A Zippo lighter is a refillable, metal lighter manufactured by Zippo Manufacturing Company. Thousands of different styles and designs have been made in the seven decades since their introduction. They are frequently collected.
They became popular in the United States military, especially during World War II — when, as the company's website says, Zippo "ceased production of lighters for consumer markets and dedicated all manufacturing to the U.S. military." Additionally, Zippo lighters are known for offering a "forever" guarantee: if a Zippo lighter breaks, no matter how old or how many owners it has had, the company will replace or fix the lighter for free. The only part of a Zippo lighter that carries no warranty is the finish on the outside of the outer case and lid.
Zippo lighters gained popularity as “windproof” lighters, able to stay lit in harsh weather, due to the design of the windscreen and adequate rate of fuel delivery. A consequence is that it is hard to extinguish by blowing out the flame. The proper way to extinguish the lighter is to close the top half, which starves the flame of oxygen, but, unlike other lighters, an action like this does not cut the fuel. One of the recognizable features of Zippo is the fact that it burns with a wick. Rapidly closing the top lid produces a loud and easily recognizable clicking sound for which Zippo lighters are known.
Current Zippos carry a suggested retail price between US$12.95 up to more than US$3,500, depending on the rarity and materials used in the given item. In 2001, according to the fall 2003 issue of IUP Magazine, a 1933 model was purchased for $18,000 at a swap meet in Tokyo, and in 2002 the company bought one valued at $12,000 for its own collection.
George G. Blaisdell founded Zippo Manufacturing Company (located in Bradford, Pennsylvania) in 1932, and produced the first Zippo lighter in early 1933, being inspired by an Austrian cigarette lighter of similar design. It got its name because Blaisdell liked the sound of the word "zipper". On March 3, 1936, patent was granted for the Zippo lighter.
Since 1933, over 400,000,000 Zippo lighters have been produced. After World War II, the Zippo lighter became increasingly used in advertising by companies large and small through the 1960s. Many of the early advertising Zippo lighters are works of art painted by hand, and as technology has evolved, so has the design and finish of the Zippo lighter. The basic mechanism of the Zippo lighter has remained unchanged.
Zippo has recently expanded its product line to include a variety of utility-style multi-purpose lighters, known as the Zippo MPL. These lighters are fueled with butane.
A museum called Zippo/Case visitors center is located in Bradford, PA at 1932 Zippo Drive. This 10,000 square foot (929 sq m) building contains rare and custom made Zippo lighters, and is the only place that sells the whole Zippo line. The museum also contains an enormous collection of Case knives. Since the Zippo company's 60th anniversary in 1992, annual editions have been produced for worldwide zippo collectors. From Windy (Zippo's original spokes model) to a special Hollywood edition (declaring Zippo's fame with on-screen actors over the decades), this unique lighter has stood the test of time through American history.
From mid-1955 Zippo started year coding their lighters by the use of dots (.). From 1966 until 1973 the year code was denoted by combinations of vertical lines (|). From 1974 until 1981 the coding comprised of combinations of forward slashes (/), and from 1982 until June 1986 the coding was by backslash (\).
In July 1986, Zippo began including a lot code on all lighters showing the month and year of production. On the left of the underside was stamped a letter A–L, denoting the month (A = January, B = February, et cetera). On the right was a Roman numeral which denoted the year, beginning with II in 1986. Thus a Zippo stamped H XI was made in August, 1995. However in 2000, Zippo altered this system, changing the Roman numerals to more conventional Arabic numerals. Thus a Zippo made in August 04 was stamped H 04.
The cases of Zippo lighters are typically made of metal and are rectangular-shaped with a hinged top. Inside the case are the works of the lighter: the spring-toggle lever that keeps the top closed, the wick, windscreen, thumbwheel, and flint, all of which are mounted on an open-bottom metal box that is slightly smaller than the bottom of the outer case, and into which it slips snugly. The hollow part of the interior box encloses a rayon batt which is in contact with the wick. The fuel, a volatile flammable liquid commonly known as lighter fluid (usually naptha), is poured into the batt, which traps it. It also contains a tube that holds a short, cylindrical flint. The tube has an interior spring and exterior cap-screw that keeps the flint in constant contact with the exterior thumb-wheel. Spinning this rough-surfaced wheel against flint results in a spark that ignites the fluid in the wick. The batt normally has a small hole to store spare flints. All parts of the lighter are replaceable. In all there are 22 parts, and the Zippo lighter requires 108 manufacturing operations.