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Zippo Through The Decades

1930s – Zippo Manufacturing Company is established with the production of the first Zippo lighter – complete with our famous lifetime guarantee.

1940s – Zippo makes its big-screen debut in 1942. Zippo lighters have since made over 2,000 film appearances.

1950s – The Slim® lighter is released and the new Date Code System is established using bottom stamps as identifiers.

1960s – The “Encore Moment” - Concertgoers raise their Zippo windproof lighters during musical performances for the first time, starting a phenomenon that has been replicated all over the world.

1970s – Our largest lighter repair to date: the iconic neon sign atop Zippo Headquarters.

1980s – Zippo releases its first alternative lighter insert, allowing users to choose their preferred flame for the first time.

1990s – The famous Zippo car is recreated after the original vehicle mysteriously disappeared in the 70s.

2000s – Icon status. The shape of the Zippo lighter was patented in 2002.

2010s – Zippo trademarked the unmistakable click in 2018.

2020s – Celebrating our 90th Anniversary.

Zippo Through The Decades

1930s – Zippo Manufacturing Company is established with the production of the first Zippo lighter – complete with our famous lifetime guarantee.

1940s – Zippo makes its big-screen debut in 1942. Zippo lighters have since made over 2,000 film appearances.

1950s – The Slim® lighter is released and the new Date Code System is established using bottom stamps as identifiers.

1960s – The “Encore Moment” - Concertgoers raise their Zippo windproof lighters during musical performances for the first time, starting a phenomenon that has been replicated all over the world.

1970s – Our largest lighter repair to date: the iconic neon sign atop Zippo Headquarters.

1980s – Zippo releases its first alternative lighter insert, allowing users to choose their preferred flame for the first time.

1990s – The famous Zippo car is recreated after the original vehicle mysteriously disappeared in the 70s.

2000s – Icon status. The shape of the Zippo lighter was patented in 2002.

2010s – Zippo trademarked the unmistakable click in 2018.

2020s – Celebrating our 90th Anniversary.

Zippo Through The Decades

1930s – Zippo Manufacturing Company is established with the production of the first Zippo lighter – complete with our famous lifetime guarantee.

1940s – Zippo makes its big-screen debut in 1942. Zippo lighters have since made over 2,000 film appearances.

1950s – The Slim® lighter is released and the new Date Code System is established using bottom stamps as identifiers.

1960s – The “Encore Moment” - Concertgoers raise their Zippo windproof lighters during musical performances for the first time, starting a phenomenon that has been replicated all over the world.

1970s – Our largest lighter repair to date: the iconic neon sign atop Zippo Headquarters.

1980s – Zippo releases its first alternative lighter insert, allowing users to choose their preferred flame for the first time.

1990s – The famous Zippo car is recreated after the original vehicle mysteriously disappeared in the 70s.

2000s – Icon status. The shape of the Zippo lighter was patented in 2002.

2010s – Zippo trademarked the unmistakable click in 2018.

2020s – Celebrating our 90th Anniversary.

1930s

Zippo was founded in 1932, but the story begins much earlier.

Photos from the 1930s.

A young Mr. Blaisdell with his beloved dog. The original downtown office in Bradford, PA. The first Zipppo lighter.

As a boy, George Grant Blaisdell had his eye on a certain pocket watch. He saved his allowance for nearly a year until he finally had enough to buy it, only to find out that it would cost an extra quarter for a protective warranty. As far as he was concerned, even at that young age, a company should never charge more for a warranty if it truly believes in its product. Fast forward a few years, and this very notion would drive the revolutionary success of the windproof lighter – and the spirit of the company Mr. Blaisdell built to support it.

 

One day in the early 1930s in Bradford, Pennsylvania, Mr. Blaisdell watched a friend struggle to light an awkward and cumbersome lighter. Inspired by the spectacle, he set to work creating an easy-to-use, windproof alternative. The windproof lighter was born, and Mr. Blaisdell named his company Zippo, which he thought had a nice ring to it.

 

The Zippo windproof lighter sold for $1.95 and was backed by Mr. Blaisdell’s unconditional lifetime guarantee: "It works or we fix it free.™” The application for the original patent was filed on May 17, 1934, and patent number 2032695 was granted on March 3, 1936. That first Zippo pocket lighter, produced in 1933, is on display at the Zippo/Case Museum in Bradford!

