Design Moment: Zippo lighter, 1934

Lighter came – as it does now – with an unconditional lifetime guarantee

Zippo lighter: Production received a major boost in 1941 when US troops were equipped with Zippos.

Zippo lighter: Production received a major boost in 1941 when US troops were equipped with Zippos.

 

Until the mid-1930s, modern types who preferred lighters to matches made do with an Austrian lighter that needed two hands to strike up.

George G Blaisdell in Bradford, Pennsylvania, noted that the lighter, while cumbersome, worked because it had a chimney-type structure around the flame which protected it in wind, and he set about improving the design.

For his casing, he looked back to a time when matches were likely to light themselves in the owner’s pocket and so needed a metal case for protection. His hinged lid could be flicked open with one hand.

Blaisdell liked the sound of the word “zipper” and hit upon a variation – Zippo – which he felt sounded modern. His new lighter sold for $1.95 and came – as it does now – with an unconditional lifetime guarantee: “It works or we fix it free”.

The patent was filed in 1934 and production received a major boost in 1941 when US troops were equipped with Zippos, produced in steel and painted black, as all available brass was used for the war effort.

From the 1950s, Zippos featured a date stamp on the bottom – a boon for collectors. Nowadays, with the fall-off in the popularity of smoking Zippos are more likely to be seen on screen – from Mad Men to Die Hard – anywhere where the character has to appear effortlessly cool.