By Sue Whistler
If you’re thinking that a visit to the Zippo/Case Museum in Bradford, Pa., would be about as exciting as watching the weather forecast for Death Valley, you’d be wrong.
Over the past 15 years, the visitor’s center, now referred to as the Zippo/Case Museum, has drawn thousands of visitors from all over the world, earning it the distinction of being the “Most Visited Museum” in northwestern Pennsylvania – and with good reason. On Sept. 15, 2012, Zippo will celebrate their 80th anniversary with a grand re-opening.
“We will have prize drawings, free gifts to the first 80 customers and discounts. Visitors are encouraged to bring their Case knifes for free cleaning and sharpening while they wait. The Zippo Jeep created by West Coast Customs will also be on display in addition to the Watkin’s Glen Pace car and racecar simulators,” said Zippo Retail Manager Joshua Gleason.
Visitors are greeted at the door by a 40-foot Zippo lighter complete with pulsating neon flame and a gigantic, three-bladed Case Canoe pocketknife that tower over the main entrance. Even the driveway leading up to the facility is lined with 14 custom-made Zippo “street-lighters.” In other words, you can’t miss it!
The museum and visitors center opened in 1997 shortly after the Zippo Manufacturing Company acquired W.R. Case & Sons Cutlery. The owners wanted a special place to showcase both brands and allow visitors to learn more about these iconic American companies. It is now home to 15,000 square-feet of exhibits and interactive media kiosks as well as the Zippo/Case Store and Repair Center. In May, they manufactured the 500 millionth Zippo lighter.
The retail store has recently undergone a complete renovation to give customers a completely new experience.
Gleason said, “The Zippo/Case Museum is a free museum, and our retail space has just been completely renovated. It is a very inexpensive way to spend the day, and we hope that our visitors will also stop by the Kinzua Skywalk just miles away, as well as the other attractions here in McKean County.”
As the flagship, the new Bradford store has the unique distinction of being the only retailer in the world to offer every product that Zippo and Case makes.
“We sell the complete line of Zippo and Case products in addition to apparel, books, accessories, and gifts. We also offer engraving and customers can now upload a photo in our store and create their very own Zippo lighter,” said Gleason. “We are now selling our 500 millionth Zippo lighter replica while supplies last, and in 2013 we are launching a complete outdoor line of products, which will include a grill, camp stove, and 4-in-1 woodsman tool.”
The newest exhibit to the Zippo/Case Museum is Zippo Rocks, a tribute to Zippo’s ties to rock music such as the time-honored custom of raising lighted Zippos at the end of a rock concert to solicit an encore.
There are replicas of knives produced by Case for NASA in the 1960s as well as rare production models of Zippo’s first lighter, which has changed very little with the exception of improvements to the flint wheel and case finishes.
Visitors will also learn about the role that Zippo played during WWII when the company’s entire production from 1943 to the end of the war was sent to our troops. Other unique exhibits include a “knife-in-motion” hologram and a 7-foot by 11-foot American flag with more the 3,400 red, white and blue Zippo lighters. That’s a lot firepower!
But Zippo isn’t just for adults.
“ZAC is our most ‘kid-friendly’ attraction by far. ZAC is an audio kinetic ball machine filled with lights, sounds and amazement. Both children and adults will sit and watch the balls roll, drop, and bounce through ZAC’s ramps, tunnels, and lifts,” said Gleason. “ZAC, of course, stands for Zippo and Case.”
The Zippo Manufacturing Company was founded in 1932 by George G. Blaisdell in Bradford, Pa., and is currently owned by Blaisdell’s daughter, Sara Dorn and her son George Duke.
Over the past 80 years, the company has produced over 500 million windproof lighters, each of which is backed by the company’s lifetime guarantee – “It works, or we fix it free.™” All Zippo pocket lighters and Case knives are still manufactured in the USA. The Zippo Repair Clinic is located on site with a 30-foot bay window that opens into the museum transforming it into a fascinating working exhibit.
Recently, Zippo Manufacturing Company acquired Ronson Corporation, which produces Ronsonol lighter fluid and lighters. Zippo now markets in over 160 countries and also owns the Ronson brand of lighters and fuel and W.R. Case & Sons Cutlery, both based in Bradford, Pa.
The Zippo/Case Museum is located at 1932 Zippo Dr. in Bradford is open Monday–Saturday 9 a.m.–5 p.m., and Sundays 11 a.m.–4 p.m. It is closed New Year’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Admission is free. For more information, call (814) 368-1932 or visit www.zippo.com.