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Lighting Our Fire: How Zippo Manufacturing Keeps the Spark of Innovation Alive
Free Enterprise Staff | July 3, 2014

You may not think too much about lighters. In fact, with mounting pressures on the tobacco industry and the advent of gas fire and stoves, fewer and fewer people are. But even though Zippo windproof lighters have remained virtually unchanged over the last 77 years, the company behind them has accomplished the near impossible— it has grown and adapted to today’s fickle market while remaining a steadfast American icon.

The spark for the Zippo windproof lighter came in 1932, when George C. Blaisdell watched a friend fumbling to light a lighter in the wind. For Blaisdell, that’s when the light bulb (or flame, if you will) sparked. He founded Zippo that same year, and 82 years and 500 million lighters later, the company is still selling its products in 160 countries. And like any growing company, Zippo is diversifying its offerings—look out for the new Zippo fragrance, casual clothing line, and camping gear, coming to a store near you.

The U.S. Chamber blog recently sat down with Zippo’s current president and CEO, Gregory Booth, to talk innovation, market strategy, and why it chooses to keep manufacturing in America. Watch the full video, or read their article here. And in the meantime, check out these 9 interesting facts about America’s favorite lighter:

  1. 1. The name “Zippo” is a derivative of “zipper,” simply because the company’s founder George G. Blaisdell liked the word.
  2. 2. Since 1933, the only time Zippo lighters have not been available on the open market in the United States was during World War II, when Zippo Manufacturing sold its product exclusively to the U.S. military services.
  3. 3. In 1936, Blaisdell received a patent for the first ever “windproof” lighter.
  4. 4. The original price of a Zippo lighter was $1.95. Adjusting for inflation, that’s roughly equivalent to $32 today.
  5. 5. Zippo’s most famous ad ran in Esquire magazine in December 1937. The ad featured a pin-up girl named “Windy” and discussed the many practical qualities of the Zippo lighter. It also challenged you to take the fan test, as Zippo lighters are known to be windproof.
  6. 6. Since WWII, every naval ship has had its own Zippo lighter that depicts a picture of the ship, along with its name and number.
  7. 7. Zippo produced its 400,000,000th lighter in September 2003; If laid end-to-end, those 400 million Zippo lighters would stretch halfway around the equator.
  8. 8. According to the company’s official website, a Zippo lighter was once found inside a caught fish’s belly “in the 1950s”—and it lit the first time after removal.
  9. 9. Twenty-one percent of all Zippo lighter owners are collectors. There are roughly 20 collector clubs worldwide.