Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Name in Flame - Zippo, a Tribute

Until the first time I laid my eyes on it, I never fully fathomed its true worth. I always wondered why the men folk would relentlessly discuss it for hours just like they would analyze in detail a Manchester United - Arsenal match of the UEFA championship.

One evening my eyes caught the glint of shiny metal twirling between my friend’s fingers, which in my opinion he seemed to be quite adroit at. He brought it to a smooth halt and opened his palm to reveal a smart looking burnished case. That was a Zippo and this post is a tribute to it.

An all American cult brand of nearly 75 years is not just an obsession with most smokers but the non-smokers as well.

The Story of the Zippo Manufacturing Company is a remarkable tale. It’s the story of its people, from the founder - George G. Blaisdell, to the many Zippo employees, customers, and collectors who have played a part in its history. Their loyalty to Zippo has made it one of America’s great companies, one with a vivid history which is detailed here.

In 1933 Mr. Blaisdell remodeled a utilitarian Australian lighter and named it Zippo after his liking for the sound of the work ‘zipper’. Little did he realize then that this rectangular case would become iconic.

This rare Town & Country transitional Zippo from 1969 depicts George G. Blaisdell who invented the Zippo lighter in 1932 and who founded the Zippo Manufacturing Company in Bradford, Pennsylvania. He named the Zippo after the then recently invented zipper.

From the very beginning it was backed by Mr. Blaisdell’s unconditional lifetime guarantee – “It works or we fix it free(TM).

The Zippo history is an interesting marketing case study. To delve deeper one has to go back to the days of World War II, which had a profound impact on Zippo. Upon America’s entry in the war, Zippo ceased production of lighters for consumer markets and dedicated all manufacturing to the U.S. military, for which they made a special black ‘crackle’ finish lighter.

Millions of American military personnel carried the lighter into battle which was a significant catalyst in establishing Zippo as an icon of America throughout the world. Stories of the Zippo, nestled in the breast pocket, saving soldiers lives by biting bullets raised its reputation from being an iconic symbol to a religious cult.

Producing Zippos for the military market helped Zippo set up a full fledged manufacturing unit and made it a financially viable company.

Post war the company resumed selling Zippos to peace time America. To fuel this in 1947, the Zippo car was born.

Zippo has been cast in 1500 Broadway shows, movies, television shows over the years. To enhance the collecting experience, Zippo began hosting the Zippo/Case International Swap meet which is held every year at Bradford and Japan alternatively.

Music and Zippo have been a lethal combination since 1960. Theirs is a relationship of mutual respect and admiration. Zippo launched special lighters with music maestros engraved in them while the lighters themselves have been featured on album covers, tattooed on rockers’ skin, and wielded in Rolling Stone photo shoots.

The Zippo slim introduced in 1956, primarily to appeal to the women was another major milestone in the Zippo history. It appealed to both the sexes and a lot of men own Zippo slim.

Zippo Click the official collectors club has registered members from over 60 countries. Zippo has captured the world history in its lighters with special tribute to American presidents, Hollywood, sex icons, Music, countries, science and moments that changed the course of mankind.

1963 slim Zippo commemorating the European Trip of President Kennedy in June 1963, the same year JFK was assassinated.

This beautiful 1948 Zippo commemorates the War Crimes Trials held in Tokyo from 1946 to 1948 in which General Tojo and other Japanese World War II leaders were convicted. The lighter was hand tooled in Japan for Jake Schneider

Companies use Zippo lighters as an advertising medium and Zippo “advertiser” lighters continue to be among collectors’ favorites. This trend was first started in mid thirties by Bradford’s Kendall Refining Company who placed an order for 500 Zippos and branded it.

The official website of Zippo says, ‘The lighter is ingrained in the fabric of both American and global culture. In marketing parlance, the brand enjoys an unaided awareness rate of more than 98 percent. That means 98 out of every 100 people surveyed have knowledge of the Zippo name and lighter without being coached in any manner – an astonishing recognition factor.’

The company is currently owned by the W R Case and Sons Cutlery Company and despite almost 75 years the Zippo is still backed by its famous lifetime guarantee, “It works or we fix it for free.” Since 1933, no one has ever spent cent/paisa/penny on the mechanical repair of a Zippo lighter regardless of the lighter’s age or condition.

The number of antics one could do with the Zippo amazed me. My favourite and the only one that I learnt that night, lighting it by creating friction between your jeans and your Zippo. I dropped it a zillion times in the bargain much to my friend’s disgust, but what the heck, it’s got an unconditional warranty.


Acoustic Dreamer said...

Priceless! No, not zippo, but your blog!

Arvi said...

Nice post! Well laid out!

It's interesting that 98 out of 100 surveyed were aware of the brand. Would you be aware of stats on how many of the 98 had or will purchase a Zippo though? It's nice to have brand awareness, but unless it is tied to sales, the story aint over yet.

xeonX said...

Awesome post dhivs.. Havent really used a zippo but id sure love to now..! Great amounts of information too .. good work..

jammy said...

A collectors item for sure...

A brand that can be compared to zippos is HarleyS

Ajan said...

nice info..keep it up...

Ajan said...

i kept a link to this article for this blog..

Ajan said...

i kept a link in my blog connecting to this article... nice response uve got..
Hav a rockin time...!

Smoochy said...

Well, here's a fact: They break down.
I bought one a month back - and yes, owning one is an amazing experience (qualifier: if you r a smoker)
Now I'm going to test the world-famous guarantee first-hand (incidentally, i ended up here google-searching for Zippo repair shops in Bangalore). Only issue - sending it to Bradford for repair will probably cost more than buying a new one.
I know I'm babbling. Sorry. Keep in mind - I've just lost a dear one!

Dr Zibbs said...

Great story on the Zippo!