George Duke, owner of Zippo and the grandson of the lighter company’s founder George G. Blaisdell, talks about brass, flint and its new clothing line
For our readers who don’t know, tell us the origin of the Zippo and how it got its name.
The name “Zippo” was originally created by George G. Blaisdell, the founder of the brand. He decided to create a lighter that would not only look good but also be easy to use. He was fascinated by the recent invention of the zipper so formed variations on the word until he settled on “Zippo,” which he felt sounded more modern. The name has stood the test of time and is now synonymous with quality American goods.
Since it was first introduced, has the design of the lighter changed in any way?
The original Zippo lighter was created in 1932 and was a reconstruction of the Austrian style of lighter. Blaisdell redesigned the lighter to his requirements, fabricating a small rectangular case and attaching a lid with a hinge. He preserved the chimney design, which protected the flame, and the result was an attractive lighter that was easily operated with one hand. With the exception of improvements to the flint wheel and modifications in case finishes, the product remains unchanged.
What are the main materials used to make Zippos and how are they sourced?
Stainless steel is used for the inside unit. Brass is used for a flint tube. Cases for lighters are formed from brass strip stock. Cases are nickel and chromium plated. Zippo metal products are made from only high quality materials combined with rigid quality control standards.
We work with, and have longstanding relationships with, some of the best brass and steel mills in the US. It is because of these characteristics that Zippo can confidently stand behind its unsurpassed lifetime guarantee: “They work always or Zippo fixes them free.”
Has modern technology replaced any steps in the production process that was once done by humans?
The production process for lighters has remained largely unchanged in the company’s 85-year history. We continue to innovate and implement new technology for decoration of the lighters.
For decades, designers have brought unmatched levels of artistic talent to the smallest of canvases—from the early years of etching and handpainted details to today’s cutting-edge 360-degree MultiCut engraving. With over 300,000 designs created since 1932, Zippo continually push the boundaries of design.
How long does it take to make one lighter?
We produce over 70,000 lighters per day at the Zippo factory in the US. Decoration of a single lighter varies from a few seconds to as many as 20 days depending on the process used to create the art.
Zippos are still manufactured in Bradford, Pennsylvania (US), why hasn’t the company moved production overseas to lower cost?
Zippo prides itself on its American heritage. All of the parts of Zippo windproof lighters have been manufactured in the US since the brand’s inception in 1932. We think it’s important to champion great American manufacturing and value the quality of work that our American workforce produces. Zippo is committed to keeping 100 percent of the Zippo lighter production in Bradford, PA.
With people lighting up less because of health reasons and the ban on indoor smoking, how has the company managed to stay in business?
At Zippo we are constantly challenging ourselves to create innovative and beautiful designs to ensure there is always a lighter for every personality. We also remain committed to delivering a quality product with a lifetime guarantee so when people purchase a Zippo they know they are getting a reliable and durable brand as well as a stylish one.
However it’s not just the product benefits and design that keep people buying, it’s the heritage and the story behind the brand that give it its enduring appeal. Zippo has transcended its functional benefits to become a cultural icon, when people buy a Zippo they buy a slice of American history and become part of our story in the process.
Collectability is a key factor to our success. The unique designs, date stamping, affordability and rich history make Zippo lighters a great item to collect.
The company has recently expanded into a clothing line and camping gear, can you tell us more about these.
With over 85 years of history, Zippo has an influential and dedicated fan base. During this time the brand has transcended its functional benefits to become a cultural icon and we continue to find new ways for our customers to enjoy the brand.
Our apparel range has been available in China since 2013 and continues to be a popular choice with consumers in the region. We are currently examining other markets where Zippo apparel makes sense for the brand and our dedicated fans.
Zippo Outdoor products were launched in 2010 with an all-metal hand warmer, which uses Zippo premium lighter fluid and provides a steady source of heat longer than any other product on the market. The range was then expanded in 2011 to include an emergency fire started kit and flex neck utility lighter. Most recently, the range was expanded in 2013 with robust Zippo-branded camping gear and fire accessories. With the superior quality of our iconic windproof lighter in mind, the Zippo Outdoor products are built for superior durability and reliability, and designed with a purpose – so you can get outside and push your boundaries.
The official Zippo retail shop in Saigon is located at 4 Tran Hung Dao, D1.
Images Provided by Zippo