Zippo inspiritation

The Zippo manufacturing company is world famous for its windproof lighter, its lifetime guarantee, and the distinctive "click" it makes when opened.

George Grant Blaisdell, Zippo's founder, had a checkered career in business prior to focusing on lighters. His father ran a machine shop in Blaisdell's hometown of Bradford, Pennsylvania, where Blaisdell started work as a machinist at age 16 (working a 56-hour week at 10 cents an hour), then became a salesman, and at age 20 took over the business. He managed to keep the business afloat during World War I through government contracts, then sold out in 1920. Blaisdell headed for New York; having failed to strike it rich playing the stock market, he returned to Bradford and invested what money remained in local oil wells (through his co-ownership, with his brother Walter, of Blaisdell Oil Company), making a modest living over the next ten years from the proceeds. Thereupon, in the early 1930s he was waiting for the right business opportunity.

The legend

The Zippo legacy begins in the depression era of the early 1930s. On a muggy summer night in Bradford in 1932, at a dinner dance at the then called Bradford country club*, tiring of the party Mr Blaisdell stepped out on to a balconey for a smoke. He watched with curiosity his smartly dressed friend using a cumbersome brass Austrian made lighter. He asked him why he was using a lighter that did not suit his attire, "Well, George, it works!" came the defensive retort.

*In 1937, Bradford Country Club and the North Penn Club merged to form Pennhills country club.

Quite taken with his friends passion and looking for a business ventrure Mr Blaisdell obtained a number of units to sell for just 12 cents a unit**. To improve its appearance, Mr Blaisdell chrome plated the lid of the lighter and put them up for sale for one dollar. They did not sell at all well, the lighter worked well in the wind thanks to the design of the chimney, but its appearance was utilitarian and its use required two hands. He realised quickly there were defects in the lighters design, replacing the flint was difficult to say the least and changing the wick required the patience of a saint. The thin case dented easily and being small it could not retain much fuel. The flint wheel is thin and weak causing it not to light on occassion.

Mr Blaisdell was determined to develop a new lighter that would not fail to light and would be easy to use. At this time of great depression he wanted a product that was outstanding but promised a low total cost of ownership. Admiring the ingenuity of a recent invention and liking the word zipper Mr Blaisdell called his new founded company Zippo considering it to sound more modern. His future sighted marketing genius gave birth to the lifetime guarantee and the accompanying slogan "It works... or we fix it free".

**I am yet to verify the 12 cents unit cost but if true the $50 outlay makes 400 units excluding $2 postage. Happy hunting...

US distribution deal