|Founder||George Grant Blaisdell|
|Headquarters||Bradford, Pennsylvania, US|
|Divisions||W.R. Case & Sons Cutlery Co.|
A Zippo lighter is a reusable metal lighter manufactured by American Zippo Manufacturing Company of Bradford, Pennsylvania, United States of America. Thousands of different styles and designs have been made in the eight decades since their introduction including military versions for specific regiments. Since its invention Zippos have been sold around the world and have been described "a legendary and distinct symbol of Americana". In 2012 the company produced the 500-millionth unit. Since its inception Zippo Lighters have been almost exclusively manufactured in America, with the exception of those manufactured in Niagara, Canada (an operation that has since been shut down).
American George G. Blaisdell founded Zippo Manufacturing Company in 1932, and produced the first Zippo lighter in early 1933, being inspired by an Austrian cigarette lighter of similar design made by IMCO. It got its name because Blaisdell liked the sound of the word "zipper" and "zippo" sounded more modern. On March 3, 1936, a patent was granted for the Zippo lighter.
Zippo lighters became popular in the United States military, especially during World War II — when, as the company's web site says, Zippo "ceased production of lighters for consumer markets and dedicated all manufacturing to the US military". Period Zippos were made of brass, but Zippo used a black crackle finished steel during the war years because of metal shortages. While the Zippo Manufacturing Company never had an official contract with the military, soldiers and armed forces personnel insisted that base exchange (BX) and post exchange (PX) stores carry this sought-after lighter. While it had previously been common to have Zippos with authorized badges, unit crests and division insignia, it became popular among the American soldiers of the Vietnam War to get their Zippos engraved with personal mottos. These lighters are now sought after collector's items and popular souvenirs for visitors to Vietnam.
After World War II, the Zippo lighter became increasingly used in advertising by companies large and small through the 1960s. Much of the early Zippo lighter advertising are works of art painted by hand, and as technology has evolved, so has the design and finish of the Zippo lighter. The basic mechanism of the Zippo lighter has remained unchanged.
In 2002, Zippo expanded its product line to include a variety of utility-style multi-purpose lighters, known as Zippo MPLs. This was followed in 2005 with the Outdoor Utility Lighter, known as the OUL. These lighters are fueled with butane. In August 2007, Zippo released a new butane lighter called the Zippo BLU.
A museum called "Zippo/Case visitors center" is located in Bradford, Pennsylvania, at 1932 Zippo Drive. This 15,000-square-foot (1,400 m2) building contains rare and custom made Zippo lighters, and also sells the entire Zippo line. The museum was featured on the NPR program Weekend Edition on Sunday, January 25, 2009. The museum also contains an enormous collection of Case knives. Since the Zippo company's 60th anniversary in 1992, annual editions have been produced for Zippo collectors.
In March 2011, due to significant decrease of sales from 18 million lighters a year in the mid-1990s to about 12 million lighters a year recently, combined with increasing pressure on people not to smoke, Zippo Manufacturing Co. tried offering a wider variety of products using the Zippo name, such as watches, leisure clothing and eau de cologne. This strategy is similar to the success Victorinox Swiss Army Brands Inc. has had selling watches, luggage, clothing and fragrance.
On June 5, 2012, the company manufactured its 500,000,000th lighter as well as celebrated its 80th anniversary.
Besides having gained popularity as “windproof” lighters, Zippo lighters are able to stay lit in harsh weather, due to the design of the windscreen and adequate rate of fuel delivery. As such, until recently they were highly popular with backpackers and within the military. Professional backpackers (operating in the wilderness) have however now turned away from the regular Zippo lighter in favor of torch butane lighters which have windproof technology, heavy-duty matches, and ferrocerium rods. Many high-altitude and cold weather backpackers still prefer Zippo lighters because butane lighters are less reliable in cold weather.
A consequence of the windproofing is that it is hard to extinguish a Zippo by blowing out the flame. However, if the flame is blown from the top down, it will be easily extinguished. The proper way to extinguish the lighter is to close the top half, which starves the flame of oxygen, but unlike other lighters, this does not cut the fuel. One of the recognizable features of Zippo is the fact that it burns with a wick. Opening the top lid produces an easily recognizable "clink" sound for which Zippo lighters are known, and a different but similar "clunk" when the lighter is closed. This noise is produced by the spring-loaded toggling cam, a little lever that keeps the lid closed or opened securely.
Morley Safer, in his August 5, 1965 CBS News report of the Cam Ne affair and Private First Class Reginald "Malik" Edwards, the rifleman 9th Regiment, US Marine Corps Danang (June 1965-March 1966) whose profile comprises chapter one of Wallace Terry's book, Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Black Veterans (1984), describe the use of Zippo lighters in search and destroy missions during the Vietnam War. Edwards stated: "when you say level a village, you don't use torches. It's not like in the 1800s. You used a Zippo. Now you would use a Bic. That's just the way we did it. You went in there with your Zippos. Everybody. That's why people bought Zippos. Everybody had a Zippo. It was for burnin' shit down."
Current Zippos carry a suggested retail price between US$12.95 and US$15,621.60 (for the 18k solid gold model). In 2001, according to the fall 2003 issue of IUP Magazine, a 1933 model was purchased for $18,000 at a swap meet in Tokyo, and in 2002 the company bought one valued at $12,000 for its own collection. During the 2007 75th anniversary celebrations, Zippo sold a near mint 1933 model for $37,000.
