Bradford, Pennsylvania has an unusually diverse economy for a small northeastern town. Despite recent layoffs, it is more reminiscent of the old industrial belt than the modern rust belt.
In addition to the American Refining Group (formerly Kendall) which has the oldest continuously operating refinery in the United States, Bradford’s main-stays are Zippo and Case, now one company.
George Blaisdell bought the rights to a heavy, clumsy and easily damaged Austrian cigarette lighter in 1931. He refined it adding a hinge to the lid with the famous “Zippo click” but retained the wind-protection chimney. He created and patented the world-famous Zippo lighter. The name of the company was a take-off from “zipper” which was regarded as a modern innovation in the 1920s.
The lighter was immediately popular because it stayed lit in a wind, but Blaisdell insured its popularity with the trademarked phrase “it works or we fix it free.”
They became even more widely known as soldiers’ prized possessions during World War II when the government ordered a million and a half and others were given out by the company to servicemen free. In the museum, there is the story of a Medal of Honor winner whose life was saved when a bullet hit the Zippo in his shirt pocket.
Today, Zippo has expanded into other products, especially in the outdoor adventure field. Despite the decline in smoking and the development of disposable lighters, the Zippo lighter remains popular as a collector’s item because the case can be decorated in so many ways. Indeed, one can order a personalized Zippo lighter made to your own design.
Several Case brothers made knives in the 19th century. John Russell Case, a salesman, called his firm W.R. Case & Sons after his father and moved his operation to Bradford in 1905. They used a unique stamping system on the tang of the knife, that portion going into the handle, to date the knives. This system became prized by collectors.
Zippo purchased Case in 1993. In 2010, the Zippo Manufacturing Company acquired the Ronson Consumer Products Corporation.
The free Zippo/Case Museum opened in 1997. I happened to notice the visitors’ log the day of our visit included people from India and Kosovo.
Bradford is not on an interstate highway. It might require you to leave your comfort zone. But it is on very interesting U.S. Highway 6 which runs from Cape Cod to Chicago through some beautiful countryside. We recommend it.
Click on photos to enlarge.