Renowned for its wind-proof flame, durability, and emblematic design, the Zippo lighter is one of the most sought-after pieces of gear on the market. But do they still make Zippo lighters?
Zippo Manufacturing Company is still manufacturing Zippo lighters. These brilliant little lighters have remained hugely popular since their invention in 1932. They aren’t just popular; they’re iconic. The design of the classic Zippo Windproof Lighter has been unchanged since its invention.
So are Zippo lighters made in America? Are they really popular with soldiers? What is the clicking noise made by a Zippo? There’s a lot to learn about Zippo lighters; in the following sections, we’ll answer these questions and more.
Zippo: An American Legend
The ability to make and control fire was an essential part of the rise of mankind. Before the taming of fire, there was no way to make light or warmth. Fire provided us with a way to defend ourselves from predators and a way to cook food. In addition, it allowed us to develop other technologies, like metalworking, that we still rely on to this day.
Despite our modern gadgets and gizmos, our smartphones and toasters, the average person would probably struggle to create fire today. Some experienced campers or outdoorsmen might be able to make fire from sticks, but the average Joe would likely be confounded if tasked with making fire.
Luckily, we have mastered the art of using tools to produce fire. One of the best tools for making fire is the humble Zippo lighter. These rectangular metal lighters are renowned for their ability to keep a flame burning even during stiff winds. They are also famous for their universally appealing style!
So, where did the Zippo come from? The story holds that the inventor of the Zippo, Mr. George Blaisdell, was relaxing with a friend at the Bradford Country Club when he observed his friend lighting a smoke with a cumbersome imported lighter. The lighter worked adequately in the wind but required two hands and was easily dented.
Ever the inventor, Mr. Blaisdell couldn’t stop thinking about his friend’s lighter. So in late 1932, he decided to improve the design. He made it small enough to be used with one hand, developed a hinged top, and ended up with the first version of the Zippo lighter!
By 1933, Zippos were rolling off the production line. However, World War II saw a spike in demand for Zippo lighters as American soldiers sailed off to Europe and Asia, and while the Zippo was not technically a “standard issue” item, they were widely available at base Post Exchanges and were incredibly popular among soldiers.
After the war, Mr. Blaisdell wanted to travel the land and sell his Zippo lighters everywhere he could. With that in mind, he fabricated The Zippo Car, which (as the name suggests) looked like a humongous Zippo lighter with wheels. Unfortunately, the original car is lost to history, but the brand does have a replica Zippo Car that still pops up from time to time today!
Today, the Zippo remains an American favorite. Zippo lighters are popular collectibles and come in a variety of unique models, many decorated with interesting designs. So if you need to make fire regularly (or even just sometimes), a Zippo lighter is an indispensable piece of gear.
Are Zippo Lighters Made in America?
Zippo lighters are an American icon. Ever since Mr. Blaisdell invented the Zippo lighter in 1932, these fabulous accessories have primarily been manufactured in the United States. The vast majority of Zippo lighters are manufactured in Bradford, Pennsylvania, to this day!
But what about the small minority of Zippos not made in America? For a while, some came from Canada, but Zippo closed its Canadian plant in 2002. Zippo also has operations under Zippo UK in England and Zippo Fashion Italia in Italy. Despite this international expansion, Zippo remains a solidly American brand!
Keystone Answers Fun Fact: The name “Zippo” is based on the word “zipper.” George Blaisdell took a liking to the sound of the word zipper and decided to tweak it by changing it to Zippo!
Why do Zippos Lighters Click?
One of the distinguishing features of Zippo lighters is their distinctive click. When a Zippo lighter is opened, it makes a soft click noise, and when it is closed, it makes a slightly stronger clank. What makes this noise?
There are two components to the sound. First, unlike cheap disposable lighters, Zippos are manufactured from high-quality brass. The sound of brass-on-brass is part of what makes a Zippo click. The other part of the distinctive Zippo sound comes from a component called the “toggling cam.” The toggling cam is a small metal lever that engages to keep the Zippo lighter in either the open or closed position.
Whether you realize it or not, you probably know the exact sound of a Zippo click. The click has been featured in countless Hollywood movie scenes involving the lighters, on TV shows, and even in songs. Eric Clapton and Sting’s 1994 song It’s Probably Me used a Zippo lighter as part of the sound layer. On December 5, 2018, Zippo was granted a trademark for the distinctive Zippo Click.
Do Soldiers Use Zippo Lighters?
At least some of Zippo’s fame comes from their association with the military. The connection is so strong that some people mistakenly believe the military issues Zippo lighters! While this is not true (the military does not currently issue lighters to soldiers), the Zippo has been popular among servicemen since World War II.
During World War II, Zippo lighters were primarily used as cigarette lighters. Smoking was widespread among soldiers and the general public at the time, so a lighter was an essential piece of personal gear.
In the Vietnam War, Zippo lighters were used for a variety of purposes. They used them to light smokes, ignite flamethrowers, burn down enemy encampments, repair ropes, and light utility fires for light, heat, or cooking. In addition, the shiny metal surface of Zippo lighters was commonly used as a shaving mirror by troops out in the bush.
During Vietnam, it also became common for soldiers to engrave their Zippos with unique designs or sayings. Many of these sayings were quite acerbic, reflecting the general zeitgeist of the time. That tradition of witty and sometimes edgy embellishments continues to this day, and Zippos come with an enormous variety of decorations and sayings – or they can be uniquely customized and engraved to meet any need.
Today, the Zippo remains an iconic part of many military traditions. Veterans often get commemorative Zippos decorated with the iconography of their branch of service, their MOS, their vessel name, or other significant things. Even modern soldiers are often known to keep one of these reliable metal lighters on their person.
Are Zippo Lighters Made by Prisoners?
Prisoners do not make Zippo lighters. The people who work at the Zippo factory in Bradford, Pennsylvania, are not inmates of any facility, nor are they incarcerated in any way. They are ordinary people working in regular jobs. So, where did the myth that prisoners make Zippos come from?
The myth begins with the codes stamped on every Zippo lighter. During the manufacturing process, Zippo stamps each lighter with a code that details when they were manufactured. Over the years, Zippo has used a series of different codes to indicate their lighters’ date of manufacture.
These inscrutable marks serve no obvious purpose to most people. Human nature being what it is, when people were faced with something they did not understand, they simply made up a story! Somewhere along the line, someone made up the urban legend that prisoners make Zippos, and the myth (for whatever reason) has endured.
Does Zippo Have a Lifetime Warranty?
Zippo lighters have a lifetime warranty. So if your Zippo breaks or stops working, you can send it to the Zippo Repair Clinic in Bradford, Pennsylvania, and the company will fix it for free!
Ever since Mr. Blaisdell invented the Zippo back in 1932, the company’s policy has been “It works or we fix it free.” So whether your Zippo rolled off the line in 1941 or 2021, you’re welcome to send it back if it stops working, and Zippo will fix it and send it back to you for free.
That said, routine maintenance tasks need to be done to take care of your Zippo. You’ll periodically need to check and fill the lighter fluid and change out the wicks and flints. Even a non-handy person can easily do any of these tasks. If you need a lighter that will stand the test of time, a Zippo is the lighter for you.
The Zippo lighter stands apart in a world dominated by cheap, flimsy, disposable plastic products. Rather than being a crummy throwaway, a Zippo lighter is an heirloom, a well-made and durable tool that will stand the test of time in a way that most modern items will not. That holds true for a lighter made in the 1950s as much as it does for a lighter that rolls off the line today! Zippo lighters have been made for almost a century, and we hope they’re still being made in another hundred years.