The Early History of Zippo
Birth of the Zippo Lighter.
An Austrian Lighter
originated in a small Pennsylvania town at a time when the
United States was in its worst depression in history. The
Zippo's story begins at this darkest moment. Zippo's success
came about through initiative and hard work, through the
creation of a durable and functional product, through ingenious
marketing and attentive service, and through the innovation
of a lifetime product warranty. It all started on one summer
evening in 1932, at a dinner dance held at the Bradford Country
Club, on a hill on the outskirts of Bradford, Pennsylvania.
Attending the dance was George G. Blaisdell, who later became
known as "Mr. Zippo." Blaisdell was one of those
looking for a new way to make money.
far, he had yet to bump into anything promising. Blaisdell,
who had been growing tired of the dance
and idle talk of politics, went out onto the terrace to have
a smoke. There, he saw a friend of his trying to light up
a cigarette, taking out of his pocket an unsightly brass
lighter that was patently tawdry. The ugly lighter was totally
out of place in the hand of the perfectly attired gentleman.
The sight of the man trying clumsily to open the lighter's
lid was so comical that Blaisdell almost started to laugh. "You're
all dressed up. Why don't you get a lighter that looks decent?" blurted
Blaisdell. His friend must have thought it was none of Blaisdell
business. "It works!" he declared, defensively.
Those two words, "It works!", whirled in George
Blaisdell's head that night. In these times, everyone must
be looking for something that is low-priced, yet sturdy and
durable, he thought. No, that isn't so; those things are
always sought after, not just in bad times. This lighter
business is promising!
|Blaisdell immediately obtained the
sole U.S. rights from the Austrian lighter manufacturer.
To improve its appearance, Blaisdell chrome-plated the lid
of the lighter and raised the price to one dollar. He couldn't
sell any, he discovered that there were defects in the lighter.
Blaisdell was determined to develop a new lighter that would
not fail to light.
the defective Austrian lighter, Blaisdell rented a corner
of the second floor of the Rickerson & Pryde,
Inc. building on Boylston Street. Blaisdell paid $10 a month
in rent, hired three people, and began to develop a new lighter.
He and his team used an electric hot plate for soldering.
Everything from the punch press to the welder was second-hand
equipment. The total cost of his equipment was $260 at the
time. The first thing Blaisdell did was to make the lighter
smaller to be able to fit in the palm of the hand, and he
incorporated a hinge to hold the lid to the bottom, making
it an integral part of the lighter. This enabled the user
to open the lighter using only one hand. Blaisdell then placed
a wind hood around the wick, he utilized the hood design
of the Austrian lighter and named the new product "Zippo".
original Zippo, 1932
Zippo model was introduced in 1932. This model had a rectangular
shape with a protruding hinge holding the lid to the body
and three barrels. The following year, the model was shortened
by 1/4 inch. The retail price of the original windproof model
was $1.95. In the company's ledger at the end of the first
month, 82 units were produced and sales were $69.15. To market
the new product, Blaisdell came up with the practice of a
lifetime warranty, a concept that began with the first Zippo
lighter and has remained the same to the present day. The
repair and sale of parts after the expiration of the warranty
was a major source of the business revenue.
repaired all types of defects without charging a cent. The
was returned postpaid within 48 hours with a note reading, "We
thank you for the opportunity of serving your lighter".
The concept of a lifetime warranty became Zippo's primary
Personalized Engraving on a Zippo.
began to engrave initials and providing two types of metal
insignia on the lighter (the "Scotty Group", depicting
dogs, and the "Drunk", portraying a drunkard leaning
on a gaslight pole in 1936. The engraving of the initials
cost the owner of the lighter one dollar, or 75 cents for
an insignia. The return shipment was paid by the owner, C.O.D.
The initials were engraved in a frame against a background
color. The various colors includes: red, green, blue, yellow,
orange, purple, and white. During the thirties and forties,
initialed gifts were very popular. It gave the consumer the
sense of individuality.
|In 1936, Zippo
appeared on a mail-order catalog. It is a wholesale catalog
of a company in Minnesota directed to retail stores. The
retail price was $2.00 which increased slightly from the
price first sold. Blaisdell also visited many retail stores
all over the country to make business relations.
of Its own.
is part of the Zippo art. By appearance, the lighter boxes
are roughly classified into 12 different size categories.
But, if the mount-style differences and specially made series
boxes are taken into account, the number would total over
30 categories. The mount used between 1932 and 1933 was plain
cardboard with a lighter-shaped cutout, covered with matte-black
paper. The paper was switched to a glossy style that was
used from the year 1933 until 1936. Zippo has offered a free
repair service, that supports its lifetime guarantee, since
its foundation. Up until 1940, a repaired Zippo was returned
in the package in which the Zippo was sent for the service.
If this was not possible, the Zippo was delivered in a brand
the company used collapsible box for returning Zippos that
had been sent back for repair. Return boxes for repaired
Zippos were used until 1951; from 1952, the new box was introduced
for regular model lighters and the return boxes were changed
to the same striped boxes as the regular ones. Since then,
the boxes for returns were changed, following the modifications
to regular models, until 1978. Then the use of boxes was
terminated, the last boxes were decorated with the flame
design. From 1981 to 1986, a plastic package was used.
lighters, the Advertising Medium.
Zippo was first introduced as a promotional item in 1936
by the Kendall Refining Company. Kendall ordered 500 Zippo
lighters with their trademark glued to the case for advertising
purposes. This was the beginning of the specialty advertising
business for the Zippo. Zippo Manufacturing Company discovered
the market potential of the product as an adverting medium.
Soon, Zippo produced a pamphlet aimed at Corporations to
use Zippo as a pocket salesman. Designs such as the military,
airplanes, tourists spots, sports teams, comic characters
and universities also appeared on Zippo's lighters. Corporate
novelty and commemorative lighters were produced only in
limited numbers. In essence, the Zippo lighters were the
salesman in a pocket.
the Kendall Logo
and the Marlboro Cowboy.
cigarette was first marketed in 1924 by Philip Morris. The
advertising images used were those of cowboys, athletes,
and pilots. From 1963, the Cowboy became the sole image of
the cigarette. Zippo first appeared in a Marlboro advertisement
in 1954, coinciding with the first time the cowboy appeared
in the role of Marlboro's image character. Zippos were used
by Philip Morris in promotional campaigns as well. Ever since,
Zippo has had an inseparable relationship with Marlboro,
both as a campaign item and an advertising tool.
of the Sports Series.
1946, Sports Series
1937, the sports related designs began to appear on the Zippo
lighters. The first sports model was the 275, this number
represented the price of the model, which was sold for $2.75.
The 275 models with a carrying strap also appeared in the
Sports Series. Earlier sports models included the Golfer,
the Fisherman, the Bulldog, the Hunter, the Greyhound, and
the Elephant. In 1938, the Scotch Terrier, the Fisherman
and the Bulldog were the only models on the Sports Series.
In 1959, models in the New Sports Series displayed designs
on both the bottom and the lid. This series featured six
depicting five types of sports and their players and the
Slim Zippos Lighter depicting a woman bowling. From 1970
to 1981 another Sports Series was introduced without the
designs on the lid. Some models shifted from the earlier
Sports Series to the Town and Country Series. Many of the
animal designs are now included in the Wildlife Series.
of the Windproof Lady.
1937, Zippo ran a one-page advertisement in the December
issue of Esquire, aimed at the Christmas shoppers.
The ad had an illustration of a woman lighting up a cigarette
in the wind. The "Windproof Beauty", drawn by
Enoc Boles. It was a different image from the previous
image, which emphasized outdoor sports. Using an illustration
of an attractive woman, the advertisers were aiming to
appeal directly to the readers of the magazine, which was
targeted at the urban male. The Windproof Beauty illustration
was also used for packaging and became one of Zippo's characteristic
images. This was a memorable advertisement for Zippo, the
company would later run regular advertisements in many
major magazines such as Life, the Saturday Evening Post,
and Reader's Digest.
Zippo during the time of War
World War II.
WWII Zippo President G.G. Blaisdell shipped as many Zippo
lighters as possible to post exchanges and to the front line.
Soldiers were favorable of the Zippo lighters because they
were inexpensive, reliable, and it always worked when it
was needed. During this time, Zippo was faced with material
shortages. Zippo had no choice but to use low quality porous
steel instead of brass. The chrome or nickel finishing coat
could not be applied to the lighter, this left a black-matte
finish on the surface. The black, rough-surfaced Zippo is
the authentic World War II Zippo. The advantage of the black
finish was that it did not reflect light that would attract
enemy attention on the battlefield. No other event in history
had increased the popularity of the Zippo as did the second
Filling Instructions - 1941
General MacArthur's 4 star Zippo
|U.S. General Douglas MacArthur
left a large amount of memorabilia behind in Japan, many
of these articles are housed at the MacArthur Museum. MacArthur's
Zippos are among the item to be displayed by the Museum.
The Zippo with a commemorative medal of the unconditional
surrender of Japan, and the signature of General MacArthur,
was given to all young officers trained on U.S.S. Missouri
in 1949. These Zippos with the signature of General MacArthur
is very rare.
was more than a lighter in Viet Nam.
the Vietnam war, several items became the canvasses on which
soldiers painted their feelings. The Zippo was one of these
items. According to collectors, 200,000 Zippos were used
by American soldiers in Vietnam. The Zippo played a part
in almost every daily activity of a soldier. The shiny top
provided a handy mirror and the lighter's flame warmed the
stew at meal time.
