The History of the Ronson Lighter

History of the Ronson Lighter
Courtesy Dutch Ronson Collector's Club

 

The Ronson Company was established more then 100 years ago. Over these years we have learned that Ronson is the inventor, manufacturer, innovator and supplier of cigarette lighters. Over the decades Ronson has proven to be the important party in the innovations, which finally made the cigarette lighters that we use today.

A few worth knowing facts about Ronson:

- Ronson is the inventor of the first mechanic cigarette lighter

- Ronson is the inventor of the multi-refillable gas-lighter

- Ronson is the inventor of the gas-lighter with adjustable flame

- Ronson is the patent holder of Worlds first gas valve.

- Ronson is the inventor of the gas can, to refill gas-lighters

- In the ’60s the Ronson name was ranked on the 7th place of Worlds best-known and recognised brand names. Above Ronson ware names as, Coca Cola, Ford, General Motors etc.

- The writer Ian Fleming describes the hero of his famous ‘Jams Bond‘ books with the Ronson Premier Varaflame. Unfortunately this was never used in the James Bond movies.

- The first man that crossed the Atlantic Ocean by rowing boat ‘John Fairfax’ thanks his life to his Ronson lighter. We describes in his letter ‘Where other products failed, the only thing I could rely on was my Ronson Lighter’. (Click here to read the letter).

- Ronson’s reliability becomes legendary: ‘Ronson lights the first time’. Even in the war, the ‘Sherman tank’ got the nickname ‘The Ronson’.

- Ronson is back,…. Stronger as ever!

 The founder of Ronson, Louis V. Aronson was born in New York America at 25 December 1869. At the year 1883 Aronson joins the technical high school of New York where he specialises in small metal art objects and technical drawing. While his study Aronson invented and registered his first patent, the electroplating of metal. With his method it was possible to coat metal with chrome or gold plating by electrons. Up till today, his method is used. To raise capital, Aronson sells his patent, to several companies and raised USD 5,000.00. Aronson starts his company named ‘Art Metal Company’. The company makes various products like jewel boxes, chandeliers, ashtrays, etc all with the shining chromium and gold plating.

In 1896, Louise V. Aronson starts to work on a new type of match. By then the ignition of the matches’ ware made out of the highly poisoning Phosphor. Aronson makes the match with a sulphur ignition and registered his invention under the name “Safety Match” on 16 March 1897. That same year, the company moves premises from New York to Newark, New Jersey. By then Art Metal Company is not a one-man operation anymore and the name changes to ‘Art Metal Works’. Louis V. Aronson is President of the company and Max Hecht vice-president.

Art Metal Works manufactured various art and home decoration products as, clocks, vases, desk sets, miniatures and many other novelties useful for wedding- and holiday gifts. Louis V. Aronson still interested with the new ways of ignitions. He meets Alexander Harris who is born in New York and educated in London. Alexander Harris is also inventor and shares Aronson’s passion for new ways of ignition. In 1908 Alexander Harris joins the company and together they start to work on the development of lighters.

In 1910 Louis V. Aronson granted his first lighter patent. This spark producing apparatus, is an ignition system without any fuel specification, the name on the patent is Pist-o-Liter. This sparking apparatus is based on the metal alloy “Ferro-Cerium” invented by the Austrian “Dr. Carl Auer von Weisbach” two years before. The name Ferro-Cerium was named Auermetal referring to the inventor Dr. Carl Auer von Weisbach. Now or days the Auermetal is better known as “Flints” that still is used in the lighters. For Aronson and Harris this was the start of their both passion to invent / create a proper ‘flame lighter’.

 In 1913 they succeed to make their first pocket lighter, named the “Wonderlite”. This lighter was a so called ‘Striker’: by scratching a metal rod, with a wick soaked in fuel on the top, over a strip of above mentioned Ferro-cerium a spark is created, that ignites the fuel-soaked wick. This form of ignition remains in production till 1941. In the years after, Aronson was confident enough to make a tabletop lighter of the striker.

