The  famous  World  War  II  Black  Crackle  Zippo  lighter - windproof, waterproof & troubleproof

The history of the black crackle Zippo lighters & the success of the Zippo Manufacturing Company itself
is inseparably connected to World War II. When on Sunday, December 7, 1941 Pearl Haror, Hawaii was attacked by the Japanese, out of a sudden the United States of America were in war. Of course this had economical & operational effects on the nationwide industy too.

All the grade one steel & brass was needed for the machinery of war & 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 stucture, 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 correspondant wrote columns for the Scipps Howard Newspaper & 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 & ship's stores - civilian sales stopped, which was stated in nationwide newspaper ads from 1942 through late 1945. (please see some examples at the end of this page for further information)

Regarding the company's output the production numbers exploded. The Army Quatermaster Corps ordered Zippo lighters in 500.000 & 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 valueable 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' dead on April 18, 1945 in the South Pacific he immediately send 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 give-aways to the crew.

1942 black crackle - comparison of facts 1943 - 1945
steel case steel case
4 barrel hinge 3 barrel hinge
flat bottom rounded bottom
black paint coated case black paint coated case
steel insert steel insert
14 hole chimney 14 hole chimney
no markings on insert pat. markings on insert
insert folded contra clockwise insert folded clockwise
hollow rivet hollow rivet
70 teeth flint wheel 70 teeth flint wheel
horizontal teeth horizontal teeth
humped cam spring
(rounded front / flat back)
humped cam spring
(rounded front / flat back)
cigarette filter shaped
cotton end (felt pad)
cigarette filter shaped
cotton end (felt pad)
bottom stamp variations bottom stamp
1.          PAT. 2032695 PAT. 2032695
2.         PAT. #203695
3.         PAT. 203695  
Zippo lighters sold until 1942 Zippo lighters sold until 1947
1.000.000 10.000.000

In late 1946 the flint wheel having 70 horizontal teeth was replaced by the newly invented criss-cross style flint wheel now having 48 teeth only.
The story goes that George G. Blaisdell found out in early 1946 that the quality of the flint wheel was not as good as he has been led to believe. So he spent about US $300.000 in order to get the problem solved & to match quality standards - the base of his business & the now famous promise to customers:
"If a Zippo ever fails to work - we'll fix it free!"

The steel stamping block from Matthews Corporation Pittsburgh, Pa., the leading manufacturer of steel stamps in the U.S.A.

For unknown reason some 1942 four barrel black crackle Zippo lighters have what is often mentioned as date code error,
which has the patent number #203695 or 203695 instead of 2032695. It is also known that some bottom stamps from
1942 show sligtly bigger ZIPPO characters.

These cardboard boxes were used from 1942 - 1945. There have also been variations showing the lettering in red or blue instead of black. They had no writings on the back but included "Instructions for the use and care of your Zippo" as shown below. In late 1945 Zippo lighters were once again delivered to wholesalers for civilian sales. A pasted label was attached to the cardboard box saying ZIPPO POST WAR LIGHTER until late 1945 / early 1946. In early 1946 the box was redesigned now showing the new Nickel-Silver Zippo lighter model. The initials SGB stand for Sarah Grant Blaisdell, Georges' mother.
The "INSTRUCTIONS for the USE and CARE of your ZIPPO" that came with every Zippo lighter during WWII


The directions for filling said: Ordinary gasoline will work but we suggest that you use it only as an emergency measure.


1943 - 45 black crackle
noticable rounded bottom

stamped steel insert with 14 hole chimney and...
...70 horizontal teeth flint wheel with hollow rivet

usually the inserts from 1943 - 1945 were folded clockwise but in 1942 it was the other way round

1943 - 1945 example showing a lot of wear, almost no black crackle left but some rust instead

Advertisements! Of course newspaper ads are released in order to sell a product. But having a closer look at vintage newspaper ads today - from a collector's point of view - all the information one can get from those is priceless. In the 1940's & 1950's ads for Zippo lighters & flints & fluid could be found in magazines such as The New Yorker, The Esquire & The Saturday Evening Post only to name a few. At this time it was common to have cartoon like or comic strip style ads. George G. Blaisdell hired famous US cartoonists like Frank Beaven, Otto Soglow & artists like John Lopker to design ads for his Zippo lighter. Although there were no civilian sales for almost four years, his idea was crowned with success & Zippo became famous nationwide.

December 1941 (Esquire Magazine) - cartoon by John Lopker

1941 was the last year square corner Zippo lighters were offered.


1942 ad showing a black crackle Zippo lighter with military insignia

1942 - cartoon by Frank Beaven

1942 ad stating for the first time "no civilian sales"


1942 ad telling the Zippo's output has been drafted by the government

December 1942 (Esquire Magazine)

1942 ad reporting that a Zippo is more than just a cigarette lighter


1943 ad describing the black crackle lighter as being non-reflecting


1943 ad asking to keep your Zippo in perfect order


1943 ad describing a Zippo lighter as trouble proof too!


1943 ad announcing sales still being limited

1944  - cartoon by Frank Beaven

1944 ad still only offering Zippo flints and fluid

1944 - cartoon by Frank Beaven

1944 ad talking about "Zippo type" lighters

1944 - cartoon by Frank Beaven

1944 ad already hoping for the end of war being near


December 1944 (Esquire Magazine) - cartoon by Frank Beaven

1944 ad stating Zippo lighters are still being delivered to service men worldwide

1944 - cartoon by Otto Soglow

1944 - cartoons by Otto Soglow

1944 ads with different head lines, saying windproof and waterproof!

December 1944 (Esquire Magazine) - cartoon by John Lopken

1944 ad using the famous Windy, already known nationwide at that time

1945 - cartoon by Otto Soglow


1945 - cartoon by Otto Soglow

1945 - cartoon by Frank Beaven

1945 - cartoon by Frank Beaven



1945 - cartoon by Frank Beaven

1945 ad finally talking about limited quantities available

1945 - cartoon by Otto Soglow

1945 ad offering direct civilian orders for post-war christmas

1945 - cartoon by Otto Soglow

1945 - cartoon by Frank Beaven

1945 ad talking about the Zippo lighter becoming a piece of memorabilia

1945 - cartoon by Curzon

1945 ad still showing a black crackle Zippo lighter

1946 - cartoon by Frank Beaven

1946 ad now showing the new post-war silver like model

1961 - Popular Science - The Story of the GIs' Old Flame