salt in the bottom cavities, called canned bottoms, of their
Zippos, to replenish lost body salt. Other legendary Zippos
were used to transmit signals or even provided a shield against
enemy bullets. Staff Sergeant Naugle, who was saved because
he was able to signal his position to the rescue helicopter,
had a Zippo in his hand. Among men that had a close call
with death, one of the luckiest was Sergeant Martinez, who
Kept a Zippo in his chest pocket. A bullet struck his chest,
only to be stopped by the Zippo. This was reported in Life magazine
and also appeared in various advertisements.
|Zippos were also used in military operations,
in which troopers would spray gasoline over the area to burn
enemy compounds and dwellings. A soldier would usually carry
a Zippo in the chest pocket of his jungle fatigues. Some
would fasten one onto the camouflage band of the helmet or
put one into the magazine pouch of an M-16. Alcohol, diesel
oil and even gasoline were substitutes for lighter fluids.
Zippos were also used as IDs and canvasses. Post Exchanges
in Vietnam carries a large amount of Zippo lighters, this
explains the reason why there was so many Zippos in Vietnam.
By this time, Zippo merchandise quickly found its way onto
the black market. Soldiers were able to buy brand new Zippos
without having to go to the PX store. Vietnamese craftsmen
would engrave anything from pictures to phrases onto the
Zippo for the soldiers. The most popular motif engraved on
soldiers' Zippo was the map of Vietnam. Every soldier had
his own personalized Zippo, which accompanied him until the
fall of Saigon.
|Zippo lighters used by
American soldiers during the Vietnam War have become collector's
items. Every Zippo from the war bears mute witness, conveying
a great sense of having been there on the battlefield. The
soldiers who faced death and stood on the brink of hell,
carrying their Zippos, transformed these simple lighters
into an integral part of their own bodies and souls. Zippo
lighters have since became priceless collector's items.
company records show that the first table model, the #10,
was introduced in 1949. But a pamphlet from 1938 describes
a Barcroft model with a single-tier base as a No. 10 Table
Lighter for $7.50. The #10 Table lighter had a large interior
unit and could hold four times more than a pocket lighter.
The lid is clasp together to the bottom with two pocket-lighters
hinges. In 1947, the #10 reappeared under a new name of the
Deluxe All-Purpose Table Lighter. The price was increased
to $10.00 and the height of the lighter was decreased. The
Lady Bradford was introduced in 1949.
1947, The 2nd Barcroft
||The new improved model #12 Lady Bradford
was later introduced the following year. The 1949 model has
no base and used its own large interior unit which was different
from the 1950 model. The production of these models was discontinued
due to high production cost in 1951. In 1953, the #10 table
model began to use the interior unit built for pocket lighters.
Later in 1954 it was renamed the Barcroft and was produced
until 1979. In 1960, the Moderne and Corinthian with their
slim bases were added to the table-lighter line. The Moderne
had a black and rhodium model and a satin finish rhodium
model and a bright finish rhodium model. Each was priced
at $12.50 and it had an inside unit in common with the Corinthian.
The Corinthian was priced at $16.50.
|In 1966, both
the Moderne and Corinthian was discontinued. In 1979, the
Barcroft was replaced with the Handilite. This model was
a combination of a regular pocket lighter and the base. The
base looks like the one of the Corinthian and it is bolted
from the inside of the lighter case.
of the Past.
1937 model, a 1982 replica
1982, Zippo celebrated the 50th anniversary of its lighters,
by producing a replica of an early model for the first time.
It was a flat bottomed, solid-brass model and had a diagonally-cut
line on both the top of the lid and the bottom of the case.
This was the reproduction of the 1937 model and came in a
box that had the same design as the one used between 1935
and 1940, which bore the illustration of the "Windproof
|The Commemorative box had a gold finish
rather than the silver finish from the original. This reproduction
was based on the 1935 prototype box that was not used for
production. The Vintage Series made its first debut in 1985,
it was a reproduction of the square-shaped 1937 model. While
the Commemorative Lighter was a reproduction of the 1937
model, which was manufactured by pressing. In 1988, reproduction
of the 1932 model were offered only through subscription.
The original 1932 Zippos are now very rare.
1935-1940, Replica box
model had a 1/4 inch thick plastic raised bottom to accommodate
a regular inside unit and the regular inside hinge was placed
outside of the case. To commemorate its 60th anniversary,
Zippo sold a set of six reproduction models. The replica
of the 25th anniversary model produced in 1957 most resembles
the original, out of the six models. Zippo's reproduction
lighters enable all their users to enjoy the feel of rare
to the Space Program.
relationship between the Zippo and NASA has long been a close
one. Zippo has always produced NASA Zippos, incorporating
NASA logos and spaceships to the more recent space shuttles.
Zippo has been proud to be representative of American greatness.
That is why it has paid its respects to America's astronauts,
the heroes who symbolize this country. Unfortunately, no
Zippo lighters can be brought on board a spaceship. However,
to those astronauts, returning as national heroes, Zippo
has presented commemorative lighters with special designs.
1969, Apollo 7