The history of the american super icon – The Zippo lighter
The history 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 without doubt have played a part in its 80-year history. Their loyalty to Zippo has made this one of America’s great companies, one with a intense history which is detailed below.
The Zippo timeline gets started in the early 1930s, at the Bradford Country Club in Bradford, Pennsylvania. Mr. Blaisdell witnessed a good friend awkwardly using a cumbersome Austrian-made lighter. The lighter worked nicely, even in the wind, due to the design of the chimney. Still its appearance was utilitarian. Its use required two hands, and its thin metal surface dented easily.
Later in 1932, he chose to refashion the Austrian lighter. Mr. Blaisdell constructed a rectangular case and attached the top of the lighter to the case with a hinge. He preserved the chimney design which protected the flame under adverse circumstances. The result was a lighter that appeared good and was uncomplicated to operate.
The first Zippo lighter, currently featured at the Zippo/Case Museum in Bradford, was developed in early 1933 and sold for $ 1.95 each. And, from the very beginning, they were backed by Mr. Blaisdell’s unconditional lifetime warranty – “It works or we fix it free. ™” The name “Zippo” was created by Mr. Blaisdell. He enjoyed the sound of the word “zipper” so he put together different variations of the word and settled on “Zippo,” deciding that it had a “modern” sound.
Application for the original Zippo patent was submitted 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 remains fundamentally the same to this day, with minimal upgrades. In the mid-30s, Bradford’s Kendall Refining Company placed an order for 500 Zippo lighters. These are considered to be the first company-advertised lighters produced by Zippo and are substantially collectible. Nowadays, companies continue to utilize Zippo lighters as an advertising medium and Zippo “advertiser” lighters remain among collectors’ favorite ones.
Starting in 1939, World War II had a thorough effect on Zippo. Upon America’s entry into the war, Zippo ceased production of lighters for buyer markets and dedicated all manufacturing to the U.S. military. The military initiative resulted in the production of the steel-case Zippo lighter with black crackle finish. The fact that countless 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 sturdy financially and made it a feasible corporation.
Towards the end of the war in 1945, Zippo hit the road selling lighters to peacetime America. A promoter at heart, Mr. Blaisdell wished to create a car that looked like a Zippo lighter. In 1947, the Zippo Car was born.
1950s / 1960's
Starting in the mid-50s, date codes were stamped on the bottom of each and every Zippo lighter. The original objective was for quality control, but the codes have since become an essential tool for collectors.
The release 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.
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 an essential prop, used as a device to move 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, ZippoEncore.com was created to showcase the talents of undiscovered bands across the country.
1970s / 1980's
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, is the sole owner and Chairman of the Board. Gregory W. Booth is President and CEO.
In the 70s and 80s, Zippo greatly expanded its overseas product sales and marketing efforts. As a result, Zippo lighters are now sold in over 160 countries. Strong sales in both the domestic market and emerging markets overseas, particularly China and India, contributed to record sales increases in 2011 and 2012.
In 1993, Zippo acquired W.R.Case and Sons Cutlery Company. Case manufactures premium hand-crafted knives, and offers a wide range of product categories, from traditional folding pocket knives and fixed blade sporting knives to limited-production commemoratives and collectibles. Established in 1889 and based in Bradford since 1905, Case has a rich tradition and many enthusiasts 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 unmatched. To enhance the collecting experience, Zippo collector clubs around the world hold meet ups and other events throughout the year.
The Zippo/Case Museum opened in July 1997. The 15,000-square-foot facility includes a shop, museum, and the famous Zippo Repair Clinic, where the Zippo lighter repair process is on display. The Zippo/Case Museum Store was remodeled early in 2012 with textures like brick, metal, and leather; a wooden runway leading to the centrally located cash wrap illuminated by pendant drop lights that resemble fire; a combination of vintage artwork and lifestyle photography; and display shelves resembling the Zippo bottom stamp.
2000 to Today
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. Zippo also introduced a major new product category with the Zippo MPL®, multi-purpose lighter, a refillable butane utility-style lighter. Since then, a lot of new products have been added to the multi-purpose lighter line.
The Zippo windproof lighter has been a staple necessity for outdoor adventures since… well, for longer than 80 years. There are many stories of how the light, heat, or case of a Zippo lighter saved the day or saved a life in the company archives. In 2010, the company introduced an all-metal hand warmer that operates on Zippo premium lighter fluid and keeps hands warm longer than any other product on the market. In 2011, an emergency fire starter kit and flex neck utility lighter were added to the roster of Zippo Outdoor products. As the Outdoor products continue to show very strong sales worldwide, Zippo is developing a Zippo- branded line of robust camping gear and fire accessories scheduled to be introduced later in 2013.
Zippo’s different product line continues to grow, and now includes lighter accessories; butane candle lighters; watches, men’s and women’s fragrance, and lifestyle accessories for men; and the developing line of heat and flame products for outdoor lovers. Zippo also owns the Ronson brand of lighters and fuel.
In 2012, during its 80th anniversary year, Zippo production surpassed the milestone of 500 million lighters since Mr. Blaisdell constructed the first lighter in early 1933. The lighter is ingrained in the fabric of both American and global culture. In marketing parlance, the brand takes pleasure from an unaided appreciation 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 warranty, “It works or we fix it free.™” In more than 80 years, no one has ever spent a cent on the mechanical repair of a Zippo lighter regardless of the lighter’s age or condition
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