ZIPPO: Nine Decades Later Still Going Strong

By MW Desk

To celebrate its 90th birthday, we trace the evolution of the iconic brand that has gone on to
become a pop culture icon

American lighter brand Zippo is not just about the ignition and flames. It’s about the man who conceptualised its stylish, yet functional design. It is about the stories behind the collectors, customers, and the innovations that have elevated it to the style statement that it is today. Originating in 1930 from the city of Bradford, Pennsylvania, the story of Zippo begins when founder, George G. Blaisdell, curiously watched a friend struggle with an Austrian-made lighter. The lighter, though functional with a wind-proof chimney, lacked ease of usage and elegance. It got Blaisdell thinking about creating a more easyto-use version. He spent two years modifying the Austrian design, unveiling his creation in 1932. He retained the original wind-proof chimney of the lighter, but encased it in a rectangular brass case fitted with a hinged lid, which could be flicked open with just one thumb, creating a signature click. The result was a sleek looking, easy-to-use lighter. He called it Zippo, a variation on the then popular term ‘zipper’ used for metal fasteners. So confident was Blaisdell about the durability of his product that he offered buyers a lifetime guarantee. “It works, or we fix it free,” was the company’s original tagline that he created. There have been several milestones in the 90-year-rich legacy, starting with World War II where Zippo halted production for the consumer market and dedicated its resources to producing lighters for the U.S. military. Shortly after being hailed as an American icon for aiding the U.S military personnel, Zippo went back to its roots, exploring interesting designs in tune with the market demand and trends. One such design, born in 1947, was the famous Zippo car, a classic car shaped like a Zippo lighter. In 1950, the company designed a slimmer version of the Zippo lighter to appeal to women. To their surprise, the product was a hit amongst both women and men.

Ever attended a concert where thousands raise their phone flashlights as an artist serenades the audience with soothing hits, creating an illuminated sea with flashing white spots? Serene, breathtaking, and unforgettable, right? If you’ve ever been a part of this, you have Zippo to thank for it. Dubbed as the Zippo moment in the 1960s, it started when fans raised lit Zippo lighter flames in unison as a salute to their favourite tunes and performers. The brand’s relationship with music does not end there. From the famous Zippo ‘click’ sound being sampled in songs to the lighter being featured on album covers, tattooed on rockers’ skin and flaunted in The Rolling Stones’ photo shoots, Zippo has become synonymous with pop music over the years. The brand also runs Zippo Encore — a music-related service dedicated to bringing fans closer to their favourite artists through interviews, concert ticket giveaways, exclusive behind-the-scenes access, and more.

To cement its position in history, Zippo opened the doors to its first museum in its birth city of Bradford in 1997. An unique experience that takes visitors on a visual odyssey, the 15,000-square-foot facility is also home to a store and to the Zippo Repair Clinic, where visitors can watch the intricate steps and care that goes into refurbishing a lighter.

In the 2000s, Zippo created a new utility lighter with a bendable neck, dual flame, and all-metal build. The craft design allowed users the flexibility to fit into tight spots and light a flame through stiff winds. The year 2010 was another major one for the brand as it launched in India and China, doubling its global dominance and brand power. The decade also saw Zippo launch two product lines: Zippo outdoor products and Zippo-branded camping gear and fire accessories, proving once again that the brand has always been about products that enhanced the life of its fans and consumers. The Zippo range these days includes hand-warmers, men’s and women’s fragrances, eyewear, and much more.

The brand’s legacy is best narrated through its relationship with Hollywood. Featured in over 2,000 films, Zippo has been an integral part of storytelling, helping denote the era or the year the film’s screenplay originates, and on many occasions reflecting the personality of the movie characters. From I Love Lucy, X-Men and Hairspray – the Musical, Zippo has not only made appearances in films but also in TV shows, prime-time shows, and now in streaming content. It has, over the last 90 years, transformed itself into a consummate pop culture icon.

Reproduced with permission from Mansworldindia.com

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