The word “Zippo” was created by Mr. Blaisdell in 1932. He liked the sound of the word “zipper” so he formed different variations on the word and settled on “Zippo,” deciding that it had a “modern” sound.
The first Zippo lighters sold for $ 1.95 each. And, from the very beginning, they were backed by Mr. Blaisdell’s unconditional lifetime guarantee – “It works or we fix it freeTM.”
Application for the original Zippo patent was filed on May 17, 1934, and patent number 2032695 was granted on March 3, 1936. A second patent, number 2517191 was issued on August 1, 1950. The design of the Zippo lighter basically remains the same to this day, with minor improvements.
In the mid-30s, Bradford’s Kendall Refining Company placed an order for 500 Zippo lighters. These are believed to be the first company-advertised lighters produced by Zippo and are highly collectible. Today, companies continue to use Zippo lighters as an advertising medium and Zippo “advertiser” lighters continue to be among collectors’ favorites.
World War II had a profound effect on Zippo. Upon America’s entry in the war, Zippo ceased production of lighters for consumer markets and dedicated all manufacturing to the U.S. military. The military initiative led to the production of the steel-case Zippo 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 icon of America throughout the world. Supplying the military market resulted in full production for the plant. This enabled Zippo to be strong financially and made it a viable company.
At the end of the war, Zippo hit the road selling lighters to peacetime America. A promoter at heart, Mr. Blaisdell wanted to create a car that looked like a Zippo lighter. In 1947, the Zippo Car was born.
Zippo Manufacturing Company, Canada, Ltd. was established in Niagara Falls, Ontario, in 1949 to negate import duties. Outside of the main plant in Bradford, this is the only place in the world where Zippo lighters have been made. The bottom stamp on lighters produced in Canada reflect the Niagara Falls location. Due to the implementation of free trade policies in the 90s, the need for a Canadian manufacturing facility was no longer viable and the plant was closed in 2002.
Starting in the mid-50s, date codes were stamped on the bottom of every Zippo lighter. The original purpose was for quality control, but the codes have since become an invaluable tool for collectors.
The launch of the Slim model in 1956 was a major milestone. This version was designed to appeal primarily to women. The first non-lighter product was a steel pocket tape measure, or “rule” as it was called, introduced in 1962. Other items have been added and deleted from the Zippo line since the 1960s. Many were primarily geared to the promotional products division. The roster includes key chains, pocket knives, golf greenskeepers, pen-and-pencil sets and the ZipLight pocket flashlight.
Mr. Blaisdell passed away on October 3, 1978. He is remembered not only for inventing the Zippo lighter, but also for his generous and kind spirit. After his passing, his daughters, Harriett B. Wick and Sarah B. Dorn, inherited the business. In the 1980s and 90s, the company was owned by six members of the Blaisdell family, including his daughters and their children. Today, George B. Duke, Mr. Blaisdell’s grandson and Sarah Dorn’s son, owns the company and is Chairman of the Board. Gregory W. Booth is President and CEO.
In the 70s and 80s, Zippo greatly expanded its overseas sales and marketing efforts. As a result, Zippo lighters are now sold in over 120 countries with Japan being the largest market outside of the U.S.
In 1993, Zippo acquired Bradford-based W.R.Case and Sons Cutlery Company. Case is the manufacturer of premium collectible and sport knives, often designated “the world’s most collectible knives.” Case, established in 1889, has a rich heritage and many aficionados collect both Case knives and Zippo lighters.
It’s estimated that there are some four million Zippo collectors in the United States and millions more around the world. Their fervor and dedication to the brand is unparalleled. To enhance the collecting experience, Zippo began hosting the Zippo/Case International Swap Meet in 1995. Currently, swap meets are presented in Bradford every other year, with meets held in Japan in the opposite years.
The Zippo/Case Visitors Center opened in July 1997. It is a 15,000-square-foot facility that includes a store, museum, and the famous Zippo Repair Clinic, where the Zippo lighter repair process is on display. It has become Northern Pennsylvania’s most-visited museum.
Perhaps one of the biggest influences on collecting is Zippo’s ties to Hollywood and Broadway. The Zippo lighter has been featured in more than 1,500 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 more the plot forward or to reflect the personality of a character or time period being depicted.
On the music scene, Zippo lighters have been raised high since the 1960s as a salute to favorite performers, a gesture later dubbed the “Zippo Moment”. 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. With a rock resume like this, the Zippo Hot Tour was created in 2004 to showcase the talents of undiscovered bands across the country.
2002 was a banner year for Zippo, with the debut of the company-sponsored Zippo collectors’ club, Zippo Click. The name of the club is derived from sound of the click of a Zippo lighter and is a play on the word “clique.” The club has registered members from over 60 countries.
Zippo also launched a major new product category with the Zippo MPL®, multi-purpose lighter, a refillable butane utility-style lighter. Since then, several new products have been added to the multi-purpose lighter line. In the fall of 2002, Zippo obtained trademark registration for the shape of the Zippo lighter. This was a major milestone in helping Zippo protect the brand from counterfeiters.
In March of 2004, Zippo acquired D.D.M. Italia, known throughout Europe for fine Italian leather goods. Now called Zippo Fashion Italia, the subsidiary markets fashion-forward purses and small leather goods.
In 2006, Zippo production surpassed the milestone of 425 million lighters since Mr. Blaisdell crafted the first lighter in early 1933. The lighter is ingrained in the fabric of both American and global culture. In marketing parlance, the brand enjoys an unaided awareness rate of more than 98 percent. That means 98 out of every 100 people surveyed have knowledge of the Zippo name and lighter without being coached in any manner – an astonishing recognition factor.
Today, though most products are simply disposable or available with limited warranties, the Zippo lighter is still backed by its famous lifetime guarantee, “It works or we fix it for free.” In almost 75 years, no one has ever spent a cent on the mechanical repair of a Zippo lighter regardless of the lighter’s age or condition.
Zippo Windproof Pocket Lighter
Any Zippo pocket lighter, when returned to our factory, will be put in first-class mechanical condition free of charge, for we have yet to charge a cent for the repair of a Zippo pocket lighter, regardless of age or condition. The finish, however, is not guaranteed.
This guarantee gives you specific legal rights and you may also have other rights which vary state to state or country to country. Other Zippo products carry their own specific warranties. To obtain service under this warranty, follow the shipping instructions in the FAQs.
Zippo Multi-Purpose Lighter
Any Zippo Multi-Purpose Lighter returned to our factory for warranty repair will be repaired free of charge or replaced, at our discretion. There is a $5.00 shipping and handling Fee. Damage to the Multi-Purpose Lighter resulting from abuse or misuse is not covered by our warranty. The finish is also not warranted.
This warranty gives you specific legal rights and you may also have other rights which vary state to state. Other Zippo products carry their own specific warranties.
Zippo Consumer Relations
33 Barbour Street
Bradford, Pennsylvania 16701
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