Think about a backyard barbeque, a candlelit bubble bath, or cigars with the boys at a bachelor party. What do all these things have in common? You need a lighter to make them happen!

We learn about the history of presidents, battles, and crazy kings and queens in school, but why not lighter history? Consider your interest officially sparked!

A lighter is a trinket that enthralls the robot Eve and allows timid Wall-E to try holding her hand. A good light makes a connection.

– Jack Pendarvis, author of Cigarette Lighter

History of Lighters Timeline

Lighters and matches have played an important role in advertising, tech, and even world wars. Here’s a quick overview of their journey.

  • Paleolithic Era

    The Homo erectus discovered fire. This was a groundbreaking moment that contributed in big ways to the survival of our entire species, and eventually, to the creation of the lighter.

  • 1805

    The first match was created by a French chemist named Jean-Louis Chancel. It was difficult to ignite and released strong, smelly fumes when the head was finally lit, but it also paved the way for the future of lighters.

  • 1823

    http://www.vintagelighterbook.com/html/all_lighters_.html

    Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner invented the first lighter known as “Döbereiner’s Lamp.” It looked nothing like the lighters we use today and was also difficult to use and extremely dangerous.

  • 1826

    https://www.pinterest.com/pin/471541023454078289/?lp=true

    John Walker from England created a match that worked via friction. He never received a patent for this invention, so another matchmaker named Samuel Jones stole his idea and marketed it under the name “Lucifers” a few years later.

  • 1892

    https://www.pinterest.com/pin/546413367268810190/?lp=true

    The matchbook was patented in the United States by Joshua Pusey. The Diamond Match Company later purchased this patent and started selling matches around the country.

  • 1902

    https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/matchbook-1930-1940s-pabst-blue-1500728679

    The first branded matches were created for the Pabst Brewing Company in Milwaukee. Food and beverage companies don’t use matches as often today, but they’re still a favorite among collectors.

  • 1903

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Auer_von_Welsbach

    Carl Auer von Welsbach patented ferrocerium, a synthetic alloy that produces a very hot bright spark when struck. This metal mixture, which eventually came to be referred to as “flint,” made it possible for lighters to be portable.

  • 1910

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Murdoch

    The first novelty lighter was introduced by Louis Aronson, founder of Ronson Lighters. This lighter was called the Pist-O-Liter and closely resembled a long-barreled pistol, with the trigger releasing the flame.

  • 1914

    https://celebrationjoy.com/chinese-lanterns-history

    Lighters were made from bullet casings during World War I. These lighters were more discreet than matches, which were notorious for causing a huge spark that gave away a soldier’s position in the dark.

  • 1926

    https://sharrowmills.com/pages/the-story-of-the-everyday-lighter

    The first automatic lighter, the Banjo, was created by Ronson Lighters. It was silver, oddly shaped, and had an extremely popular slogan: “Push, it’s lit; Release, it’s out.”

  • 1928

    https://www.pinterest.com/pin/690880399066224952/?lp=true

    A lighter manufacturer named Colibri is credited for the invention of the semi-automatic lighter. These are still on the market today and are primarily used for lighting cigars.

  • 1932

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Murdoch

    The Zippo Manufacturing Company was founded by George Blaisdell in Pennsylvania. Zippos went on to become an iconic brand that is still going strong to this day.

  • 1940s

    https://www.pinterest.com/pin/272186371215162222/?autologin=true

    Butane lighters had a surge in popularity. These were believed to be a cleaner alternative to ferrocerium because they didn’t leave a bad taste in the tobacco.

  • 1941

    https://www.heinzhistorycenter.org/blog/western-pennsylvania-history/zippo-lighters-and-world-war-ii

    Zippos became standard issue during World War II. This helped them skyrocket in popularity and become well-known for being a reliable lighter brand.

  • 1950s

    https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/339107046935790148

    Zippo started offering branded lighters to different companies, clubs, and sports teams. These were very popular advertising items and remain that way to this day.

  • Late-1950s

    http://zhuoyelighter.com/

    Piezo electric lighters were marketed for the first time. These worked via a spring loaded hammer, which would strike quartz crystals and create a spark.

