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U.S. Originals

Zippo windproof lighter - the history

The distinctive lighter became a legend and can be seen in movies like Indiana Jones or Top Gun and those charismatic leading actors make a Zippo an even more interesting and desirable object - it's not only a lighter, it's a Zippo.

The idea was born in 1932. George G. Blaisdell (1895 – 1978) sits on the porch of the Bradford Country Club and observes a very elgant dressed man lighting a cigarette with a not so elegant lighter - an Austrian windproof lighter as it turns out. When George Blaisdell asks why he wouldn't use a more elegant lighter, the man answers briefly: "Because it works!".

Blaisdell was convinced that this was exactly what the rest of the world was waiting for. Enthusiasticly he bought the rights for this lighter from the Austrian company and based his own development on it. He rented (allegedly for 10 Dollars a month) a small workshop on the first floor of an auto repair shop, bought machines and material for ca. 800 Dollars and started with his new business.

He redesidned and improved the Austrian lighter. The shape became rectangular, the removable top was attached to the bottom with a welded hinge. The wick became surrounded by a punched metal cover to protect the flame more against wind. Now he needed a name for his product and because he liked the name 'zipper' of the recently invented homonymous product that much he decided to name his lighter 'Zippo'.

But selling the product turned out to be not as easy as he thought. In the first month he sold not even 100 lighters at a price of 1.95 Dollars, the next month 350 pieces. Economically it's the time of the Great Depression and people are reluctant to buy anything. Blaisdell was looking for new channels to sell his product. During the years 1933/34 he sold his lighter to gambling halls where the lighter was used as a prize trophy for the 'punchboard' game, but when the game was declared illegal, he was out of business again. Blaisdell had some kind of success by selling the lighter to companies which used it as a promotional giveaway, but the zippo was still far away of being a legend.

That should change. War time is coming up again. America gets involved in WWII. The robust and reliable Zippo lighter becomes every soldiers companion and Braisdell has problems to obtain enough brass supply for his production because this metal was short on supply during war. He decides to switch to steel and can continue to satisfy the demand of the market.
For the troops the Zippo was a something from 'home' they could carry around with themselves. They started to engrave the names of their loved-ones, hopes, prayers, and dreams on the Zippo surface and finally made the Zippo the legend it became until today.

Still during the war but especially after the war the demand for a Zippo grew that much that George Braisdell needed to expand. In 1938 he moved to a bigger place in a house at 36 Barbour St., still Bradford, PA. In 1947 ha had already sold his 10-millionth lighter and in 1949 he opened the first factory outside the U.S. in Niagara Falls (Canada). In 1955 the company is moved in a new building at 33 Barbour St just adjacent of the old factory. Big letters on the roof say: „Home of Zippo windproof lighter – they work.“

From now on the Zippo accompanies soldiers in upcoming wars like the Vietnam War, it flies into Space with NASA missions, and is a part of the daily life.

George Blaisdell dies in 1978 and Robert Galey takes over until 1986. Michael Schuler is now in charge and strengthens the marketing part of the product - he spends more on advertising and focuses additionally on the collectors market which makes up approx. 30% of the market nowadays. In July 1994 Bradford, PA, celebrates the first 'National Zippo Day'. Estimated 400 million Zippos in about 120 countries have been sold since Blaisdell came up with his idea of the robust windproof lighter which has a built-in 'life-long' guarantee and the distinctive 'Click' when you open it.

Zippo windproof lighter

Founder George G. Blaisdell
Founder George G. Blaisdell



"Build your product with integrity . . .stand behind it 100% and success will follow."
George G. Blaisdell, Founder

Zippo/Case Museum / Visitor Center
1932 Zippo Drive, Bradford, PA
Coming from I-86, take exit 23 south on US 219 which leads you to Bradford. Follow the signs.

Document Information
Source: Information courtesy of Zippo Germany Public Relations; story told/compiled by magazineUSA.com
Last modified: 2004mmtt
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