Truly An American Classic, Zippo

Need I add “lighters” after the term Zippo.  No, I don’t think so.  Who hasn’t heard the word, the brand name Zippo?  The fine instrument which is how I describe it because of its unadulterated simplicity in design, has been around since our grandparent’s days.  The sound of the opening and closing click is every bit as noticeable as a distinct sound as is the sound of a Harley Davidson.  Both the Zippo and Harley Davidson are true living Americana legends, if not worldwide.

Unimaginably, the basic design of the working mechanisms of a Zippo have remained unchanged since 1933, when it was first manufactured.  Although originally made of brass (wouldn’t you like to find one of those in your grandparent’s or elderly uncle’s attic), it was redesigned in steel because of WWII’s need for brass (the metal, not the officers).  During those war years the almost exclusive customer for the Zippo’s was the United States military.  Everybody had one.

The premise was very simple: to manufacture a windproof lighter, and that is basically what Zippo did.  Its windscreen surrounds a wick coming up from the interior which houses the batting that absorbed the lighter fluid, and a protruding spring loaded flint on top of a spark wheel.  Rotate the wheel, sparks fly igniting the wick, and a flame is produced.  So simple it’s genius.

One of the fun things about the Zippo lighter is that where the change can be made is in the appearance; anything can be put on the outer case, and with the military, it was mostly the symbol for a particular Army or Division, etc. on down the line to the squad.  I can’t personally speak for WWII or Korea, but during the Vietnam times, we put some crazy stuff on those outer cases, and in some instances created a cottage engraving industry right outside of the main gate (to the Base or Fort).

I have had and still have some of them about a million Zippos lighters in my days.  It’s just one of those things I like to buy when I see a “fun” one.  A Zippo, like Maglite and Swiss Army Knife,  say for example, is also one of those things that make the perfect stocking stuffer or last minute need for a gift, so It’s good to have a few stashed around the house, or even on display.

The basic Zippo lighter also comes in a slim line, I think, originally intended for woman.  A good friend of mine had a slim line with an intricate design that almost perfectly matched the engraved design of an old German cigarette case that I adapted for as a card case.  I admired her Zippo and a few days later she put one in my hand, exactly like hers but with my initials engraved worked into the fancy engraving.  I use that one when mostly I’m in dress attire and like how the lighter and the card case match.

With over a half billion manufactured since 1933, yea, that’s billion with a “b”, you know that it is a tool that works; period.  Having said that, there is always the odd occasion where the Zippo owner could run over it with a truck, or, as I did one time, drop it in the Jaccuzi, or even maybe some nut used it as a hammer or screwdriver, hey, it could happen.  Not to fear, Zippo, as is Lands End, is unconditional about its promise to repair any damaged Zippo free of charge.  Just send it back to Bradford good ole Pennsylvania good ole USA where all of them are made these days, and they will fix it and send it back.  Oh, by the way, when I dropped a Zippo in the Jacuzzi, I retrieved it from the bottom, took a towel and wipe off the outer moisture, opened it with the distinctive click, flicked the wheel and boom, there was fire.

Zippo is as much associated with pop culture as it is a bona fide artifact.  There are bar games to be played with the Zippo, none which I will tell you about on advice of counsel (that’s a lie); one can hardly pick up a novel, or at least the ones I read, without reading about the protagonist looking into the girl’s eyes while lighting her cigarette; or even watch a movie where somebody pulls out a Zippo.  One fun favorite example of that was when Drew Barrymore, in one of the “Charlies Angels” movies, whips out her Zippo, runs it up her leg to light it, and then throws it on the purposefully spilled gasoline thereby creating a really big boom. Way cool.

I feel naked when in properly attired biker uniform if I forgot my Zippo and its carrying case looped through my belt.  And, I always have an extra flint or two in the bottom reservoir for my buddys who will inevitably need one.  It is just one of those must have required tools.  Even folks who do not smoke, such as a mountain climber, will have a Zippo with real Zippo lighter fluid in it because it you’re counting on butane at those heights, might as well rub two sticks together.  Pura vida



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