Date Published: 2015-04-03

Zippo is an American Icon


By Adelia Ladson

Take out your Zippo and really look at it. (If you don't have one, this is the perfect excuse to treat yourself.) Do you realize that you are holding an American icon in your hand?
Vietnam Era Zippo The Vietnam Era Zippos have become very valuable collector's items.
Vietnam Era Zippo The Vietnam Era Zippos have become very valuable collector's items.
The Zippo story starts in late 1932, in Bradford, Penn., when George Blaisdell crafted his first lighter, based on an Austrian lighter design. He started mass producing them in 1933 and gave them extra value by adding his unconditional lifetime guarantee, "It works or we fix it free." And, in more than 80 years, not one red-cent has been spent by a customer to repair his lighter. You can't beat that for a company standing completely behind its product!
Now, really take a good look at that Zippo in your hand. Go ahead turn it over, flip open the lid and really look at it inside and out. Now, realize this wind-proof lighter was so well designed that it is basically the same construction as it was when Mr. Blaisdell first made it. In otherwords, it needed no improvement. It looks great, is simple to operate and you can count on it to light anywhere, anytime under any conditions.
Pulp Ficton Zippo Zippos have been featured in movies throughout the years like in this scene from "Pulp Fiction".
Pulp Fiction Zippo Zippos have been featured in movies throughout the years like in this scene from "Pulp Fiction".
That reliability and durability is what made it so popular with folks, especially, the United States Armed Forces. Soldiers have been carrying Zippos into battle since World War II where it was the one thing that they could count on to help them survive. Whether they used it to warm their stew at mealtime or used the shiny top as a mirror or used it to signal for help, it never let them down. Hey, it was documented that one soldier's Zippo even saved him from a bullet. And, during W.W.II, Mr. Blaisdell made sure that every soldier had access to his ultimate survival tool by dedicating all his manufacturing to the military. He completely stopped production to his consumer market during this time and produced the collectible steel-case lighters with a black crackle finish, which had the advantage of being non-reflective on the battlefield. With all of these G.I.s happily flicking their Zippos overseas, this lighter quickly became a uniquely American icon. Now, they are sold in more than 160 countries across the world. Wow! Now, that's staying power.
Even though, the tradition of having the lighters carry military insignias started during W.W.II, the Zippos of the Vietnam era have become the most collectible because the soldiers would have them engraved with personal messages and mottos. These lighters were carried in the chest pocket of his fatigues or on the camouflage band of his helmet. The lighters became a part of them and silent witness to their daily lives both happy and sad moments that they faced during the war.
Easy Rider Zippo This vintage Easy Rider Zippo really illustrates why Zippo is an American Icon.
Easy Rider Zippo This vintage Easy Rider Zippo really illustrates why Zippo is an American Icon.
Take another look at your Zippo and think about what is says about you. You probably put some thought into what design you wanted on it or if you received it as a gift, thought was given to what design would be chosen for you. It's a personal item that you want to keep much like your father's watch or your mother's ring. Something you could pass along. It's collectible and priceless.
That personal style the Zippo has isn't just about its appearance, there is truly nothing like the sound it makes when you open it. That "click" that has been featured in movie soundtracks and in songs is a sound that tells everyone you are as cool as James Dean, as sophisticated as James Bond and (for you ladies) as svelte and elegant as Audrey Hepburn.
That seemingly unobtrusive lighter in your hand is packed with so much history; you just have to appreciate its true value. Everyone should have this wonderful American icon.


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