Zippo Lighters: Where It All Came From
Posted by DRAY WALK
For the last 80 years, the American Zippo Manufacturing Company have been making iconic, windproof lighters. From helping the US Military, to being 60s pop culture symbols, to producing their 500 millionth one in 2012. It's fair to say Zippo have done their fair share to earn their keep.
"an undeniable symbol of Americana"
It all started back in 1932 when George G. Blaisdell took a shine to a friend's Austrian-made lighter at a dinner party. It was similar in design to the Zippo we know today, but this one was poor quality metal and needed two hands to operate. From this, Blaisdell decided to see what he could do with that design as a starting point.
Originating from Bradford, Pennsylvania, this reusable metal lighter has become an undeniable symbol of Americana. With its lifetime guarantee and windproof chimney, the quote 'it works or we fix it for free' is just one reason why we really do like these guys. And as for the name, Mr. Blaisell liked the word 'zipper', then decided 'Zippo' was "more modern" - his words, not ours. We see where he was coming from, it's certainly stuck.
Before we go into the whole pop culture side of things, we're going to take it back to WWII (1939-1942). During this time, Zippo actually stopped production of lighters for the public and made them exclusively for the US Military. This was mainly due to metal shortages, but it also helped them gain a reputation for being reliable. We'd agree in all honesty, if something's military-exclusive, we'd want a part of that too.
Zippo lighters were also hugely popular with US soldiers later in history: during the Vietnam War. It became a tradition for soldiers to get their own unique mottos engraved on them. These engraved lighters are huge collector's items these days, you'll find knock-offs left, right, and centre though, so be wary. The lighters were so popular that there were even specific phrases coined that are still used in the military today. For instance, 'Zippo Squad' came from the Vietnam War itself. It's used as code for burning down a village.
If you do see one of these war-timers about nowadays, it's likely to cost a bit. One near-perfect 1933 model sold for $37,000 back in 2007. It's this kind of time-honoured value you almost can't put a price tag on. You've got incredible design steeped in US History, what more could you ask for in something that'll fit right in your pocket?
During the 60s is when the Zippo lighter really earnt its popular culture status. Mainly featured in advertisements and TV, it was the movies where it really made its mark. If you've ever seen Casablanca, you'll know there's not much more legendary than Bogart lighting up as he's staring Bergman down. It's scenes like this which paved the way for the over 1,200 films Zippos have now co-starred in. Frank Sinatra is even buried with one (alongside a bottle of Jack Daniel's and a pack of Camel cigarettes).
It actually requires an incredible 108 manufacturing operations in order to produce a Zippo, and every single one of these parts can be replaced as and when it's needed. Hence that lifetime guarantee we mentioned earlier. The actual design hasn't changed a bit since the day they first went into manufacture, which is quite a feat, if you ask us. There is a way to check when it was made though, all Zippos have a date code. It always states the month and year, initially using dots for a while, then lines, letters & Roman numerals, and now these days we've got Arabic numerals alongside letters. For instance, if you had one made March 2008, you'd find C 08 engraved along there.
You can't make up this level of iconography. It's what cements Zippo lighters as one of the greatest brands of all time. They've always been ahead of their time. And even though they're more vintage now, the fact they're still manufacturing should tell you that these guys are definitely doing more than a few things right.
Go on get one here: https://numbersix.london/collections/zippo