Edmonton Valve & Fitting Blog

Weekly posts for northern and central Alberta engineers, plant operators, and buyers.

The Curious Case of Swagelok, the Crawford Fitting Company, Ebay and My Zippo Lighter….

by Jason Wynne, on Thu, Aug 13, 2015 @ 08:08 AM


zippo.png

Pictured above is Jason Wynne's original Swagelok Zippo lighter from the 1950's that he bought off of eBay for $20.


Everyone and everything has a story, a history, and their own tale to tell. For me, the good ones usually weave together seemingly unrelated material and tie them all together in a nice neat little package…just like Paul Harvey does…and now, the rest of the story.

Buying online

I started with Swagelok August of '95, but our story starts in 1996. That was the year that a little dot com start up launched a website called eBay. Buying and selling on the internet, what a novel concept, but seems risky, and besides what could you possibly buy on the internet?? Sometime that year I created an account on eBay, and one night searched the term “Swagelok”. Four items came up, three of which were actual Swagelok product and one Zippo lighter emblazoned with a Swagelok logo. I bought it. It was $20.00 plus shipping and I remember being very nervous about giving my credit card details out online. But, ten days later a box arrives in the mail and in it was my prized possession. My Swagelok Zippo lighter. To this day I have never filled it and have never lit it. It stays put in a special place. 

Crawford Fitting Company

So let’s wind the clock back to 1947 and introduce you to Cullen Crawford and Fred Lennon.  Mr. Crawford is an inventor; he invented the two-ferrule Swagelok fitting. Mr. Lennon is an entrepreneur and businessman. The two gentlemen come together in 1947 to form the Crawford Fitting Company to manufacture and sell the Swagelok Tube Fitting. Mr. Lennon borrows $5,000 from his uncle and they get a small office and a CNC machine in Cleveland, Ohio and set off to change the way the world connects its fluid systems.

A year later, in 1948, things are not going as planned. As with many businesses, it’s been a challenging process to start up a company, acquire new customers and manage a business partnership. Mr. Crawford makes a proposal. He and Mr. Lennon would write on a piece of paper how much each thought the company was worth. The man with the highest value would buy the others shares for that amount and they would go on their way. Each man wrote down their value on paper and placed them on a table, folded for secrecy. They opened Mr. Lennon’s first, $500.00 it read. (Remember, this is only a year after borrowing $5000.00 from his uncle.)  Then they opened Mr. Crawford’s. Written on the paper is $0.00. So for $500 Mr. Lennon takes full control of the Crawford Fitting Company in 1948. By 1954 he has global distribution and service of the Swagelok fitting. By the early 1990’s Mr. Lennon has been named in Forbes Magazine as one of America’s 400 wealthiest individuals. Not a bad $500 investment!

Forward again to 1996 and my Zippo lighter. At the base of every Zippo made is a stamp. Depending on the stamp and the patent number you can go to Zippo’s website and find out when your Zippo was manufactured. So I look it up and turns out this Swagelok Zippo was manufactured in the very early 1950’s. That doesn’t make it valuable. This isn’t a story of a garage sale windfall. Instead it got me thinking about who would have received this Zippo back in the 1950’s. Was it a gift to an employee or a loyal customer? And what happened after that? Over 45 years later I bought it, and it obviously had a gentle past and it’s been gently treated since.

Little part of history

As I mentioned before, it stays in a special place. What I realized, after I had checked the date stamp back in 1996, is that this Zippo lighter is a little part of Swagelok history. The company was still young and finding its way. Fred Lennon was on the road, meeting customers, meeting with distributors, building the company. In my mind, I have no doubt that this Zippo lighter once passed through his hands and into the hands of someone who helped build Swagelok into what it is today.

So I’m going to hold on to this little piece of history. You won’t see it on eBay anytime soon.


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