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Zippo Manufacturing Company
GenreLighter manufacturer
Founded1932; 87 years ago (1932)
FounderGeorge Grant Blaisdell
HeadquartersBradford, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DivisionsW.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.[1] 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 America".[2][3] In 2012 the company produced the 500-millionth unit.[4][5] Since its inception Zippo Lighters have been almost exclusively manufactured in the United States, with the exception of those manufactured in Niagara, Canada (an operation that has since been shut down).[6][7][8]

Company history[edit]

Zippo plant, c. 1930–1945

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.[9] It got its name because Blaisdell liked the sound of the word "zipper" and "zippo" sounded more modern.[10] On March 3, 1936, a patent was granted for the Zippo lighter.[11]

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".[12] 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.[13][14] While it had previously been common to have Zippos with authorized badges, unit crests, and division insignias, 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.[15]

After World War II, the Zippo lighter became increasingly used in advertising by companies large and small through the 1960s.[16] 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, but they developed into a popular fashion accessory, with a huge variety of artistic designs produced.[17]

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.[18]

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.

From 1949 to 2002, Zippos were also produced in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada.[19] Since 1933, over 500,000,000 Zippo lighters have been produced.

In 2009, Zippo announced plans to purchase Ronson Consumer Products Corporation, a long-time competitor in the lighter market.[20] On February 3, 2010, the deal was finalized.[21]

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.[22]

On June 5, 2012, the company manufactured its 500,000,000th lighter and celebrated its 80th anniversary.


Zippo lighters, which have gained popularity as “windproof” lighters, are able to stay lit in harsh weather, due to the design of the windscreen and adequate rate of fuel delivery.

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 off the fuel supply. 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 similarly recognizable "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.

Modern black matte finish Zippo lighter

Unlike disposable lighters, Zippo lighters purchased new do not contain fuel. Instructions for safely fueling the Zippo are included in its packaging. Zippo also offers for sale a name brand lighter fluid.

Vietnam War[edit]

Morley Safer, in his August 5, 1965 CBS News report of the Cam Ne affair[23] 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."[24][25]

"Zippo squad" became a phrase of American military jargon for being assigned to burn a village.[26] The M132 Armored Flamethrower was referred to as a "Zippo".[27]


Current Zippos carry a suggested retail price between US$14.95 and US$11,893.95 (for the 18k solid gold model).[28] 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.[29] During the 2007 75th anniversary celebrations, Zippo sold a near mint 1933 model for $37,000.[30]

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."[31]

Date codes[edit]

Zippo lighter produced in September 1994

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 inadvertently introduced into fabrication, with some lighters reading / on the left and // on the right instead of // on the left and / on the right, but was fixed within the year. 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.[32] 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.


Zippo lighter fluid can

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 insert contains 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 (similar to cotton balls) which are in contact with the wick. The bottom of this is covered by a piece of felt approximately 1/4 of an inch thick. Printed on the bottom of the felt (in modern Zippos, not on older models[year needed]) are the words, "LIFT TO FILL," to indicate one must lift the felt away from the "cotton" in order to refuel it. The fuel, light petroleum distillate or synthetic isoparaffinic hydrocarbon (commonly referred to as lighter fluid or naphtha), is poured into the rayon balls (sometimes called the "cotton," or the "batting"), 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 and Zippo BLU 2[edit]

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.[citation needed] There is also the BLU2, which features a more square frame and eliminates the fuel gauge on the side of the original Zippo BLU.[citation needed]

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.[33] [34]

Zippo subsidiaries[edit]

In addition to its 2010 purchase of the Ronson brand in the US and Canada,[20][21] 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.

In popular culture[edit]

A Zippo lighter has a key role in an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (aired on January 3, 1960). The 1959-1960, Season 5, Episode 15 is entitled "Man from the South", starring Steve McQueen, Peter Lorre, and Neile Adams. McQueen's character portrays a down-and-out small-time gambler in Las Vegas, who accepts a bet for a convertible automobile from Lorre's character 'Carlos'. Betting that his Zippo lighter will light ten times in a row, or he will lose his little finger to Carlos's borrowed kitchen meat cleaver. The Zippo had worked seven times when Carlos' wife rushes in and stops the proceedings, explaining that Carlos is 'insane' and owns nothing to bet on, it is all hers now. McQueen's character then offers a light to a woman acquaintance who has been present (Neile Adams, McQueen's actual wife). The lighter failed on this eighth try.

In the popular television series Supernatural the protagonist brothers Sam and Dean often have to set fire to long-dead human remains, in order to end the existence of the ghost or other spirit formed from the soul of the previous inhabitant of the body. As a Zippo lighter is one of the few lighters that will remain burning without holding down a button or lever, it is common for a slow motion image of an open Zippo lighter, in flames, tumbling into an opened grave or crypt, to be used as cinematographic symbol of the brothers' (usually) successful terminaton of a supernatural threat's existence. Conversely, the cinematographic use of any ignition method other than a Zippo lighter is a visual cue to the audience of some major difference, which may or may not be known to the protagonists.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ David Lander (February–March 2006). "The Buyable Past - Zippo Lighters". American Heritage. Archived from the original on 2006-05-21. Retrieved 2017-12-10.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Lukas Hermsmeier (3 January 2016). "Zippo, die Geschichte des legendären Sturmfeuerzeugs" [Zippo, the story of the legendary windproof ligthers]. (in German). Welt. Retrieved 2017-12-10.
  4. ^ Joe Mandak (5 June 2012). "Zippo produces 500 millionth lighter". Associated Press. Archived from the original on 2017-11-01. Retrieved 2017-12-10.
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ "IMCO". 'Imco' products website. Retrieved 19 May 2015.
  10. ^ "". Retrieved 27 May 2017.
  11. ^ U.S. Patent 2,032,695
  12. ^ The story of the Zippo Manufacturing Company at the company's website
  13. ^ 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
  14. ^ An American Legend Zippo: a Collector's Companion by Avi R; Neumark, Alexander Baer (Hardcover - 1999)
  15. ^ Sherry Buchanan and Bradford Edwards, Vietnam Zippos:American Soldiers’ Engravings and Stories, 1965—1973. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ Sharrowmills - A Brief History of the Lighter [1] - The History of the Lighter
  18. ^ [2] - Zippo Blu press release
  19. ^ — Welcome to Zippo Canada
  20. ^ a b "Ronson Corporation, Form 8-K, Current Report, Filing Date Oct 15, 2009". Retrieved Apr 25, 2018.
  21. ^ a b "Ronson Corporation, Form 8-K, Current Report, Filing Date Feb 8, 2010" (PDF). Retrieved Apr 25, 2018.
  22. ^
  23. ^ 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
  24. ^ 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)
  25. ^ Engelhardt, Tom (2007). The End of Victory Culture: Cold War America and the Disillusioning of a . p. Page 190, footnote. ISBN 9781558495869.
  26. ^ p. 530 Rubin, Allen; Weiss, Eugenia L. & Coll, Jose E. Handbook of Military Social Work John Wiley & Sons 27/11/2012
  27. ^ p. 28 Rottman, Gordon L. & Anderson, Duncan The US Army in the Vietnam War 1965–73 Osprey Publishing, 2008
  28. ^
  29. ^ Zippo’s Czar Archived September 5, 2006, at the Wayback Machine (brief profile of the company's top executive, with two photographs)
  30. ^
  31. ^ Zippo History
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^

Further reading[edit]

  • 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.

External links[edit]