Zippo lighters are still built locally in Bradford, McKean County, but they travel well.
The Zippo Manufacturing Co., which employs 620 people, recently received the Presidential "E" Star Award from U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson for increasing its exports year after year.
The company had received an "E" award in 1994, which is a step below the E Star award, the highest honor the U.S. government grants for companies that increase their exports.
Lyn Doverspike, director of the U.S. Commercial Services Office in Pittsburgh, said the people at the company were so happy when she called to say they had won the award, "They acted like we had delivered the Ed McMahon [Publisher's Clearinghouse] check."
Ena Garay, director of international business development for the privately-owned company, declined to give specific growth totals but said the company has seen double-digit percentage increases in its exports for the last three years.
Overall sales figures for the company are about $200 million, according to a company spokesman.
The company, which was founded by George Blaisdell in Bradford in 1932, remains loyal to its roots and its history.
In World War II, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower directed all of the company's capacity for manufacturing its windproof lighters to be directed toward outfitting American G.I.s.
It's not uncommon for the lighters to be handed down from one generation to the next because they have a lifetime guarantee -- and it's not the life of the original owner, Ms. Garay said. The warranty "it works or we fix it for free" never expires. One of the most popular lighter designs combines two American icons, the Harley Davidson logo on the Zippo lighter.
The company is planning a celebration next month when it reaches the milestone of producing its 500 millionth lighter.
Ms. Garay said the company has been able to expand its presence in overseas markets by making sure the distribution materials and design center tools are translated into other languages.
"We have a culturally diverse group of professionals," she said. The languages spoken by the overseas sales force include Mandarin, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Portuguese and French.
The company also makes sure it has a nearly constant presence in major trade shows worldwide so the name stays fresh in the minds of distributors.
Officially, she said, Zippo products are distributed in 160 countries, but the reach is wider as they are resold beyond the borders of those countries.
The company's products now include watches and apparel and even a neon sculpture of a Zippo lighter, but only the lighters are made in Bradford. Other products are manufactured in China and Taiwan.
Ann Belser: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1699. First Published May 30, 2012 12:00 AM