Article submitted by Andy Handke
The history of the black crackle Zippo lighters and the success of the Zippo Manufacturing Company itself is inseparably connected to World War II. When on Sunday, December 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was attacked by the Japanese, all of a sudden the United States of America was at war. Of course this had economical and operational effects on the nationwide industry too.
All the grade one steel and brass was needed for the machinery of war and the Zippo Mfg. Co. had to use what was available, secondary grade of steel for their production instead. As for chrome or nickel was impossible to use for plating the steel cases, early 1942 Zippo lighters started to corrode from humidity.
Born out of necessity in order to keep quality standards the cases were coated with a heavy black paint & baked for curing what resulted in a crinkly surface structure, later on know as black crackle finish.
The letter from Mr. Blaisdell was send to retailers nationwide describing the new finish as crinkly.
In addition to that the history of the Zippo Manufacturing Company is inseparably connected to Ernie Pyle. The famous War correspondent wrote columns for the Scripps Howard Newspaper and had the habit of giving a Zippo lighter to every soldier he interviewed, wrote a letter to George G. Blaisdell reporting the G.I.’s being very confident having a reliable lighter. Mr. Blaisdell started sending him about 50 to 100 Zippo lighters a month for free in order to promote his product by Mr. Pyle distributing them by lottery among the G.I.’s.
Soon after the entire output was drafted by the government for use of the armed forces abroad – sent to overseas post exchange and ship’s stores – civilian sales stopped, which was stated in nationwide newspaper ads from 1942 through late 1945.
Regarding the company’s output the production numbers exploded. The Army Quartermaster Corps ordered Zippo lighters in 500,000 and 1,000,000 unit lots. It took 10 years to reach the milestone of 1,000,000 produced Zippo lighters in 1942. Within the next 5 years this number had multiplied tenfold.
Probably the most valuable pieces among these millions of black crackle Zippo lighters produced from 1942 to 1945 are those made “in memory of Ernie Pyle”. When George G. Blaisdell learned about his friends’ death on April 18, 1945 in the South Pacific, he immediately sent about 600 specially engraved Zippo lighters to the Captain of the U.S.S. Cabot, the ship Ernie Pyle was on board the last months as giveaways to the crew.
Special thanks to Andy Handke for permission in posting this information from his website. Please visit Andy’s site here!