Known and beloved by their fans for their wide assortment of high-quality, customized collectibles, Zippo and Case are both headquartered in Bradford, Pennsylvania, and even share a store and museum. But are Zippo and Case the same company?
Zippo owns Case, but the two companies are separate from one another. The arrangement is very much like how Wal-Mart owns Sam’s Club or how General Motors owns Chevrolet. Zippo’s acquisition of Case has likely made both companies stronger in the long run.
So is Zippo or Case the older company? Is the Zippo/Case Museum worth visiting? Does Zippo own any other companies? In the following sections, we’ll answer these questions and tell you more about these two fascinating companies.
Zippo and Case
Many Americans like to carry handy personal items such as lighters and pocket knives. Even though we may not need to make fire or cut things every day, it’s convenient to have well-made and portable tools that can accomplish simple tasks like these. Two of the finest brands of American-made personal gear are Zippo and Case.
W.R. Case & Sons, commonly called Case, dates back to the year 1889, but the real story begins a few years prior. In 1882, William Case and his four brothers partnered with John Brown Francis Champlin to form the Cattaraugus Cutlery Company.
Cattaraugus bought used manufacturing equipment from a defunct company and imported expert knifemakers from Germany and the U.K. Before long, Cattaraugus became quite successful.
Eventually, the Case brothers went their own way. In 1889, the four Case brothers – Andrew, John, Jean, and William Russell – began traveling as merchants, selling their cutlery from the back of a wagon in upstate New York. The brothers found great success as customers appreciated the quality of their knives, and by 1900 the brothers had incorporated Case Brothers Cutlery Company.
In 1905, Case moved its headquarters to Bradford, Pennsylvania. Eventually, the company passed to John Russell Case, the son of William Russell Case. John Russell renamed the company “W.R. Case & Sons” after his beloved father, and continued building the brand’s portfolio and customer base.
By World War II, the brand’s reputation had become such that they began making combat knives for the military. Case manufactured the M-3 trench knife, which was issued to special units like the Army Rangers and the Airborne. They also produced the V-42 stiletto knife, which was used by special commando units during the war.
After the war, Case entered into a joint venture with aluminum manufacturer Alcoa to manufacture cutlery under the brand name Cutco. This arrangement continued until 1972, when Alcoa bought out Case’s share of Cutco.
Over the years, Case has manufactured tons of different styles of knives. In addition, Case often partners with organizations like the Boy Scouts of America, Ducks Unlimited, and Sturm, Ruger & Co to produce branded merchandise. Case knives also come in an assortment of colors, styles, textures, and blade arrangements.
The massive assortment of body and blade styles, plus the attention to detail and exquisite craftsmanship of Case knives have made them highly sought-after collector’s items. In 1981, the Case Collectors Club was chartered to provide Case enthusiasts with a place to socialize, share information, and trade items.
Today, Case continues to manufacture premium knives. Their collection of knives includes everything from simple pocket knives to chef’s knives and even Bowie knives. The strong construction and aesthetically pleasing craftsmanship of Case knives both contribute to their desirability. So whether you’re a handyman, a collector, or just someone who likes to be prepared, it’s hard to go wrong with a Case knife.
Keystone Answers Fun Fact: Zippo can manufacture about 72,000 lighters in a single day!
Zippo Manufacturing Co.
While just about everybody is familiar with Zippo, not everyone is as familiar with the brand’s history. Zippo is the child of an inventor named George Blaisdell. In the early 1930s, Mr. Blaisdell was socializing with a friend when he observed his friend struggling to use a fancy Austrian lighter.
While the flame from this Austrian lighter was strong even in the wind, Mr. Blaisdell noticed that his friend was experiencing some challenges with the device. It required two hands to operate, and the flimsy metal used to make the lighter was prone to denting and dinging.
