My father has smoked all of my life, having started at a very young age. In all of my 41 years, I have seen him use Zippo lighters exclusively, never that I know of has he ever used a disposable lighter or other brand of lighter. The smell the Zippo makes is something that reminds me of my childhood. Throughout the years he has owned numerous lighters from Zippo, most were given to him as gifts or he saw one with a design he liked. Even today on his birthday or Father’s Day I usually purchase a Zippo I think he will like and have it engraved, usually with some sort of patriotic or military motto. He has many Zippos displayed on the fireplace mantle that have never been used.
Being a smoker myself, I also use Zippo lighters almost exclusively. I like their reliability, long life, and unconditional guarantee. I have sent in a Zippo that I found buried in the ground and the company repaired it and sent it back to me in new condition; I did not pay a penny. It turned out that lighter was from the ’50s and considered a valuable collectible. I gave it to my father not long ago.
The other day I was in a smoke shop and looking at the many Zippo lighters available when I thought about how and when they were invented. I had always heard that they were invented for the military personnel so they would have a means to light fires and cigarettes in adverse conditions. While soldiers in WW2 and Vietnam did indeed use them, this was not the original purpose.
The inventor of the Zippo, a man named George Blaisdell, was at a party in 1932 and went outside to have a cigarette. There he saw a man pull out a very awkward Australian lighter. The lighter worked well and the wind did not effect the flame, but it was ugly and needed two hands to operate. The lighter was totally out of place of the nicely dressed individual using it. Watching the man light the device clumsily, Mr. Blaisdell had to keep himself from laughing. “You’re all dressed up; why don’t you get a lighter that looks decent?” he asked. The man must have took offense and annoyingly responded, “It works!”
In 1933, Mr. Blaisdell produced the first Zippo. He kept the Australian chimney design to protect the flame in adverse conditions, but changed the case to the one we are all so familiar with. The name “Zippo” came from the fact that he liked the sound of the word zipper and decided Zippo was a good, modern sounding name. The first Zippos were sold for $1.95 and from the beginning carried the unconditional guarantee “It works or we fix it free.” In the 75-year history of the company, not one person has spent a cent on the mechanical repair of a Zippo, regardless of its age or condition.
During WW2, Zippo ceased manufacturing lighters for consumer markets and focused completely on military applications. This led to the steel case Zippo. The fact that millions of American military personnel carried the lighter into battle helped make it an icon of America throughout the world. It has been featured in over 1500 movies, often used as a key prop to move the story forward.
Today Zippo lighters are collected by millions of people all over the world. It is a symbol of durability and reliability. 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.