Jun 03, 2014 - 4:30pm

The Spark of Innovation: Zippo Manufacturing

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They roll off the assembly belt like little bars of burnished gold. Zippo windproof lighters have remained virtually unchanged over the last 77 years. But the company behind Zippo lighters has accomplished the near impossible— it has grown and adapted to today’s fickle market while remaining a steadfast American icon.

Zippo Manufacturing, a U.S. Chamber member since 1981,  represents the best of the free enterprise system. “The opportunity to go out and freely compete and fairly compete in the marketplace is a real benefit to Zippo Manufacturing and has allowed us to grow over the years,” says Zippo President and CEO Greg Booth..

U.S. Chamber staff spoke with Booth at the Zippo/Case Museum in Bradford, Pennsylvania (pop. 8,000). The museum is a 15,000-square-foot attraction featuring a flag display made from 3,393 lighters. Fourteen custom-made Zippo street lighters line the drive leading up to the building. Over the entrance towers a 40-foot Zippo lighter with a pulsating neon flame and an enormous Case Canoe  three-bladed pocketknife.

Booth also led our video team through the Zippo Manufacturing facility, located about a mile from the museum. The Art Deco building houses 1,000 Zippo employees who produce close to 80,000 lighters a day.

The Zippo windproof lighter was inspired by an innovative spark: In 1932, George C. Blaisdell watched a friend fumbling to light an Austrian-made lighter in the wind. He founded Zippo that same year and filed a patent on his first windproof lighter. Eighty-two years and 500 million lighters later, Zippo is selling products in 160 countries.

Although Zippo products are found around the world, they are proud to be Made in America. In fact, each Zippo lighter bears the Bradford name on the bottom plate. “Zippo Manufacturing is trying to improve our environment for manufacturing as well by looking at new products, which means new people. … We are looking for acquisitions and the growth of new manufacturing by manufacturing some of these diversified products here in the United States,” says Booth.

Part of Zippo’s long-term success has come from diversifying its offerings while remaining loyal to the original Zippo lighter. In 1993, Zippo acquired W.R. Case & Sons Cutlery Company, an American manufacturer of premium, handcrafted knives and collectables, which are now manufactured in Bradford. In 2010, Zippo acquired Ronson, which has been marketing lighters since 1913. In addition, Zippo’s new line of outdoor products has taken off and includes an all-metal hand warmer and an emergency fire starter kit.

On the promotional front, the company has partnered with the entertainment company Live Nation to sponsor a series of concerts. The Zippo Encore Program draws on local talent during more than 100 stops in 30 states to create battle of the bands-type shows. The program promotes the company’s rich heritage in music and art while reaching new Zippo enthusiasts.

“A quality product, sold by quality people, manufactured in the United States is a great formula for success,” says Booth.

We couldn’t agree more. 

Watch Booth talk about expanding into new markets.

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About the Authors

About the Author

Sheryll Poe is a former senior writer at the U.S. Chamber, who covered public policies affecting businesses including the three "T's" - transportation, trade and taxes.

About the Author

Erik Sulcs is former video communications producer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce