Ultimate Guide to the Zippo Lighter

There aren’t many pop culture phenomenons that are as well known as the Zippo lighter. A survey found that 98 people out of 100 had some sort of knowledge about Zippo. And, with that kind of popularity, it’s only fair for you to know everything you can about the legendary lighter.

Zippo – The History of an American Icon

The story of the legendary Zippo begins at the Bradford Country Club in early 1930s Pennsylvania. George G. Blaisdell watched a friend try to light a cigarette using an Austrian lighter. While the lighter was windproff, due to it’s chimney, it was awkward and cumbersome to use. In the fall of 1932, Mr. Blaisdell made modifications to the lighter, while still using the chimney, which was a rectangular case with hinge attached to the top of that could withstand the elements.

The first Zippo lighter was produced in early 1933. Application for the original Zippo patent was filed on May 17, 1934, and patent number 2032695 was granted on March 3, 1936. A second patent, number 2517191 was issued on August 1, 1950. The design of the first Zippo lighter basically remains the same to this day, with minor improvements. The first Zippo lighters were sold $1.95 and were backed by the unconditional lifetime guarantee, “it works or we fix it free”.

The name Zippo apparently came to Mr. Blaisdell because he liked the word “zipper,” but felt that the word “zippo” sounded more modern.

The company gained popularity through the military, especially during World War II, since they “ceased production of lighters for consumer markets and dedicated all manufacturing to the U.S. military,” despite the company not having an official contract with the military. These soldiers carried a Zippo lighter with them throughout the war. And, because of this, Zippo became an American icon across the globe. While it was common to have Zippos with authorized badges, unit crests and division insignia, it became popular among the American soldiers in the Vietnam War, to get their Zippos engraved with personal mottos. These lighters are now sought after collectors items and popular souvenirs for visitors to Vietnam.

In 1956, the company debuted the Slim model, which was designed to appeal to women. Throughout the 1960s, Zippo increased advertising across the world.

Since  its founding in 1932, Zippo is now sold in over 120 countries, has appeared in over 1,500 movies, opened a museum in Bradford, PA and has sold almost 500 million lighters.

How a Zippo Works

The metal case of a Zippo lighter contains pring-toggle lever that keeps the top closed, the wick, windscreen chimney, 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 wick of the Zippo is made of non-flammable fibre and is wrapped in braided copper wire. Cotton wool, or similar, is packed around the wick in the body of the lighter. This cotton wool is impregnated with lighter fluid.

When the Zipo is struck, the wheel grinds sparks off the flint which ignites fuel that has soaked up the wick. The fuel impregnating the wick heats until it becomes a gas, at which point the environment flashes over and the gaseous fluid ignites. Heat from the flame travels down the copper braiding into the impregnated wool heating up the fuel. The fuel vaporizes and improves the flow of fuel up the wick. Pressure inside the lighter also forces fluid and gasses from the inside of the lighter out through the opening.

There are 22 replaceable parts in a Zippo, but, it requires 108 manufacturing operations.

Refilling, Reflinting and Rewicking a Zippo

One of the best things about a Zippo lighter is it’s lifetime guarantee. If your lighter is not properly working, you can simply send it back to the company and have it repaired for nothing. However, even a Zippo needs some maintenance occasional.

The most common Zippo repair is refilling it with lighter fluid. This is an easy task, but since your playing with flammable items, just remember to dry the lighter and wash your hands after the lighter has been refilled.

To refill your lighter, follow these simple steps.

  • Make sure the lighter is cool.
  • Flip open the lighter’s top.
  • Grasp the flint wheel (the area where the flame appears) with two fingers.
  • Hold the narrower sides of the case with the other hand.
  • Slide the inner case out of the outside case. There’s a felt pad inside of this case.
  • Turn the inner case over so that the felt pad is facing up.
  • Saturate the pad with lighter fluid, but not to the point of dripping.
  • Keep the lighter inverted and put the inside case back into the outside case.
  • Make sure the small trigger on the top faces toward the hinge in the bottom.
  • Flip the lighter closed.
  • Test the lighter. It may take a few tries.

If your Zippo needs a new flint or wick, you can also do that yourself by checking out the video or websites below.


Collecting Zippos

Collecting Zippo lighters is not only a hobby, but also, a business for millions of people. There are numerous books, websites and clubs dedicated to the collecting of Zippo lighters, but are are a few suggested tips if you wish to become a Zippo collector.

  • Watch for Zippo lighter knock-offs. These popular lighters are often copied by other manufacturers, which are never the same quality and do not have the same collecting potential. Always purchase a Zippo lighter with the original box and paperwork to ensure it’s authenticity.
  • Be careful when purchasing Zippo lighters with painted designs. There are many beautiful Zippo lighters available with painted pictures on the outer cover; however, to maintain the value of your collection, these types of Zippo lighters are best kept on display and should not be used. After continued use, the paint will begin to chip away, so keep them in a safe location where they will be protected from damage.
  • Tell all of your friends and family that you are looking to begin or expand your Zippo lighter collection. Zippo lighters make great gifts, and anyone who shops for you for Christmas or your birthday will be happy to know that their decision making process has just become a snap. Be sure to ask them to keep the receipts of their purchase, so that you may exchange any duplicate Zippo lighters you might receive.
  • Shop for antique or hard to find Zippo lighters at garage sales and antique stores. Zippo lighter’s have been around for a long time, and those who do not collect them may be wanting to get rid of their cigarette smoking paraphernalia for whatever reason, so be sure to take advantage. In these cases, it will be rare to find a lighter in the original box with all of the paperwork, so check for the Zippo insignia on the bottom of the lighter.
  • Check out online auctions and specialty Internet stores for rare or hard to find Zippo lighters that you will not otherwise be able to purchase. From gold plated to gem studded, specialty engraved to old celebrity lighters, the sky is the limit when bidding online.
  • Look for Zippo lighters to add to your collection in your day to day activities. Zippo lighters are a common item and can be found in tobacco stores, head shops and even truck stops, so keep an eye out for any chance to add another lighter to your Zippo collection.

To further assist in collecting, there are date identification codes located on the bottom of the lighter which will inform you in what month and year it was produced.

Zippo Tricks

Besides being durable, fashionable and reliable, many people enjoy using their Zippo lighters to entertain others.

Here are a couple tricks for beginners.

Once you’re mastered those, you can work on a second-set of tricks.

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