Zippos are classic and trusty lighters. If you’re curious about their characteristics and how they came to be, check this out!
The Zippo lighter is an iconic symbol of America, renowned as much for its reliability as for its keen design sensibilities.
Millions of people around the world have turned to Zippos to light their way, from military personnel to average joes, and hobbyists to collectors.
In this introductory guide, we’ll tell you all about the history of Zippo Lighters, including where they came from, what makes Zippo lighters unique, and a brief introduction to famous and collectible Zippos.
The History of Zippo
The history of Zippo lighters begins with an American inventor, George G. Blaisdell.
Born in Bradford, Pennsylvania, Blaisdell dropped out of school in grade five, after which his father sent him to a military academy. This would only last for three years, after which Blaisdell began working in his family’s machinery company.
Inspiration would take another two decades to strike Blaisdell. At 38 years of age, he observed a friend at the Bradford Country Club struggling with an inefficient Austrian-made lighter.
Though the lighter lit well due to the unique design of its chimney, it required two hands to operate and seemed to be made of a thin and easily damaged metal.
Blaisdell set out to redesign the Austrian lighter, taking its best attributes and improving its function so it could be used one-handed, anywhere and anytime.
Two years later, Blaisdell successfully applied for a patent for his Zippo lighter — which he named simply because he liked the “modern sound” of the moniker. And he marketed the lighter with a unique proposition: It was guaranteed for life, with free repairs.
It wasn’t until America’s entry into World War II that the Zippo lighter found widespread adoption. Blaisdell and the Zippo brand put their full production force behind the U.S. military, ceasing consumer production and making sure that every troop would be sent out with one of their lighters.
The wartime business boom made Zippo very financially stable, and the ensuing peacetime brought many G.I.s home with their Zippo lighters. This cemented Zippo as an icon of America, and the next several decades would be spent looking for more ways to get more Zippos to the public.
George Blaisdell passed away in 1978 and left the company to his daughters. Even today it is a family-owned business, with George B. Duke, Mr. Blaisdell’s grandson, as the sole owner and chairman of the board for Zippo.
Even the shape of the Zippo lighter is now a registered trademark, truly cementing it as a unique piece of American heritage.
Zippo now offers several different products, including hand warmers. (Check out our Zippo hand warmer review here).
What Makes Zippo Lighters Unique
Three things make the Zippo lighter truly unique:
- Its design aesthetic. The look, feel, and signature sound of a Zippo are immediately recognizable.
- Its reliability. The Zippo’s components and construction make it incredibly durable and reliable, and its chimney design helps it light in poor weather conditions.
- Its widespread availability. With half a billion Zippos in existence, it’s a staple of everyday life — everybody has seen a Zippo!
Additionally, there are dozens or hundreds of unique Zippo styles, from branded advertisement Zippos to rare and sought-after limited-production Zippos from specific historical periods. And amazingly, Zippo still stands by its “it works, or we’ll fix it for free” guarantee.
Famous and Collectible Zippos
The Zippo lighter has been featured in over two thousand movies and television shows, and its trademark look and sound are instantly recognizable. Over 500 million Zippos have been made since 1933, with hundreds of rare, collectible, and highly sought-after variations on their original lighter design.
A quick Etsy search for rare Zippo lighters will clue you in as to the impressive variety of vintage Zippos. But to find the really rare, famous, and collectible Zippos, you’ll need to look at auction houses; Invaluable is a good online example.
And to learn more about lighter collecting as a whole, including Zippos, check out the largest online lighter collector’s club, On the Lighter Side.
Frequently Asked Questions
And here are the answers to people’s most burning questions about Zippo lighters.
What is the point of a Zippo?
Zippos are made as a reliable, reusable lighter. And they look and sound really cool, too, so they’re as much an accessory as a useful tool.
Why are Zippo lighters illegal?
Zippo lighters aren’t illegal. But they can’t be shipped through the mail filled with fuel — you’ll have to fill them yourself if you buy one online.
What does a Zippo lighter symbolize?
Because of its widespread use in the American military, a Zippo lighter symbolizes the spirit of America itself.
Why is Zippo so expensive?
Zippo lighters are made to high-quality standards and come with a lifetime guarantee. They’re pricier because they work better, for longer.
The Zippo lighter’s famous click and whoosh and its immediately recognizable silhouette have made it an American icon.
And thanks to keeping the business family-owned, always honoring their guarantees for service, and still basing their production in the United States, the Zippo is destined to stay around for another 90 years.
Questions? Comments? Leave them below!