 

Within its first two years in business, Zippo fulfilled its first custom order: 500 branded lighters for local company Kendall Oil. This is the first time a company used Zippo lighters for advertising and corporate gift-giving and is credited for kicking off a long tradition of specialty advertising and licensing partnerships.

Windy ad, Fan Test ad, Kendall Oil lighter.

1937 ad debut of Windy. The Fan Test challenge. Kendall Oil branded lighter.

As a consumate marketer and salesman, Mr. Blaisdell coined "the fan test" to reinforce the lighter's key selling feature: being windproof.

 

1937 brought the debut of Zippo’s first national advertising campaign with Windy, the first official spokesmodel. An immediate icon, Windy demonstrates exactly what sets a Zippo windproof lighter apart from any other.  

 

Zippo operates in Bradford, Pennsylvania, to this day. And the lifetime guarantee still stands: more than 600 million lighters later, not a single cent has ever been spent repairing a Zippo windproof lighter.  

1930s Spotlight Collection:
Replica Lighters

1940s

World War II, the $300,000 Wheel and Zippo Hits the Road

Ads and billboard from the 1940s.

Wartime Windy ad. Ogilvy ad - Why The Zippo Man Spent $300,000 On This Tiny Wheel. Billboard in Times Square, 1946.

100% of Zippo’s production was dedicated to United States servicemembers throughout World War II. Quickly dubbed “the GI’s friend,” Zippo was credited with boosting morale abroad while promoting patriotism at home. Zippo advertising at the time advocated buying war stamps to support the efforts or encouraged civilians to maintain proper care of their lighters while they were unavailable to the public. As always, Zippo continued to service any damaged lighters free of charge.

 

Because of metal rationing, wartime lighters were constructed of steel, instead of brass, which required a specialty coating. This finish, now widely known as Black Crackle, protected the lighter from oxidation and other damage but also allowed soldiers to etch personal dates, milestones or messages into their lighters.

 

The end of the war marked a return to commercial availability, and demand was extraordinary. Zippo sold its 1 millionth lighter in 1942, only to hit 10 million lighters sold just five years later.

 

Production hit a bit of a snag in 1946, however. Some quality issues arose among the striking wheels, which are, of course, central to the lighter’s design. So, Mr. Blaisdell called a halt: not a single lighter was to be produced until the issue was corrected. After an exhaustive search and testing thousands of prototypes, Mr. Blaisdell struck the perfect wheel – and the rest is history. The nickname, "The $300k Wheel," comes from the estimated cost to Mr. Blaisdell: during his search, not a single job was lost and not a single person went unpaid. Between that and the cost of development, the investment was massive. But Mr. Blaisdell was so dedicated to the quality of his product – and to supporting his employees – that he spared no expense to maintain the integrity of his product and company. This story remains integral to Zippo’s mission and culture to this day.

The late 1940s saw a rise in more creative and elaborate marketing, including the launch of the Cent Never Spent, one of Zippo’s most enduring marketing tools, which was coined by Mr. Blaisdell himself. These penny tags have been circulated for decades as a physical reminder of Zippo’s lifetime guarantee.

 

Always infatuated with New York City, Mr. Blaisdell placed a billboard ad in Times Square in 1946 and proudly drove his family from Bradford to admire it.

 

Speaking of driving, perhaps Mr. Blaisdell’s most spectacular tactic was the complete transformation of a 1947 Chrysler Saratoga into a giant rolling replica of the Zippo windproof lighter. Among the famous product-mobiles in the world, the Zippo Car would tour the contiguous 48 states headlining parades and events until its mysterious disappearance in the 1970s.

Penny Tag and Zippo Car.

Penny keychain from 2005. Current version of the iconic Zippo Car.

1940s Spotlight Collection:
Zippo Brand Lighters

1950s

Breaking Ground and Slimming Down

Entrance to Zippo HQ.

Zippo Corporate Headquarters in Bradford, PA.