All Zippo windproof lighters carry an unlimited lifetime guarantee, promoted using the trademarked phrase "It works or we fix it for free." The corporate web site boasts: "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."
In mid-1955, Zippo started year coding their lighters by the use of dots. From 1966 until 1973 the year code was denoted by combinations of vertical lines. From 1974 until 1981 the coding comprised combinations of forward slashes, in 1979 an error was made some lighters read / on the left and // on the right, it was fixed within the year to read //left and / right and from 1982 until June 1986 the coding was by backslash.
After July 1986, Zippo began including a date code on all lighters showing the month and year of production. On the left of the underside was stamped a letter A–L, denoting the month (A = January, B = February, C = March, etc.). On the right was a Roman numeral which denoted the year, beginning with II in 1986. However, in 2001, Zippo altered this system, changing the Roman numerals to more conventional Arabic numerals. Thus a Zippo made in August 2004 was stamped H 04.
The cases of Zippo lighters are typically made of brass and are rectangular with a hinged top. On most models, the top of the case is slightly curved.
Inside the case are the works of the lighter: the spring-toggle lever that keeps the top closed, the wick, windscreen chimney, flintwheel, and flint, all of which are mounted on an open-bottom metal box that is slightly smaller than the bottom of the outer case, and into which it slips snugly.
The hollow part of the interior box encloses five rayon balls which are in contact with the wick. The fuel, light petroleum distillate or synthetic isoparaffinic hydrocarbon (commonly referred to as lighter fluid or naphtha), is poured into the ball, which absorbs it. It also contains a tube that holds a short, cylindrical flint. The tube has an interior spring and exterior cap-screw that keeps the flint in constant contact with the exterior flint-wheel. Spinning this rough-surfaced wheel against flint results in a spark that ignites the fluid in the wick.
All parts of the lighter are replaceable. The Zippo lighter requires 108 manufacturing operations.
Zippo BLU & Zippo BLU 2
Zippo released the Zippo BLU in 2007 (although there are many 2005 pre-release models). These are butane torch lighters, which Zippo has gone to great lengths to make sure are still "identifiable as a Zippo". Specifically, the lid and cam were "tuned" so that the lighter still makes the distinctive "Zippo click", and also it is one of the only butane torch lighters that uses a flint and striker wheel. There is also the BLU2, which features a more square frame and eliminates the fuel gauge on the side of the original Zippo BLU.
As of January 1, 2016, the BLU line of lighters are discontinued. Zippo has stated that they will continue to service all previously sold BLU lighters.
In addition to its 2010 purchase of the Ronson brand in the US and Canada; Zippo also owns W. R. Case & Sons Cutlery Co. of Bradford, Pennsylvania; Zippo UK, Ltd. of London, England; and Zippo Fashion Italia of Vicenza, Italy.
- David Lander "The Buyable Past," American Heritage, February/March 2006.
- "IMCO". 'Imco' products website. Retrieved 19 May 2015.
- U.S. Patent 2,032,695
- The story of the Zippo Manufacturing Company at the company's website
- Zippo Companion by Avi Baer and Alexander Neumark (Hardcover - Dec 15, 2000) 192 pages Publisher: Compendium Publishing. ISBN 1-906347-13-1. ISBN 978-1-906347-13-0
- An American Legend Zippo: a Collector's Companion by Avi R; Neumark, Alexander Baer (Hardcover - 1999)
- Sherry Buchanan and Bradford Edwards, Vietnam Zippos:American Soldiers’ Engravings and Stories, 1965—1973. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.
- Paulette Dininny, "Keepers of the Flame: After Big Sales in World War II and Parts in Old Movies, Zippos Are Still Around, Often as hot Collector's Items," Smithsonian, vol. 29, no. 9 (December 1998), pg. 44.
-  - Zippo Blu press release
- Zippo.ca — Welcome to Zippo Canada
- Zippo Announces Plans for Ronson Acquisition
- Library, University of California, Berkeley, 2005, Pacifica Radio/UC Berkeley Social Activism Sound Recording Project: Anti-Vietnam War Protests in the San Francisco Bay Area & Beyond
- Terry, Wallace (1984). Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Black Veterans. Random House. p. 5. ISBN 0394530284. (ISBN 978-0-394-53028-4)
- Engelhardt, Tom. The End of Victory Culture: Cold War America and the Disillusioning of a ... p. Page 190, footnote.
- p. 530 Rubin, Allen; Weiss, Eugenia L. & Coll, Jose E. Handbook of Military Social Work John Wiley & Sons 27/11/2012
- p. 28 Rottman, Gordon L. & Anderson, Duncan The US Army in the Vietnam War 1965-73 Osprey Publishing, 2008
- Zippo’s Czar Archived September 5, 2006, at the Wayback Machine. (brief profile of the company's top executive, with two photographs)
- Zippo History
- Sherry Buchanan (2007). Vietnam Zippos: American Soldiers' Engravings and Stories (1965-1973). University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226078281.
- Rose Chun, "Snap That Top: The Zippo Lighter Dwells in American Legend as an Icon of Machismo and Quality," Cigar Aficionado, vol. 2, no. 2 (Winter 1993/94), pp. 72–79.
- Haglund, David (April 7, 2013). "The Mad Men Premiere’s Dark Vietnam Subtext". Slate. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
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