The Zippo story begins on a muggy summer night in Bradford, Pennsylvania. It was 1932, during the midst of the Depression. George G. Blaisdell, then co-owner of the Blaisdell Oil Company, met a friend at the Bradford Country Club, who was lighting a cigarette with a on dollar Austrian lighter. It was a cumbersome looking device with a removable brass top.
"You're all dressed up," chided Blaisdell. "Why don't you get a lighter that looks decent?"
"Well George," his friend answered, "it works!".
Blaisdell was impressed and obtained U.S. distribution rights for the lighter, but could not sell them profitably. They were clumsy to use. Blaisdell set out to design an attractive lighter that would work; one that would look good and be easy to use.
Blaisdell knew his craft. He learned it as a youth in his father's machine shop, working fifty-nine hour weeks at ten cent an hour. He refashioned the Austrian lighters by designing a rectangular case that would fit in the hand. The top was attached to this case with a hinge, and the wick was surrounded with a windhood.
The "attractive lighter that works" was born. Fascinated by the name of another recent invention, the zipper, Blaisdell decided to call his new lighter "Zippo". Except for improvements in the flint wheel and advances in case finishes, Blaisdell's original design remains basically unchanged today.