In the ‘20’s a small part of Art Metal Works makes cigarette lighters. In that time they make other products like speaking telephones and toys like speaking dolls and a sparking machinegun named ‘Repeater’. The Ronson name is use for the first time on these products.

Meanwhile in Europe the developments go very fast, lighters ware made that work on the combination of flints and petrol. However they are very elaborate and it always took at least three motions to make them work. During a holiday in England, Aronson visits “Alfred Dunhill” and becomes inspired by what he sees. Aronson combines all different ideas and improves them and was driven to invent a one-motion-lighter.

On October 16th 1926, Aronson applies for his patent on the revolutionary one-motion-lighter “The Banjo”. Two years later the patent was given for worlds first one motion lighter. Almost immediately the Banjo get produces on a big scale. Shop-owners queued up outside the factory to purchase the Banjo’s for $ 5, = so there was no need for a sales force. Many variations are made on the Banjo pocket lighter. Most various ware the Banjo fitments, because they could be fitted in various shapes and designs for table lighters.

Aronson’s dream came true, the lighters ware very popular and decides to discontinue all other products then the lighters and the development of lighters. Later these years a marketing and sales force ware employed, advertisements came in the media. Ronson presented itself as: “The Worlds Greatest Lighters” and “A flip and it lites, release and it’s out”. By then also Louis V Aaronson's’ son Alexander H. Aronson joined the company.

The developments of the lighters go quickly and in the year 1929. The more modern and streamlined shaped lighter is introduced, the Standard and together the Junior Sport. Both based on the ‘Hammer action’ De-Light mechanism. In the years after lot’s of variations ware introduced as the: Princess, Pet and Rondette, all available in different finishes.

Due to the success and extreme growth of the company, it needed capital for product development and expands business. At May 10th 1928, the company name changes to Art Metal Inc and for the first time got listed at the American stock exchange and offered it stock to the public. In that same year the company achieved a sales turnover of 3 million Dollars, which was tripled in the three years following.

Late ‘20s and begin ‘30s Ronson opens sales offices, showrooms and fabrics all over the World. Such as in Canada, Mexico, Cuba, England and Austria. The English subsidiary is named: Ronson Products Limited. The collection expended with more automatic table-lighters and a number of novelty-luxury lighters, built into cigarette cases and mechanical pencils.

In 1935 Ronson's chief designer, Frederick Kaupman, designs a new sort of lighter: The Touch-tip-table lighter. Kaupmann has joined the Art Metal Works Inc (USA) some years before and is responsible for a lot of patents and designs for this period.

The principle of the Touch-tip is simple: The wand is lifted out of the fuel-compartment, the fuel-soaked wick on the end is pressed on the automatic ignition system, this creating a spark and igniting the wick. The Touch-tip is extremely successful. The first of very many of this type is the T-T Octette. In the same year a second successful touch-tip is brought on the market: the T-T Streamlined. Their designs are beautiful combinations of enamel, gold-plating and chrome. Especially the Art Deco –styled models are very popular.

In 1940 Louis V Aronson dies. His right-hand man Alexander Harris becomes president of the company and runs it together with Louis’ son Alexander H. Aronson who worked in the business since 1910.

During the Second World War, the production of lighters becomes complicated due to shortness on copper. Though the outside of the lighters was copper plated and with black enamel, the lighters became rusty and it was impossible to continue the finish quality for that time. The English government instructed Ronson to produce war material like, fuses for bombs and torpedoes but also airplane parts as hinges and other parts for wings.

Heavy bombardments from the Germans on London hit the Ronson factory and got 80% destroyed. Because the Ronson factory was important as war-material supplier, the English government relocated the factory in an old Royal boarding school in the south of London and financed the machinery. Ronson could continue make the war-materials. Ronson has been located in this premises till begin ‘50s.

After the War, it was time to rebuild the business the industries. In 1947 Alexander H. Aaronson's son: Louis V. Aronson II joins the company after completing the US Navel Academy.

Gas lighters

After World War II the time was ripe for completely new inventions. On June 1947, the first gas-lighter in the world is introduced in France. The worlds introduction of this table lighter named Gentry is held in Hotel Crillion in Paris by Flaminair. Marcel Quercia is the owner of Flaminair. The following year the first pocket gas lighter is introduced again by Flaminair, the name of this model is the Crillion, named after the Hotel from the previous year and introduction. Both these gas-lighters are produced with a separate gas reservoir.

The first time a Ronson patent mentioned gas as fuel was at 23 November 1948. It was a patent for a removable gas reservoir, applied by Warren I. Nissen for Ronson. Many variations ware made on this system till the patent applied by Ray L. Burchett was raised for “a Fuel storing and Charging Cartridge” in April 1952. This patent mentions two inventions, an inlet-valve system and a cartridge. This cartridge and the inlet-valve made it possible to refill, the gas-tanks.

Ronson decides to convert all gas-lighters with the removable tank to a steady gas-tank. One of the first refillable gas-lighter was the Vanguard. To identify the refillable lighters Ronson gave them a blue oxidised filler-cap screw. The gas-cartridge was also coloured bleu and hold enough for one refill. The cartridge only had a one-time use; because it had just enough capacity to refill the lighters once, after it was empty it became useless and had to be thrown away.

After 44 years of loyalty to Ronson, Alexander Harris retires in the year 1952. Alexander H. Aronson becomes president. That same year Ronson opens a gigantic large new plant in south London, in Leatherhead, England. More then 2.500 people working on the production of Ronson lighters in Leatherhead. Often whole families got employed and already then Ronson had a children’s department, for mothers that worked at Ronson.

In 1957 a breakthrough for Ronson on the gas-lighter development, is the introduction of the Premier Varaflame. This lighter holds all newest novelties and techniques made in co-operation of two top engineers of the Ronson. The technical engineer is Conrad Zellweger, who invented a new multi refillable inlet-valve. Plus a new burner-valve that made it possible to adjust the flame-height by hand. All build in a lighter designed by Seymore Rappaport who let himself inspire by the ‘streamline designs’. Not only invented Zellweger the special gas-inlet-valve, he also invented a multi-fill cartridge to refill the Premier Varaflame time after time.

The success is indescribable. Hundreds of thousands Ronson Premier Varaflame’s are produced in England and later also in France and Woodbridge America. At the end of the ‘50s Ronson had a worldwide produced capacity of 15.000 Premier Varaflame’s a day! Till then it was Ronson’s biggest success ever. Special plants ware build to produce the Multifill® gas-cartridges to satisfy the demand. Well-known English plants ware on Island of White and New Castle.

In the beginning Ronson supplied the Premier only in the chrome design with a golden V on it. The V stands symbol for Varaflame (variable flame). But soon after the first year of introduction, various designs and finishes ware lanced.

In 1958 many petrol lighters ware redesigned and became new in the Ronson collection as Varaflame® gas-lighter. Another success was the Ronson Adonis Varaflame. This ladies-lighter was a smaller version of the Premier Varaflame.

Diversification (1954-1964)

In the period from 1954 till 1964 decides to diversification more. The new slogan becomes: ‘Remember, Ronson does more then light cigarettes’. Ronson offers a widely diversified range of consumer and industrial products and services:

Flame Products: Lighters, Butane candles, Butane torches and a butane cooking appliances.

Electronic appliances: Shavers for men and women, toothbrushes, hairdryers, shoe polishers, blenders, carving knives, portable can openers, food mixers, and a first of its kind kitchen appliance, that will cook and stir as well as blend.

Packaging products: Fuels for wick-type lighters and butane lighters, flints, home lubricants and shoe polish.

Aerospace products: Precision high temperature hydraulic valves for supersonic flight, pneumatic and fuel valves; cylinders and related products for the commercial aircraft, helicopters and aerospace applications. Also helicopter charter, sales and maintenance.

Rare earth metals and alloys: Flints for lighters and industrial applications; alloys for stainless steel; ductile iron, magnesium, aluminium alloys, didymium for certain magnesium alloys etc. etc.