Zippo continued to experiment with decoration processes, adding more intricate detailing capabilities and offering high-end appeal with luxurious metals and fine, jewelry-like etching. Zippo started to grow out of its downtown loft space and constructed its first factory in 1954. The corporate office building was constructed soon after, opening in 1955. The impressive Art Deco-style building still serves as the company’s headquarters and features the iconic giant neon sign and original lighter adornments on the corners.

 

In 1956, Zippo introduced the Slim® lighter for even more mass appeal. The sleek, slimmed-down lighter was an evolution of Zippo’s brawny wartime image, but featured the exact same rugged dependability, functionality and lifetime guarantee that soldiers came to expect. The use of premium materials and intricate engraved designs appealed to a broader commercial audience and was a nod to the world’s return to post-war civility. Learn more about the history of the Slim lighter.

 

The late 50s is when we see the first use of yearly date codes, which are stamped into the bottom of the lighter. First used as a quality control measure, date codes quickly became an invaluable tool for collectors, now allowing them to pinpoint the exact month and year of production. Do you know how to read them? Check out the evolution of date codes here and see how many you can identify.

Slim® Lighter ad, lighter stamp, Slim® brochure.

Ad introducing the Slim® Lighter. Date stamp. 1956 Slim® brochure.

1950s Spotlight Collection:
Slim® Lighters

1960s

"There isn’t a company in the world today with more friends than Zippo."

The 60s started with milestone achievements for Zippo: both with the production of the 50 millionth lighter and with record sales in 1962. In a memo penned to his employees for the company’s 30th anniversary, Mr. Blaisdell wrote: "In 1962, Zippo again enjoyed the greatest year in its history. If there is a better way for any company to celebrate a thirtieth anniversary, I haven't heard about it. I guess there just isn't another company in the world today with more friends than Zippo. If this is so, it's only because we make a good product and we take good care of it."

Olgivy ad. Lighter held up at a concert. The 2019 Collectible of the Year celebrating the 50th anniversary of landing on the moon..

Ogilvy ad campaign. The introduction of the "Encore Moment." The 2019 Collectible of the Year celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Moon Landing. Did you snag one?

The 60s started with milestone achievements for Zippo: both with the production of the 50 millionth lighter and with record sales in 1962. In a memo penned to his employees for the company’s 30th anniversary, Mr. Blaisdell wrote: "In 1962, Zippo again enjoyed the greatest year in its history. If there is a better way for any company to celebrate a thirtieth anniversary, I haven't heard about it. I guess there just isn't another company in the world today with more friends than Zippo. If this is so, it's only because we make a good product and we take good care of it."

 

In 1963, advertising icon David Ogilvy launched a legendary campaign for Zippo, focusing on the durability of Zippo lighters. The ads told stories of lighters that went through combat or other extreme situations that were still in perfect working order. Conveying these real-life accounts of Zippo’s impeccable craftsmanship and unbeatable lifetime guarantee helped cement Zippo in the American psyche as synonymous with quality. Zippo would produce its 100 millionth lighter in 1969. See it in person at the Zippo/Case Museum and Flagship Store in Bradford, PA.


A decade often marred by civil unrest and political turmoil, the 60s also represented expression and unity through music. The late 60s is when we first see concertgoers raising their Zippo windproof lighters during musical performances, in a phenomenon dubbed the “Encore Moment.” This iconic gesture has been replicated many times in pop culture, and inspired Zippo Encore, which is Zippo’s music and entertainment arm. Zippo Encore sponsors concerts, podcasts and events with artists and musicians and has maintained Zippo’s close association with the music industry. Learn more about Zippo Encore here.

 

The decade ended with an event that captured the attention of millions of people worldwide: the production of Zippo’s 100 millionth lighter. Come see it at the Zippo/Case Museum!

 

The global event that capped off the 60s was the moon landing, which Zippo commemorated with a limited-edition series in 1969 and most recently as the 2019 Collectible of the Year.

1960s Spotlight Collection:
Music Lighters

1970s

A Global Family Business

In the 70s, Zippo experienced rapid growth – both at home and abroad. Zippo first expanded to international markets and word spread fast. Before long, Zippo was shipping to all corners of the earth; today, you’ll find us in nearly 200 countries. In fact, the Venetian (introduced as the Florentine in the early 70s) remains the most appealing global design Zippo ever released with its timeless floral pattern.

