Poor economies have a way of making history seem very distant. If you're down in the dumps, visit the Zippo/Case Museum, a fantastic reminder that prosperous industries exist just miles down the road.
The museum was founded in July 1997, and today is managed by the grandson of the man who founded Zippo. It's a gleaming monument to a vibrant past and the exhibits celebrate every aspect of the cigarette lighter now considered equal parts pocket art and everyday tool. There's also the history of Case knives, another local company founded in Little Valley and bought by Zippo when it fell on hard times.
THE VERY FIRST ONE
The Zippo/Case Museum was founded in July 1997, and today is managed by the grandson of the man who founded Zippo. It’s a gleaming monument to a vibrant past and the exhibits celebrate every aspect of the cigarette lighter now considered equal parts pocket art and everyday tool.
A friend showed George Blaisdell, Zippo's founder, an Austrian lighter in the early 1930s at a country club. Blaisdell became intrigued by the lighter's design and set out to develop one that would stay lit no matter the weather conditions.
The first Zippo lighters were made in 1933, and Zippo's lifetime guarantee came with each one produced. The lighters stayed lit because of the chimney that protected the flame.
But when the museum was about to open, no one could find the very first lighter created, said Linda Maebon, museum historian.
Address: 1932 Zippo Drive, Bradford, Pa. Take Owens Way exit from Route 219 South
Friday-Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Thursday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 a.m.
Blaisdell's desk had been handed down from each of Zippo's chief executive officers. A few days before the museum opened, the current CEO had rifled through the desk looking for something he'd lost, Maebon said.
The CEO happened to find a trap door embedded in the desk, opened it and found a very old lighter. It was unmistakably the first Zippo.
A tag was found with the lighter. Blaisdell had written on the tag proclaiming it the first Zippo lighter along with the words: "Do not touch," Maebon said.
Today, the lighter hangs in a case in the museum, with the tag still attached. It was a very close call, Maebon said.
LOST AND NEVER FOUND
Blaisdell knew the importance of good advertising. When truckers came through, he would hand each a Zippo lighter knowing that if the truckers found the lighter satisfactory, the entire country would hear about it, Meabon said.
He also developed another form of advertising. He purchased a Chrysler Saratoga and had it customized with two large cigarette lighters mounted on top. The Zippo Car was born, and it appeared in parades across the country spreading the Zippo brand.
But the car's chassis couldn't support the extra weight, and it kept blowing tires. Blaisdell sent it to get it repaired, and while it lingered in the Philadelphia car garage, business boomed. Blaisdell forgot about the car, Maebon said.
Efforts were made in the 1990s to locate the car. Zippo placed ads in the Philadelphia market hoping somebody would come forward with the car. No one ever did.
A new Chrysler Saratoga was purchased, and it was designed to be just like its predecessor.
It stands outside the Zippo/Case Museum today, its grey and black body glinting in the sun and with unmistakable red and orange flames on top. It travels around still but always by trailer, since no one wants to take the chance of having to send it in for repairs.