  • 1961

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WRjZ3M8oyag

    A French company called Feudor invented the first disposable lighter. This was named “The Stick” until eventually being bought out by Gillette and renamed “The Cricket.”

  • 1960s – 1970s

    https://sharrowmills.com/pages/the-story-of-the-everyday-lighter

    Soldiers in the Vietnam War would get their Zippos engraved with personal mottos and designs that reflected their beliefs and values. One veteran’s life was even saved when the Zippo in his pocket stopped a bullet!

  • 1973

    https://www.amazon.com/BIC-Classic-Lighter-Assorted-50-Count/dp/B00BQEFUOA

    The first BIC disposable lighter was invented. It was the most affordable option on the market at the time, but it was only available in a few colors.

  • 1996

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Murdoch

    The flint wheel was introduced by BIC. This is a child safety feature that makes accidents less prone to happen as the result of using a lighter.

  • 2002

    https://celebrationjoy.com/chinese-lanterns-history

    BIC came out with the barbeque or torch lighter. This handy tool is also great for lighting candles, especially when the wick is nearing the end.

  • 2013

    https://www.collectorsweekly.com/lamps/ship

    To celebrate 40 years, BIC held the “Best of You” contest for their loyal fans. The contest asked people to design their own lighters, with the top 11 designs becoming part of the BIC 40th birthday Special Edition Series.

  • 2016

    https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/paul-revere-lantern

    A Kickstarter campaign raised funds for the Tesla lighter, which was designed by a New Yorker named Mark Pauling. The lighter works via an internal magnet and an electric arc.

  • 2019

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Murdoch

    Lighters got a facelift for the digital age. The models pictured above work via USB charging and feature large LED screens on the front.

When Was Fire Discovered?

You can’t talk about the history of lighters without first talking about fire.

Most experts believe that fire was discovered by the Homo erectus anywhere between 230,000 to 1.7 million years ago. These early hominids created fire by grinding stones or wood together.

It was a simple act, but it had a monumental impact on the survival of the entire human race. Fire gave early humans the means to move to colder territories, cook healthier meals, keep predators at bay, and ultimately live a lot longer.

Nowadays we don’t need stones to create fire. Fuel, oxygen, and a heat or ignition source all come together into a lighter, giving you the ability to create a flame with a simple flick. It’s pretty incredible!

When Were Matches Invented?

The first matches were invented in Paris in 1805 by a French chemist named Jean Louis-Chancel. They were difficult to ignite, and when they did finally work, they produced odorous fumes that wafted right into the face of the user.

Matches underwent many changes in the years that followed. First, English chemist and druggist John Walker created “Friction Lights,” which were matches that could only spark after being rubbed against sandpaper. Then “Lucifers” came into production, which were an exact copy of Walker’s matches and just as dangerous.

Finally, white phosphorus matches were enormously harmful in the late 19th century as they produced toxic fumes, could easily explode, and even caused disfigurement in the factory workers producing them. Thankfully, these matches were outlawed in the United States in 1910.

Today, matchmakers are using much safer materials and methods to make their products. You’ll see matches being safely used as wedding favors, restaurant souvenirs, and advertising giveaways.

https://www.invaluable.com/auction-lot/doebereiner-s-lamp-in-stobwasser-case-c-1840-300-c-9e64959b28er.htm

When Were Lighters Invented?

A German chemist named Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner invented the lighter in 1823. It was known as a “Feurzeug” or “Döbereiner’s Lamp” and relied on sulfuric acid, zinc, and hydrogen gas in order to work.

https://www.invaluable.com/auction-lot/doebereiner-s-lamp-in-stobwasser-case-c-1840-300-c-9e64959b28er.htm

Needless to say, this combination wasn’t exactly safe. Döbereiner’s Lamp was known to spontaneously combust, especially when left in high temperatures. It was also cumbersome to use.

Still, that didn’t stop people from wanting easy access to flame, and by the end of the decade, an estimated 20,000 Döbereiner’s Lamps were in use across Europe. This paved the way for other manufacturers to work on improving the lighter’s design.

Johann Döbereiner was a professor of chemistry and technology at the University of Jena in Germany.

