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Zippo Hits 500 Million

An American icon that calls Pennsylvania home will celebrate a major milestone next week. The Zippo manufacturing Company in Bradford Pennsylvania will produce its 500 millionth lighter Tuesday.

George Blaisdell was inspired to build the now famous windproof lighter after unsuccessfully trying to light his friends' cigars following a round of golf in 1932. He quickly set to work and created the windproof lighter in a workroom over his garage. That first lighter sits in the company's museum in Bradford.

Blaisdell began selling the lighters door to door, slowly picked up a few retail outlets and then the brand took off when the US military contracted with zippo to provide lighters to servicemen.

"Mr. Blaisdell was deeply patriotic," said company spokesperson David Warfel. "He just committed all the production to supply the military."

The decision spread the word of the product not only among American GI's but also around the world.

Since then the lighters have become a status symbol for some, an icon of a life style for others, and a life saver for a few. The company offers a lifetime guarantee and when lighters are returned for repair they often are accompanied by a note on how the lighter saved a serviceman's life.

"There are a number of occasions during world war two where it was recorded that a life had been saved because the lighter was fortunate enough to have been between a bullet and its owner," said Warfel. Other soldiers and airmen speak of using the lighter to start a life-saving fire where they became stranded during the war.

Warfel said the company realized sometime around Christmas that it would be producing the 500 millionth lighter around this time of year. Plant managers then manipulated the production to hit the mark June 5th, which would have been George Blaisdell's 117th birthday.