Inspired to improve the design of the lighter, Mr. Blaisdell went to work. He developed a similar lighter that had many notable improvements. The lighter was operable with one hand and featured a cunning chimney to keep the flame wind-proof, plus a latch mechanism on the lid that kept the lighter from opening or closing by accident. By 1933, Zippo was fully operational and manufacturing lighters by the hundreds.
Zippo’s popularity grew during the wartime years. During World War II, American GIs found the lighters to be excellent companions for military life. During Vietnam, Zippo lighters were used not just for combat and other operational purposes but also as a means of self-expression. Soldiers would engrave witty or soulful sayings on their Zippos, which have since become highly sought-after collectors’ items.
Zippo Buys Case…
In 1993, Zippo purchased Case. Both companies were (and are still) headquartered in Bradford, Pennsylvania, and both companies relied on similar supply chains for raw materials. It is also likely that both companies recognize benefits from sharing logistics and manufacturing equipment and functions. In addition, Zippo’s commitment to quality and strong American values were a good match for Case, and both companies have thrived in the wake of the acquisition.
…And Keeps Growing
In 2010, Zippo purchased most of the assets of Ronson, which makes lighters and igniters, as well as their own brand of lighter fluid under the Ronsonol trademark. While Zippo now owns the trademarks and products of Ronson, their acquisition of Ronson did not include Ronson’s corporate structure or debts, making this a solid business move by Zippo.
In 2019, Zippo acquired Northern Lights, a company that manufactures artisanal candles and candle accessories. Apart from the natural synergy of candles and lighters, Zippo’s purchase of Northern Lights added new distribution channels to both companies and strengthened both companies.
As an added bonus, both companies are strong American brands, so Zippo’s ownership of Northern Lights will help keep both companies (and their manufacturing plants and jobs) here in the United States.
Is the Zippo/Case Museum Worth Visiting?
In a world of cheap junk, both Zippo and Case continue to manufacture high-quality products. The Zippo/Case Museum is dedicated to exhibiting not just the craftsmanship of Zippo and Case products, but also to explaining the history behind these brands.
Like their respective factories, the Zippo/Case Museum is located in Bradford, Pennsylvania – on Zippo Drive, as it happens, and it is definitely worth a visit. Visitors can go to the museum seven days a week. The museum is open 11 to 4 on Sundays and 9 to 5 from Monday to Saturday. Best of all, admission to the Zippo/Case Museum is free.
Once you enter the museum, you’ll see all kinds of neat things. Some of the most interesting exhibits are displays of noteworthy lighters and knives. Fans of rock music will enjoy the museum’s collection of rock-and-roll-themed Zippo lighters, and those who like pop art will find the examples of Zippo’s old advertising materials to be fascinating.
History buffs will enjoy the exhibits on Zippo’s evolution over the years and the significance of Zippo lighters as they relate to military history and culture. Patriots will certainly find the enormous wall-sized American flag made from 3,300 Zippo lighters to be an inspiring sight!
If you prefer pocket knives, the Case section of the museum is for you. There are countless examples of Case’s wide range of knives, including cleavers and cooking knives, tools, Bowie knives, folding knives, and more.
One of the most notable experiences at the Zippo/Case Museum is the chance to peer into the Zippo Repair Center. The Center is a fantastic place where, for more than 85 years, Zippo’s technicians have dutifully repaired any malfunctioning Zippo that comes across their desk. Zippo’s lifetime guarantee of “It works or we fix it free” is on full display as workers diligently tend to their lighters.
If looking at all the cool memorabilia from Zippo and Case makes you want to take home one of your own, you’re in luck. The museum shares space with a flagship store, where guests can peruse a seemingly endless assortment of Zippo lighters, Case knives, Northern Lights candles, and other odds and ends.
Zippo and Case: Different Companies, Same Owner
Zippo and Case are different companies, but Zippo owns Case. The two brands may be under the same ownership, but they have retained their distinctive brand personalities and cultures. But more important than their differences are their similarities. Zippo and Case both take pride in manufacturing high-quality, durably crafted products.
We look forward to seeing what innovations they will bring us in the decades to come.