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The Zippo Lighter - An American Icon
American attitudes about cigarette lighters have changed over the years. We have gone from a world where cigarette lighters were considered an important and valued accessory to a world of cheap, disposable lighters. One of the few remaining products that are still made to very high standards is the Zippo Lighter. The iconic personal lighter has been manufactured in the United States since it was first designed back in 1932 by George Blaisdell.
The story of the Zippo Lighter dates back to the early 1930s when George Blaisdell was at the Bradford Country Club in Bradford, Pennsylvania and was watching his friend try to light an Austrian made cigarette lighter. He noticed it had a feature that blocked the wind from extinguishing the flame, but, at the same time took two hands to operate. An entrepreneur at heart, Blaisdell thought he could make a better lighter right here in America.
In 1933, after spending some time creating a design, the first Zippo lighter was produced. A total of about 25,000 lighters were made that very first year and they originally sold for $1.95, a hefty price during a time when the economy was in the midst of the Great Depression. Each and every lighter was built to the highest of standards and Blaisdell and his Company offered an unconditional lifetime guarantee that still stands to this day -"It works or we fix it for free."
The Company quickly gained a reputation as a manufacturer of quality lighters. The Zippo lighter really gained popularity during the war years. During World War II, Zippo supplied light to millions of soldiers. To date, more than 500 million Zippo lighters have been sold since the very first one was made by George Blaisdell.
The first design was a simple, plain finish that featured a flip up cap, flint wheel ignition and naphtha soaked wick. The basic design has not materially changed, lending credence to its simple, but impressive mechanical design. What has changed over the years are the many different designs that adorn the outer shell of each lighter.
Designs range from military themes to sports teams. Logos appear for many different companies including such classics as the Harley Davidson branded series and the family of Playboy Bunny lighters. The most expensive lighters are made of precious metals. A sterling silver version of the Zippo lighter can sell for a few hundred dollars depending on the price of silver and the most expensive 18 Karat gold version will set you back close to $10,000. Most of the lighters sold with some sort of design retail for about $20.00 to $40.00.
In the early 1950s, Zippo began putting date stamps on the bottom of each lighter it manufactured. Those dates were originally a quality control check, but they became even more important for Zippo collectors. Today, there are conventions, eBay sellers and private collectors that buy sell and trade these nostalgic pieces of American memorabilia. Zippo Lighters are sold in more than 120 different countries around the world.
All Zippo lighters are still made in the USA, in the founder's hometown of Bradford, Pennsylvania. In 1993, the Company acquired Bradford-based Case Knives. A 15,000 square foot museum called the Zippo/Case Museum attracts thousands of visitors every year. Zippo sponsors many events and is a good community citizen. America should be proud of one of the last remaining manufacturers that has chosen to stay in the United States and not outsource their manufacturing to a cheap-labor, foreign country. If you do not have a Zippo lighter, go out and get one.
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