Zippo 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.
So 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.
Abandoning 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".
The original 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.
Zippo repaired all types of defects without charging a cent. The lighter 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 marketing scheme.
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.
The packages 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 new box. From 1941, 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.
The 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.
Marlboro 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.
In 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 models. Five models 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.
In 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.
During 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 World War.
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.
During 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.
Soldiers kept 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.
Zippo's 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.
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.
In 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 Beauty".
ZThe 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.
The reproduction 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 historic models.
The 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.