Who Invented Flint Lighters?

An Austrian scientist named Carl Auer von Welsbach is credited for the invention of flint lighters. He patented ferrocerium, which eventually came to be known as flint, in 1903.

Ferrocerium is a human made mixture of metals that produces a bright white spark, while flint is hard mineral quartz that was historically used to light fires. They are very different things, but lighters that use ferrocerium were still marketed as “flint lighters” between 1910 and 1930.

Weirdly enough, it’s a confusion that exists to this very day! You can still buy flint lighters, but keep in mind, they aren’t actually using flint to create a spark.

Who Invented Zippo Lighters?

George Blaisdell invented the first Zippo in 1932 in Bradford, Pennsylvania. The Zippo came with a lifetime warranty and windproof flame that put it miles ahead of the competition.

The design of Zippos hasn’t changed much since they were first introduced. The only difference is the early models were made from brass, but after World War II, they started to be manufactured with black crackle steel due to metal shortages. There is also a date code stamped on the bottom of every Zippo, which has been significant in turning this brand into a collectible item. In fact, about 21% of people who own Zippos consider themselves collectors.

A well-designed Zippo still serves as a status symbol. Soldiers carry ones that are decorated with their unit crests, companies use them to advertise, and sports teams sell them at their stadiums. There’s a reason Zippo was one of Time Magazine’s All-Time Best 100 Gadgets!

The name Zippo comes from the word “zipper.” Creator George Blaisdell liked the sound of “zipper” and played around with the word until finding a “modern-sounding” brand name.

https://marijuanapackaging.com/products/bic-lighters-prismatic-series

When Did BIC Lighters Come Out?

The first BIC lighter came out in 1973. It was available in five solid colors, each selling for only $1.49. BIC’s lighter was a direct answer to Gillette’s Cricket, which at the time was the only disposable lighter on the market.

https://marijuanapackaging.com/products/bic-lighters-prismatic-series
https://www.speedymarquee.com/careers/history-bic-story-man-revolutionised-writing-marcel-bich

The BIC lighter’s reliability, affordability, safety features, and clever “Flick My BIC” marketing made it an instant hit. In fact, BIC owned about 65% of the share of the market for disposable lighters in the 70s. This allowed them to have even more opportunities in the future, such as the multi-purpose barbecue lighters that were released in 2002.

https://www.speedymarquee.com/careers/history-bic-story-man-revolutionised-writing-marcel-bich

Now there are a variety of BIC lighters in every color and style imaginable. While pens are still important to the company, the lighter shouldn’t be underestimated. Sales from BIC lighters make up 35.5% of the company’s revenue.

The “Flick My BIC” slogan is one of the greatest of all time. Watch this video to see some of the most famous ads!

Why Are Lighters Held Up at Concerts?

The lighter has been held high and proud at concerts since the famous Woodstock music festival of 1969. Folk singer Melanie Safka sang her song “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)” during a rainstorm. Appreciative fans held up their lighters to help see the stage and also show their gratitude for her putting on the performance.

Nowadays people hold up their cell phone’s flashlight instead of lighters, but the sentiment remains the same. You’ll see lights in the sky at every concert, no matter what the genre!

Lighter Waving Songs

Get your lighter or cell phone light ready any time you hear these famous tunes!

Here are the best lighter waving songs:

  • “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen
  • “Imagine” by John Lennon
  • “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin
  • “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas
  • “Purple Rain” by Prince
  • “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion
  • “Hotel California” by The Eagles
  • “Dream On” by Aerosmith
  • “I Want to Know What Love Is” by Foreigner

Why Do We Love Lighters?

Lighters are not only useful, but they’re also personal. Some people carry them everywhere they go, and they have a special one they love using.

It could be a Zippo that’s customized with a message or a regular old BIC that’s in your favorite color. Either way, there’s something special about holding fire in your hands!

Stats for Success

An estimated 6 million BIC lighters are sold every year.

Collecting lighters is a popular hobby. As of 2016, Bertalan Abahazi of Slovakia holds the world record with 3,900 lighters.

About 70,000 Zippo lighters are made every day at their factory in Bradford, Pennsylvania.