 

In 1972, we see Zippo’s first use of wood veneer emblems for an organic effect – a precursor to our eventual partnership with WOODCHUCK USA that would come decades later!

 

1973 brought the company’s best year yet. Mr. Blaisdell credits customer participation and interest.

 

1974 brought the company’s new best year yet. Mr. Blaisdell credits customers for providing the incentive to produce products of excellence and integrity.

 

1974 also marked Zippo’s largest lighter repair to date: the iconic neon sign atop the Barbour Street offices.

Venetian lighter and Zippo's neon sign.

The Venetian lighter. Zippo's neon sign atop the Barbour Street offices.

In 1978, the entire Zippo organization, along with countless friends, collectors and correspondents across the world, mourned the loss of inventor and founder, George Grant Blaisdell. Mr. Blaisdell passed away at the age of 83, leaving a legacy that can be summed up in one well-known quote:

"Build a product with integrity, stand behind it 100%, and success will follow."

George Blaisdell

And it did. Mr. Blaisdell's dedication to quality and service is continued today — and is the main reason that Zippo is one of the most iconic brands in the world.

 

George Blaisdell’s daughters, Sarah Dorn and Harriet Wick, took the reins of the company, assuming the mission and vision their father had established nearly 40 years prior.

 

1979 brought the company’s best year yet.

1970s Spotlight Collection:
Venetian Lighters

1980s

50 Years and Glowing Stronger

50th Anniversary Lighter, Classic Black Matte  Lighter, Pipe Lighter Insert.

The 50th Anniversary Lighter. The popular Black Matte finish. Zippo Gold Flashed Pipe Insert.

Zippo celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1982 with a solid-brass collectible reminiscent of the original Zippo lighter and an address from Governor William W. Scranton III.

 

Also in 1982, Zippo developed the pipe lighter insert, which features a large opening in the sides of the chimney, allowing pipe users to draw the flame downward. It continues to be one of Zippo’s best sellers today and is available both fitted into a classic Zippo case in our facility or on its own as a standalone accessory. Did you know you can choose the ideal flame for just about every preference? Check out all of our accessory inserts here!

 

The 80s also brought the first of our Matte finishes, including Black Matte, which remains a fan favorite year after year.

 

Because of the overwhelming popularity of the 50th anniversary collectible, Zippo replicated the 1937 model with its flat, angled sides and bottoms. Today, the Vintage model remains a popular choice for collectors and enthusiasts all over the world. Check out all of our replica models here!

 

Zippo produced its 200 millionth lighter in 1988, which you can see in person at the Zippo/Case Museum.

 

Finally, in 1989, the Smithsonian Institution’s Collection of Advertising History and Commercial Visual Imagery adds a collection of Zippo advertisements to its archives.  

"Never a year goes by that this column doesn’t single out a Zippo ad for mention. Each is a solid classic."

William Tyler, Advertising Age creative critic, 1962

1980s Spotlight Collection:
Lighter Inserts

1990s

Cutting-edge Design and a New Set of Wheels

Zippo + Case knife set, D-Day 50th Anniversary Commemorative lighter, LA Times article about Frank Sinatra's burial.

Zippo + Case 25 Years knife set. Zippo D-Day 50th Anniversary Commemorative Black Crackle® lighter. Los Angeles Times article noting Frank Sinatra buried with a Zippo lighter.

The 1990s was a huge decade for Zippo. Not only did we expand our domestic footprint, but we also made several innovative and artistic strides that continue to drive much of the business today. And that car we told you about earlier makes a reappearance (kind of).

 

1993 marks the addition of the iconic W.R. Case & Sons Cutlery Company, a fellow global icon and Bradford, PA-based company. Dating back to 1889, Case knives are known all over the world for their design, craftsmanship and uncompromised American quality. We celebrated this momentous partnership most recently on its 25th anniversary with a collectible lighter and knife set.

 

In 1994, Zippo saluted the 50th anniversary of the Invasion of Normandy with the D-Day Commemorative lighter. Offered for the very first time to civilians, the Black Crackle® finish replicated the famous World War II versions, and the antique brass emblem was patterned after the sleeve patch worn by Allied troops. General Eisenhower's inspirational June 6, 1944 message to the troops is reprinted inside the lid of the round collectible tin.

