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The History of Zippo Lighters

Zippo founder George G. Blaisdell was playing golf at the Bradford Country Club in Bradford, Pennsylvania in the early 1930s when he noticed his friend struggling to use an Austrian lighter. Blaisdell noted that the lighter functioned well in the wind due to its high chimney, but that the design was cumbersome and the casing was easily damaged. In 1932, he created his own lighter based on the Austrian design. He made a new rectangular case with a hinged lid, which allowed the lighter stay protected and to be used with one hand, but he kept the original chimney design that he had admired. He called his creation “Zippo” because he liked the sound of the word “zipper” and thought “Zippo” was a modern-sounding variation on it. The first Zippo lighter was produced in 1933. The new pocket lighter retailed for $1.95 and was backed by Blaisdell’s now-famous lifetime guarantee. Blaisdell was later granted a patent for his creation in 1936. During World War II, Zippo shifted all production to making Zippo lighters with a black crackle finish for the U.S. military. Millions of American soldiers carried the lighters into battle, which helped popularize the brand globally and made for a loyal customer base when the war ended. After the war, Zippo once again began producing for the consumer market and in 1947, the iconic Zippo Car (a lighter that was made to resemble an automobile) was released. The standard Zippo lighters were also updated around this time — on August 1, 1950 a second patent was issued and the design has remained essentially unchanged up to today. In the mid-1950s, date codes were stamped onto the bottom of every Zippo lighter; originally meant to help with quality control, the dates are now utilized by collectors. In 1956, Zippo released the Slim lighter. Intended to appeal to women, it turned out to be an overall crowd-pleaser. In the 1960s, it became a trend for fans at concerts to raise their Zippo flames as a salute to their favorite artists or songs. Over time, many companies also began advertising on specially printed Zippos. The lighters also became culturally relevant in other ways, too — they were featured in over 2,000 movies, plays, and TV shows, and the characteristic Zippo click has been sampled in songs. Many other companies have copied the design over the years, so to help combat counterfeiters, the company obtained a trademark registration for the lighter’s shape in 2002. In the 2010s, the Zippo line was expanded to include hand warmers and other outdoor gear. Today, Zippo lighters are still in use for many purposes and there is also a passionate community of avid Zippo collectors.

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