The Bottom Line

The lighter has stopped bullets, sparked popular slogans, and sat front row during big power ballads. Forget The Bangles – it’s really the lighter that’s been burning an eternal flame all these years!

References

History of Lamps. (2019). History of Paper Lanterns – Who Invented Paper Lanterns? Retrieved July 15, 2019, from
http://www.historyoflamps.com/lantern-history/history-of-paper-lanterns/

Beeson, E. (2008, June 30). Collecting Vintage Lighters. Retrieved from,
https://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/guest-column-collecting-vintage-cigarette-lighters/

History of Matches. History of Lighters – How Lighter was Made? Retrieved from,
http://www.historyofmatches.com/lighter-history/history-of-lighters/

Wilsons & Co. A Brief History of Flame: The Story of the Everyday Lighter. Retrieved from,
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McLaughlin, D. The History of the Trench Lighter. Retrieved from,
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PR Newswire. (2013, June 26). The World Has “Flicked Its BIC” for 40 Years! Retrieved from,
https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/the-world-has-flicked-its-bic-for-40-years-213120451.html

Kaplan, K. (1994, September 11). Because Few are Being Made, Collectors are Getting Fired Up About This Hot Collectible. Retrieved from,
https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1994-09-11-9409110332-story.html

Today I Found Out. (2011, October 19). Lighters were Invented Before the Match. Retrieved from,
http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2011/10/lighters-were-invented-before-the-match/

Kauffman, G. (1999). Johnson Matthey Technology Review Journal Archive: Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner’s Feuerzeug. Retrieved from,
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Lighter USA. (2019, April 25). The History of the Lighter. Retrieved from,
https://www.lighterusa.com/blogs/news/the-history-of-the-lighter

Golden Book of Records. (2016, February 25). Largest Collection of Lighters. Retrieved from,
http://goldenbookofrecords.com/largest-collection-of-lighters/

Jotul. The History of Fire.

Scott, A. (2018, June 1). When Did Humans Discover Fire? The Answer Depends on What You Mean by ‘Discover.’ Retrieved from,
https://time.com/5295907/discover-fire/

Cohen, J. (2018, August 22). Human Ancestors Tamed Fire Earlier Than Thought. Retrieved from,
https://www.history.com/news/human-ancestors-tamed-fire-earlier-than-thought

Mercor Tecresa. Top 15 Amazing Facts About Fire. Retrieved from,
https://mercortecresa.com/en/blog/top-15-amazing-facts-about-fire

History of Matches. History of Matches and Lighters. Retrieved from,
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Encyclopedia Britannica. Match. Retrieved from,
https://www.britannica.com/science/match-tinder#ref15124

History of Matches. History of Matches – Early and Modern Matches. Retrieved from,
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Helmenstine, A. (2019, November 3). History of Chemical Matches. Retrieved from,
https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-chemical-matches-606805

Echner, K. (2017, November 27). Friction Matches were a Boon to Those Lighting Fires – Not So Much to Matchmakers. Retrieved from,
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/friction-matches-were-boon-those-lighting-firesnot-so-much-matchmakers-180967318/

Ritz, J. (2015, March 4). A Brief History of Restaurant Matches. Retrieved from,
https://www.eater.com/2015/3/4/8135545/history-of-restaurant-matchbook-nostalgia-souvenir-matches

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Cheng, S., Buontempo, F. (2019, October 31). How Zippo Lighters are Made. Retrieved from, businessinsider.com

O’Connell. (2015, May 18). 17 Windproof Facts About Zippo Lighters. Retrieved from, mentalfloss.com

Taylor, D. (2019, November 19). The Greatest Fire Starter Ever Invented. Retrieved from,
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Speedy Marquee. The History of BIC the Story of a Man Who Revolutionised Writing: Marcel Bich. Retrieved from,
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Alice, M. (2002, August 29). What Band Started the Tradition of Holding Up Lighters at Concerts?
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About the author

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa is a promo expert with over four years of experience in the industry. She is the Lead Copywriter at Quality Logo Products and has had work published for the Promotional Products Association International and the Advertising Specialty Institute.