The evolution of an American icon through the decades
Posted: October 18, 2019 | Word Count: 733
The Zippo Windproof Lighter is a true icon of American design — a product that provides utility and function, as well as an expression of identity. While the Zippo lighter itself has remained largely unchanged over the last eight decades, the sheer number of designs that adorn it number more than 300,000 since the brand’s inception in 1932.
However, this year, the humble Zippo lighter will see the most notable expansion of its functionality since it was created — the introduction of interchangeable lighter insert accessories. With two new butane jet options as well as a rechargeable double beam arc insert available as accessories to interchange with the classic windproof insert, this marks the first time the interior of the Zippo lighter can be modified and tailored to any situation.
From the workshop to the wilderness, intrepid adventurer to urban explorer, the Zippo lighter has been a mainstay of many a pocket, backpack or travel kit for decades. The launch of these new modification options provides a perfect opportunity to look back at some of the biggest milestones of this iconic product.
1930s – A star is born
As founder George G. Blaisdell watched a friend struggle to use a lighter of Austrian design, he did note one thing — the lighter worked very well, even in the wind. Inspired by the functionality, but unimpressed with the difficulty of use, the beginnings of the Zippo lighter sparked in his mind. Within a couple of years, he had fabricated the first-ever prototype Zippo lighter.
An interesting aside, the name Zippo came from Blaisdell’s enjoyment of the sound of the word ‘zipper’, so he played with different takes on the word until he landed on Zippo.
1940s – The war effort
When the U.S. joined World War II in 1941, Zippo stopped production for consumers and switched to production for the military. This shift led to the creation of a new product treatment — the black crackle finish — as the materials usually allocated for a Zippo lighter’s construction were required for the war efforts.
1950s – Collectors rejoice
For the first time, date codes were stamped on the bottom of every Zippo lighter. While the original intent for this was quality control, the codes have become essential for collectors.
1960s – Put your lighters up
A sea of lights across the audience of a music concert or festival performance is a scene recognized around the world — and the moment is intrinsically linked to the Zippo lighter. This “lighter in the air” moment was thought to have originated at Woodstock in 1969, when a young singer was struggling to perform in a rainstorm. To show their gratitude for her perseverance, the crowd of 400,000 began to hold up Zippo lighters in salute.
80s/90s – An action hero
With more film credits than any actor ever, the Zippo lighter boasts over 2,000 film appearances to its name (and not a single award nomination — an injustice!). With the action heroes of the 80s and 90s, the Zippo became synonymous with Hollywood because of its reliability to work during every take.
2000s – Trademarks all around
Two elements of the Zippo lighter are recognized as being so iconic, they’ve received trademarks. In 2002, the brand obtained trademark registration for the shape of the Zippo lighter — a huge win in protecting the brand from counterfeiters. In 2018, the sound of the Zippo ‘click’ was also honored with a trademark — an accolade reserved only for the most immediately recognizable sounds around the world.
2019 – Inserts are in
The new range of interchangeable lighter inserts, including a rechargeable arc and two butane torch options (single and double), fit inside all regular-sized Zippo Windproof Lighter cases so you can customize your own portable flame. Each lighter insert can be refilled or recharged for years of enjoyment, and care has been taken to retain iconic cues from the original lighter, such as the 3-2-3 chimney look and the inimitable Zippo click.
Do you have a Zippo that used to be a grandparent's and has been passed down to you? Do you have a favorite lighter from high school? Maybe you have one that was gifted for a special occasion? With the new lighter inserts collection, you not only have choice of design, but also choice of function. Learn more about how you can modify your favorite Zippo lighter with these new inserts at www.zippo.com.