 

In 1996, the Black Crackle finish was added to our catalog, making it officially available on a large scale. We also produced our 300 millionth lighter.  

 

Speaking of lighters, the 90s marked an era of exploration and perfection when it came to manufacturing and design. Dozens of finishes, processes and licensing partnerships were introduced – the majority of which are still going strong today.

 

Zippo loves a ribbon cutting, and officially opened the doors to the Zippo/Case Museum and Flagship Store in 1997 (originally called Zippo/Case Visitors Center). Each of the museum’s tens of thousands of annual visitors is greeted by a massive American flag constructed of 3,393 lighters. Taking three years to complete, the flag features two unique features. We recommend booking a tour to find out what they are.


Fans mourned the death of music icon Frank Sinatra in 1998. It was reported that his Zippo lighter was among the “few of his favorite things” that he took with him.

 

On a lighter note, the Zippo Car made its grand return in 1998 – as a replica. In the early 70s, Zippo staff arrived at a Pittsburgh-area mechanic to pick the car up after some repairs only to find that the garage had closed shop and the heavily modified 1947 Chrysler Saratoga New Yorker had disappeared without a trace. In 1996, Zippo purchased a 1947 Chrysler Saratoga New Yorker and began its transformation (again). After nearly two years and a modest investment, a true-to-form replica of the Zippo Car made its debut in Bradford, PA. Today, the car still makes appearances at parades, festivals, trade shows and sporting events when it’s not parked at the Zippo/Case Museum.  

1990s Spotlight Collection:
Black Crackle Lighters

2000s

An Icon of Design

"Zippo's role as an American icon is further underlined by its frequent associations with American History."

Icons of Design: the 20th Century

With the arrival of the new millennium, Zippo continued developing and honing its extensive repertoire of precise imprint and decorating processes. In 2000, Zippo was selected and included in Icons of Design: the 20th Century, in which it was described as an archetypal American design icon.

 

Zippo’s icon status was further cemented in 2002 with the patent of the shape itself, protecting the design from counterfeit. This year also marked Zippo’s 70th anniversary, which was celebrated with a Friends for a Lifetime collectible.

 

In 2003, Zippo took a key step for collectors everywhere. The bottom surfaces of all powder-coat base models would be lasered off to allow the date codes and bottom stamps to be immediately distinguishable. Zippo also hits its 400 millionth lighter milestone.

 

For the 60th anniversary of D-Day in 2004, Zippo releases the Sands of Normandy collectible, featuring a Black Matte 1941 Replica accompanied by a vial of sand from the beaches of Normandy and packaged in a cardboard carton resembling a mess kit.

 

2008 closed with the introduction of the black One Box, the immediately recognizable retail packaging used throughout the world today. Made from recycled materials, the design is environmentally friendly, easy to display, reminiscent of early Zippo packaging and perfect for gifting. You’ll find these cartons displayed at virtually every retailer.

Sands of Normandy collectible in case, the 70th Anniversary lighter, the One Box.

Sands of Normady collectible. The Zippo 70th Anniversary Lighter. The One Box.

2000s Spotlight Collection:
Base Models

2010s

Stepping Outside, New Friends and The Click Heard Around the World

Zippo Outdoor. Woodchuck Lighters. The Zippo/Case Museum.

Zippo branches out in 2010 with the launch of Zippo Outdoor. From hand warmers and emergency fire starters to rugged and long-lasting flame and heat sources, Zippo Outdoor products are crafted for use in any scenario and designed with a purpose: so you can get outside and push your boundaries. Shop our whole line of outdoor tools, fuels, kits and accessories here.

 

Also in 2010, Zippo acquired the Ronson and Ronsonol brand assets, expanding its global presence with everyday lighters, fuels and accessories. Established in 1913, Ronson Consumer Products Company spent much of the 20th century manufacturing and marketing a diverse line of decorative, pocket and torch-style lighters.  

 

Zippo celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2012 and produced the 500 millionth lighter on Mr. Blaisdell’s birthday. See this milestone lighter on display at the Zippo/Case Museum!

