cigar ros
January 16, 2007 6:10 AM   Subscribe

What's the story on car cigarette lighters? Standardization, origins, etc

When did car cigarette lighters become a standard feature?
Why were they necessary when Zippos (I am told) were commonly available well before them?
Why and how did they all become the same size and type, while most other car features are stylistically different on each model of car (locks, handles, vents, etc)
Were they made to allow things to plug into them to get powered, or were these things made to fit the cigarette lighter plug after they were already common?
What were the first things to plug into them?
posted by white light to Technology (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
posted by ND¢ at 6:24 AM on January 16, 2007

"Lighters started appearing as standard equipment in 1925 or '26... The modern "automatic" lighter -- the little cylinder that pops out when it gets hot -- was developed by Casco in the 1960s."
CNN Money article

Casco seem to make a lot of the things -- 100,000 a day, apparently -- and they seem to supply to many major car manufacturers (see table at bottom of page). So it's perhaps a case of something becoming a de facto standard by virtue of one manufacturer becoming the dominant supplier.

They also have a history of the lighter from 1925-1960 and from 1960 to the present day.
posted by chrismear at 6:36 AM on January 16, 2007

Using a zippo (or any other kind of flame lighter) in a car would be pure madness. For one thing, people tend to have the windows down when smoking (and especially at the time when cars did not have A/C as standard equipment), and it's darn hard to get one to light and remain lit in a brisk wind. For another thing, any kind of open flame in a car at night held up near the face effectively blinds the driver which is not a good thing safetywise.
posted by Rhomboid at 7:01 AM on January 16, 2007

Additionally, in the 20s or 30s most people probably used matches, with very few having lighters. Matches in a car would be even more foolish than a lighter, because it takes two hands to use matches effectively, and because of the night blindness, and the very real possibility of burning ones self fumbling with one while trying to drive. A pushbutton lighter has none of these drawbacks -- it can be lit with the push of a button so that one doesn't have to take his eyes off the road, it only requires one hand to operate, it does not have an open flame so that wind cannot extinguish it, and it is only a soft glow and not an open flame so it is not completely blinding at night.
posted by Rhomboid at 7:05 AM on January 16, 2007

The threat of being singed by hot lighter also worked real well on the long car trips my family took. My brothers and I would stop fighting instantly after we saw my Dad drop one accidentally into his lap and the perfect circle burn it made on his thigh.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:08 AM on January 16, 2007

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