 

Much of these activities have taken place in America, the European operations ware more focussed on the flame products and electronic appliances.

In 1965 Ronson lanced a complete new lighter concept; the Ronson Comet. The comet is designed in 1962 by Conrad Zellweger and William Retzler. This lighter is completely made from plastic, which is then a new, very modish and popular material. The lighter is very light and different from any other lighter. With a popular price-level of US$ 6,00 and the trendy colours makes this lighter Ronson biggest success. Within 15 years, Ronson sells more then 60 million Comets. Just as with the Premier lighter all credits for success goes to Ronson Products Ltd – England.

By the end of the ‘60s more then 11.000 people ware employed by Ronson in their 17 plants worldwide.

Begin ‘70s Ronson modernise the collection by lancing the Varaflame MK-II series, next to original collection. The MK-II series have less visual moving parts, they are snuffles. Where the snuffer extinguishes the flame in all previous lighters, the work is now done by means of a fork-lift system on the burner-valve.

Around 1970 Ronson introduces the electronic ignition system. The lighter has been known for the lighter with the soft touch. There are two systems: a Crystal ignition, working via a piëzo technique and a Battery operating ignition. Ronson has lanced many lighters aswel with the piëzo as with the Battery ignition system. The lighters are very popular because of the easy use.

Ronson research works on a new revolutionary ignition system, later known as the “Varachem ignition cartridge”. The Varachem cartridge is a small canister, filled with a pyrophoric fuel (rocket fuel) and when it comes into contact with oxygen, instant combustion takes place. These canisters or cartridges as they were known were installed in two known lighters: the Varachem Pen-lighter and the Varachem Trend-setter. Both lighters were lanced in 1976. Shortly after the introduction they ware taken out of production, because the system is very delicate and dangerous. One of the problems is known as “aching up”. This is a build-up of corrosion around the hole where the fuel comes out, resulting in leakage and instant combustion.

In 1976 the sales figures overdrawn every expectation. This year was a very successful year for the English department of Ronson. Despite this, the management of the American head quarters acknowledged heavily cut in costs. The following years several factories ware closed and brings along a lot of costs. In the following years, the losses increase. Also the diversifications get the business into trouble, because of competition from the Japanese and European market, especially from Bic and Gillette. The losses keep increasing slowly. Although the financial sources ware very limited Ronson develops the electronic ignition system further into a “sensor-system”.

 In 1980, Ronson joins in the new ‘disposable trend’ with the Magnum disposable lighter.

The US parent company had long been in financial difficulties, caught with high overhead costs, strong competition in the non-flame products. Desperate attempts by Ronson UK to solve the corporations’ financial problems failed and Ronson USA decided to liquidate all foreign Ronson companies. The company’s assets ware been sold and financial stripped, to prevent the corporation for bankruptcy. After that Ronson dissociated from all international rights and duties and the thousands of people who worked for Ronson lost their jobs.

In 1981 Jeffrey Port bought tools, parts and trademark rights out of the liquidation of Ronson Products and continues business under the name Ronson International. In the old plant in New Castle, the production of the Multifill gas-cans and Ronsonol petrol was continued. Another old Ronson engineer started up the production of the Ronson Premier Varaflame.

In 1983 ownership changes hand to Geoffrey Richmond and the name of the company changed to Ronson Export Limited. With a new approach to the market the business continued and in 1986 the Ronson started to import lighters from the Far East.

The international well-known “Ronson name” suffers, due to the weak economic position of Britain mid ‘80s. Ronson’s export-division fails due to the high value of the Pond Sterling and 80% of the products go to the domestic market. Luckily this change at the end of ‘80s when the British currency value dropped and the export picks up. Especially the Ronson Multifill® gas-cans bring a big turn in the business.

Because of the age of the old machinery and new regulations and safety laws Ronson decides to build a new plant. In 1992 Ronson moves to the brand new (aerosol) gas-can-factory behind the old buildings. These high tech production lines fill and wrap 5.000 aerosols per hour.