 

The mid-2010s brought the introduction of several of the most innovative, luxurious and popular imprint methods known today, including (but certainly not limited to) MultiCut, Texture Print, Photo Image, Laser Fancy Fill and a finessed epoxy inlay technique.

 

Zippo also reaches its 2000th appearance in film, stage, music video and television productions. From the silver screen to prime time, when actors need a reliable tool to light the way, get out of a sticky situation or just draw out the suspense, you’ll likely hear the unmistakable click of a Zippo lighter opening or see the spark of the flint wheel before the action happens. What's your favorite Zippo film appearance?

 

Speaking of unmistakable click, Zippo trademarked the immediately recognizable sound in 2018. Our sonic signature is the result of Zippo’s exceptional manufacturing process and continues to emerge in music, podcasts and ASMR soundtracks.  

Zippo Click Icon - Click To Hear

2018 also marks the launch of our Web Debut collection. Consisting of frequent, curated releases, these hand-picked designs are driven by fresh trends and customer feedback and are available exclusively at zippo.com before they’re offered to other storefronts or retailers. Make sure you’re on our mailing list to get first dibs on these launches. In the meantime, shop all Web Debut lighters.

 

The decade closes with two key partnerships for Zippo. First, 2019 begins with the acquisition of Northern Lights Candles, a perfect complement to Zippo’s culture, values and American-made spirit. The Wellsville, NY company is a leading designer of luxury candles and artisan accessories across the United States known for its fine fragrances, natural wicks and waxes and the beautiful, reusable and responsibly sourced vessels used across its product line. Finally, Zippo joins forces with WOODCHUCK USA to support global sustainability efforts through Woodchuck’s Buy One Plant One® program. To learn more about the initiative or to find the tree your purchase planted, click here. Also, visitor our Woodchuck collection check out all of our Woodchuck designs!

2010s Spotlight Collection:
WOODCHUCK USA Lighters

2020s

A Slight Hiccup and All Systems Go

600 Million Collectible. Art of Rock logo. Slim® 65th lighter.

The 600 Million Commemorative Lighter. Art Of Rock series logo. Slim® 65th Anniversary Collectible Lighter.

Like most people, we rang in 2020 full of hope, goals and big plans for the new year – the new decade – with no idea of what would soon upend life as we knew it. When the COVID-19 pandemic first disrupted the world in early 2020, Zippo was among the millions of companies that had no choice but to suspend operations. By the time limited production was permitted again, Zippo had established a comprehensive health and safety protocol. To this day, we credit this system for zero reported cases transmitted internally.

 

Aside from the temporary shutdown, Zippo also retained every single employee throughout the pandemic; in fact, demand was so extensive by the time we resumed full operations that our business – and teams – had grown by mid-2020, despite the generalized uncertainty throughout the world. Zippo would manufacture its 600 millionth lighter on June 6, 2020.

 

A final piece of 2020 trivia: you will never find a windproof lighter with the date code D20, which is when, for the second time in our history, production in Bradford, PA came to a total halt. Can you tell which month it was? Brush up on your date code knowledge here!

 

The “new normal” also brought opportunities. People all over the world started spending more time outside and the Zippo Outdoor product line expanded quickly in response to customer demand and rediscovered lifestyles.  

 

The move to virtual events spurred the launch of our Artist Livestream series, which features interviews with fan-favorite artists and an exclusive lighter drop. We recently wrapped up the latest installment of the series, Art of Rock, which highlighted custom lighter designs from seven well-known musicians who double as talented visual artists. There might be a few models left!

 

2021 marked the 65th anniversary of the Slim® lighter, which we celebrated with a special-edition Collectible that harks back to the original 1956 design inspiration. 2021 also brought our first Founder’s Day celebration and the most innovations ever launched in a single year.  

 

Now, for 2022, we’re keeping the momentum with exciting new products, partnerships and programming befitting a 90th anniversary. And we've issued two lighters to celebrate the occasion: the 90th Anniversary Collectible Of The Year and the 90th Anniversary Commemorative Design. Thanks for helping us make this our best year yet.  

2020s Spotlight Collection:
Zippo Collectible Lighters