Zippo Lighters

We are a little behind on blog posting so let’s just fast forward to the present and we’ll catch up on our travels in Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana later.  O.k., so we are A LOT behind!

Tucked into a little Mayberry-like town in Pennsylvania you will find an unmistakable piece of Americana known as ZippoZippo lighters with their iconic style and unmistakable “click” to close came to life here and put Bradford on the map.  Over the years, the lighter has not only proved functional but a true symbol of American ingenuity and a highly recognizable consumer product. The Zippo lighter was revered by service men in WWII, flashed on the big screen by movie actors, flicked to life by rock stars, and used by everyday Americans just needing a light.
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Zippos’ founder George Blaisdell became intrigued with an Austrian friends’ unsightly lighter and asked why he chose that particular one.  “It works!” the man replied.  Blaisdell became intrigued, bought the rights to the Austrian lighter and set out to modify the design so it would stay lit in wind and used with one hand.  Where did the strange name come from? Weirdly, the name came from Blaisdell’s fascination with the name of the zipper.  

When we realized the museum was only a twenty minute detour off our relatively uninteresting drive through Pennsylvania on I-86, we (and our caravan’ing buddies Rob and Linda from My Quantum Discovery blog) were game to make the detour and become Zippo aficionados. 


The 15,000 square foot museum entertains visitors with interactive displays and videos that guide you through the rise in popularity of these marvelous products that are woven into our history and culture.  Here you will learn details of the design, style changes, and how the company became so successful.  Zippos were not just a necessary apparatus for smokers.  Custom engraved Zippos were purchased by companies as gifts and unique designs turned into special editions and became collectors items.  Over 500 million Zippos have been produced and despite the decrease in number of smokers today sales are not struggling as people want to own this truly American product. 


Zippo lighters were more than just a practical way to light GI’s cigarettes during WWII.  They became a prized possession and the appreciation GI’s had for the lighters brought notoriety and boosted sales.  During 1942 – 1946 nearly all Zippos produced were dedicated to the military and the government ordered them by the hundreds of thousands.  Because the government requisitioned all brass for the war effort, Zippo started making lighters out of steel and covered them with black paint baked to a crackle finish to prevent rusting.  Blaisdell promised to replace any serviceman’s lighter that rusted.  Throughout the years, and wars, Zippos remain part of military life.


As you walk through the museum you come to the Zippo Repair Clinic where sick and non-functioning Zippos are resuscitated and brought back to life by skilled professionals.  Behind a big glass window you can watch employees unwrap injured Zippos and marvel at their condition.  One of Braisdell’s pledges was a lifetime guarantee so lighters are sent in for repair.  Lighters come with all types of injuries from dog bites to being run over by a lawn mower.  In front of the Zippo ward is a display of lighters that met their match and were beyond repair.  Some examples include Zippos chopped up by a garbage disposal, run over by a train, or flattened by a taxing airplane. 

Part of the museum is dedicated to the W.R. Case and Sons Cutlery Co. (founded in 1889 and also purchased by Blaisdell) knives that are some of the most collectible knives in the world.  The museum exhibits the world’s largest collection of rare Case knives and the gift shop lets you own one of these classics.  What makes Case knives so special?  Every knife is hand crafted by skilled artisans and cutlers and there are over 160 manufacturing processes to ensure the knives are premium.


So when you find yourself driving through Northwestern Pennsylvania consider stopping in at Zippo for an in-depth and entertaining look at two uniquely American products that are as popular today as in the past.  And don’t worry, if you fall in love with either of these two products the gift shop is well-stocked.  

Note on parking:  The museum parking lot is not suited for large RVs.  There is parking along the street in front of the museum that can accommodate a couple of RVs but you may want to call ahead and see if there are any tour buses there in those spots.  

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