The distinctive lighter became a legend and can be seen in movies like Indiana Jones or Top Gun and those charismatic leading actors make a Zippo an even more interesting and desirable object – it’s not only a lighter, it’s a Zippo.
The idea was born in 1932. George G. Blaisdell (1895 – 1978) sits on the porch of the Bradford Country Club and observes a very elgant dressed man lighting a cigarette with a not so elegant lighter – an Austrian windproof lighter as it turns out. When George Blaisdell asks why he wouldn’t use a more elegant lighter, the man answers briefly: “Because it works!”.
Blaisdell was convinced that this was exactly what the rest of the world was waiting for. Enthusiasticly he bought the rights for this lighter from the Austrian company and based his own development on it. He rented (allegedly for 10 Dollars a month) a small workshop on the first floor of an auto repair shop, bought machines and material for ca. 800 Dollars and started with his new business.
He redesidned and improved the Austrian lighter. The shape became rectangular, the removable top was attached to the bottom with a welded hinge. The wick became surrounded by a punched metal cover to protect the flame more against wind. Now he needed a name for his product and because he liked the name ‘zipper’ of the recently invented homonymous product that much he decided to name his lighter ‘Zippo’.
But selling the product turned out to be not as easy as he thought. In the first month he sold not even 100 lighters at a price of 1.95 Dollars, the next month 350 pieces. Economically it’s the time of the Great Depression and people are reluctant to buy anything. Blaisdell was looking for new channels to sell his product. During the years 1933/34 he sold his lighter to gambling halls where the lighter was used as a prize trophy for the ‘punchboard’ game, but when the game was declared illegal, he was out of business again. Blaisdell had some kind of success by selling the lighter to companies which used it as a promotional giveaway, but the zippo was still far away of being a legend.
That should change. War time is coming up again. America gets involved in WWII. The robust and reliable Zippo lighter becomes every soldiers companion and Braisdell has problems to obtain enough brass supply for his production because this metal was short on supply during war. He decides to switch to steel and can continue to satisfy the demand of the market.
For the troops the Zippo was a something from ‘home’ they could carry around with themselves. They started to engrave the names of their loved-ones, hopes, prayers, and dreams on the Zippo surface and finally made the Zippo the legend it became until today.
Still during the war but especially after the war the demand for a Zippo grew that much that George Braisdell needed to expand. In 1938 he moved to a bigger place in a house at 36 Barbour St., still Bradford, PA. In 1947 ha had already sold his 10-millionth lighter and in 1949 he opened the first factory outside the U.S. in Niagara Falls (Canada). In 1955 the company is moved in a new building at 33 Barbour St just adjacent of the old factory. Big letters on the roof say: „Home of Zippo windproof lighter – they work.“
From now on the Zippo accompanies soldiers in upcoming wars like the Vietnam War, it flies into Space with NASA missions, and is a part of the daily life.
George Blaisdell dies in 1978 and Robert Galey takes over until 1986. Michael Schuler is now in charge and strengthens the marketing part of the product – he spends more on advertising and focuses additionally on the collectors market which makes up approx. 30% of the market.
In the 1980s the company was owned by six members of the Blaisdell family, including Mr. Blaisdell’s daughters and their children.
Today, George B. Duke, Mr. Blaisdell’s grandson, is the sole owner and Chairman of the Board of Zippo. Mark Paup is the company’s President and CEO.
In July 1994 Bradford, PA, celebrates the first ‘National Zippo Day’. Estimated 400 million Zippos in about 120 countries have been sold since Blaisdell came up with his idea of the robust windproof lighter which has a built-in ‘life-long’ guarantee and the distinctive ‘Click’ when you open it.
In the fall of 2002, Zippo obtained trademark registration for the shape of the Zippo lighter.
In 2012, during its 80th anniversary year, Zippo production surpassed the landmark 500 millionth lighter.
The Zippo/Case Museum opened in July 1997. The 15,000-square-foot facility includes a store and museum.The museum underwent a full remodel in 2012.
1932 Zippo Drive, Bradford, Pennsylvania
On June 3rd, 2020, Zippo has reached a milestone moment with the production of its 600 millionth windproof lighter. To mark this historic event, Zippo launched an exclusive limited-edition design.
The 600 millionth lighter itself will be preserved and displayed in Zippo’s own museum in Bradford, PA for all visitors to enjoy, but fans can own their own part of the iconic brand’s history with the limited-edition collectible. Just the like the 600 millionth lighter that will be displayed at the Zippo/Case Museum, the High Polish Chrome lighter features 360° laser engraving, a color image 600 million logo and a commemorative bottom stamp used only on the day of production, June 3rd, 2020. More about the 600 millionth lighter can be found on Zippo’s blog: ZIPPO MARKS PRODUCTION OF ITS 600 MILLIONTH LIGHTER | Zippo.com