The earliest lighters were invented in the 16th century and were converted flintlock pistols that used gunpowder. One of the original lighters was invented by the German chemist named Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner in 1823 and was often called Döbereiner's lamp. This lighter was lit by a reaction of hydrogen to platinum sponge, which gave off a great amount of heat. The device was very large and highly dangerous and people stopped making it by the end of the 19th century.
The patenting of ferrocerium (often misidentified as flint) by Carl Auer von Welsbach in 1903 has made modern lighters real. When scratched, it makes a large spark which is responsible for lighting the fuel of many lighters, and is suitably inexpensive for use in disposable items.
Using Carl Auer von Welsbach's flint, companies like Ronson were able to create practical and easy to use lighters. In 1910 Ronson released the first Pist-O-Liter and in 1913 the company created its first lighter, called the "Wonderlite", which was a permanent match style of lighter.
The Zippo lighter and company were invented and developed by George G. Blaisdell in 1932. The Zippo was seen for its reliability, "Life Time Warranty" and marketing as "Wind-Proof". Most early Zippos implemented naphtha as a fuel source.
In the 1950s there was a change in fuel choice from naphtha to butane, as butane allows for a controllable flame and has less odour. This also led to the implementation of piezoelectric spark, which replaced the need for a flint wheel in some lighters and was used in many Ronson lighters.