For most, the answer is unequivocal – George Grant Blaisdell! At least that’s what Wikipedia says. But in fact, there are very serious doubts about this statement.
And the first thing that reinforces this doubt is the fact that Zippo were not the first lighters with wind shields, making them all-weather. Such lighters first appeared in 1909 in Austria, became popular in the U.S. in the 1920s and Blaisdell started his business just by importing them. Due to the cheapness and enormous popularity George decided to invent his own model, based on those that were imported from Austria.
But to say that Blaisdell directly invented the future Zippo is fundamentally wrong. The historical fact is that George hired inventors and their names are known: George Gimmer, George Morris, Frank Calkins. It is their names that are on the first 1936 patent. And Blaisdell’s name, of course. So if Blaisdell didn’t invent the Zippo by himself, he certainly had a hand in it?
No, he didn’t! First of all, this “invention” is the first and last in Zippo’s long history that “belongs” to Blaisdell. And secondly… It’s all about 1930’s US patent law. The owner of the patent was considered to be the actual inventor and these same owners, in the production of the product, were accrued significant tax benefits by the state. So Blaisdell’s name should have been on the patent, because he wanted to sell these lighters.) Otherwise, there would have been no tax benefits, and the actual inventors would have had to pay a percentage.
By the way, the perpetual warranty of Zippo appeared at the very beginning of production and its actual father was just George Gimmer. The fact is that the whole “invention” of Zippo was reduced to upgrading the hinges of the lid from the original Austrian lighter and they turned out to be quite weak, easily deformed in use. The type of hinges was invented by Guymer)) And that even such a frail design would sell Blaisdell got out of the precarious position with this very perpetual warranty, which is practiced even now, although modern Zippo has long been much more reliable.
Another fact that casts doubt on Blaisdell’s inventiveness is that throughout the brand’s history, outside inventors were constantly being brought in. Why, if George Blaisdell is all hands on deck himself out of boredom! It’s funny, but most of the patents, especially regarding the construction and design of Zippo tabletop models, list people from competing companies – ASR and Evans. This includes Gerald Stall, ASR’s designer, and William Reilly, Evans’ lead designer. Besides, all these patents list Blaisdell himself as “the second inventor”, i.e. the minimum claimant of copyrights.
However, it is not known exactly how much George Blaisdell was involved in specific improvements of Zippo. All we know is that he was a brilliant salesman and marketer with a keen sense of the market. These qualities could not be taken away from him! And most likely due to his constant promotion in the market everyone knows about Zippo now, and only collectors know about Evans and ASR.