Zippo

zippo

A Zippo lighter is a refillable, metal lighter manufactured by Zippo Manufacturing Company of Pennsylvania. Thousands of different styles and designs have been made in the seven decades since their introduction including military ones for specific regiments. George G. Blaisdell founded Zippo Manufacturing Company in 1932, and produced the first Zippo lighter in early 1933, being inspired by an Austrian cigarette lighter of similar design. It got its name because Blaisdell liked the sound of the word ‘zipper’ and ‘zippo’ sounded more modern.

Zippo lighters became popular in the United States military, especially during World War II when Zippo ceased production of lighters for consumer markets and dedicated all manufacturing to the U.S. military. The Zippo at that time was made of brass, but as this commodity was unobtainable, Zippo used steel during the war years. While the Zippo Manufacturing Company never had an official contract with the military, soldiers and armed forces personnel insisted that Base exchange (BX) stores carry this sought-after lighter. While it had previously been common to have Zippos with authorized badges, unit crests and division insignia, it became popular among the American soldiers of the Vietnam War, to get their Zippos engraved with personal mottos. These lighters are now sought after collectors items and popular souvenirs for visitors to Vietnam.

After World War II, the Zippo lighter became increasingly used in advertising by companies large and small through the 1960s. Many of the early advertising Zippo lighters are works of art painted by hand. As technology has evolved, so has the design and finish of the Zippo lighter. The basic mechanism of the Zippo lighter, however, has remained unchanged.

The Zippo museum is located in Bradford, Pennsylvania at 1932 Zippo Drive. The building contains rare and custom made Zippo lighters, and also sells the entire Zippo line. It also contains an enormous collection of Case knives, which were also based in Bradford and are now owned by Zippo Manufacturing Co. In 2010, Zippo also purchased Ronson Consumer Products Corporation, a long-time competitor in the lighter market.

Besides having gained popularity as ‘windproof’ lighters, Zippo lighters are able to stay lit in harsh weather, due to the design of the windscreen and adequate rate of fuel delivery. As such, until recently they were highly popular with backpackers and within the military. Professional backpackers (operating in the wilderness) have however now turned away from the regular Zippo lighter in favor of torch butane lighter wich have windproof technology, heavy-duty matches, and ferrocerium rods. Many high-altitude and cold weather backpackers still prefer Zippo lighters because butane lighters are less reliable in cold weather.

A consequence of the windproofing is that it is hard to extinguish a Zippo by blowing out the flame. However, if the flame is blown from the top down, it will be easily extinguished. The proper way to extinguish the lighter is to close the top half, which starves the flame of oxygen, but unlike other lighters, this does not cut the fuel. One of the recognizable features of Zippo is the fact that it burns with a wick. Opening the top lid produces an easily recognizable clicking sound for which Zippo lighters are known, and a different, but similar click can be heard when the lighter is closed. This noise is produced by the cam, a little lever that keeps the lid closed or opened securely, which is intended to keep the lid closed when not in use.

All Zippo lighters carry a limited lifetime guarantee, promoted using the trademarked phrase ‘It works or we fix it for free.’ The corporate web site boasts: ‘In almost 75 years, no one has ever spent a cent on the mechanical repair of a Zippo lighter regardless of the lighter’s age or condition.’

From mid-1955 Zippo started year coding their lighters by the use of dots (.). From 1966 until 1973 the year code was denoted by combinations of vertical lines (|). From 1974 until 1981 the coding comprised combinations of forward slashes (/), and from 1982 until June 1986 the coding was by backslash (\). In 1986, Zippo began including a lot code on all lighters showing the month and year of production. On the left of the underside was stamped a letter A–L, denoting the month (A = January, B = February, C = March, etc.). On the right was a Roman numeral which denoted the year, beginning with II in 1986. Thus a Zippo stamped H IX was made in August, 1993. However in 2001, Zippo altered this system, changing the Roman numerals to more conventional Arabic numerals. Thus a Zippo made in August 2004 was stamped H 04. There was a myth that Zippo lighters were made by prisoners, and the number identified the prisoner, or their crime and sentence length. Another myth was that a Zippo stamped ‘H’ was inferior to one stamped ‘A.’

Inside the case are the works of the lighter: the spring-toggle lever that keeps the top closed, the wick, windscreen chimney, thumbwheel, and flint, all of which are mounted on an open-bottom metal box that is slightly smaller than the bottom of the outer case, and into which it slips snugly. The hollow part of the interior box encloses a rayon batt which is in contact with the wick. The fuel, light petroleum distillate or synthetic isoparaffinic hydrocarbon (commonly referred to as lighter fluid or naphtha), is poured into the batt, which traps it. It also contains a tube that holds a short, cylindrical flint. The tube has an interior spring and exterior cap-screw that keeps the flint in constant contact with the exterior thumb-wheel. Spinning this rough-surfaced wheel against flint results in a spark that ignites the fluid in the wick.

The butt once had a small hole in the bottom to facilitate easier refueling. It was often used as a place to store extra flints. Newer models do not always have the hole, and instead have a flap in the bottom of the butt (with the hinge on one of the short edges). The words ‘LIFT TO FILL’ are stamped in black ink multiple times on the bottom, with the intention being that the user should lift the flap and squirt the fuel in to the butt material under the flap.

All parts of the lighter are replaceable. In all there are 22 parts, and the Zippo lighter requires 108 manufacturing operations.

Due to significant decrease of sales from 18 million lighter a year in the mid-1990s to about 12 million lighters in 2011 related to increasing anti-smoking advertising, Zippo Manufacturing Co. began offering a wider variety of products using Zippo brands such as watches, leisure clothing and cologne. Zippo would like to ape the success Victorinox Swiss Army Brands Inc. has had selling watches, luggage, clothing and fragrance.

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