(A year ago we had posted an earlier version of this post on our old blog.)
Most people familiar with the history for of the M4 Sherman tank have heard the story that the British nick-named them “Ronsons” after the famous cigarette lighter due to the flammability of the Sherman tank. The story goes that the troops co-opted the Ronson slogan of ” lights first every time” to describe their vehicles. This story has been reported in many books and TV shows about the Sherman tank.
Certainly, the idea that the Sherman was uniquely susceptible to burning is a bit of a fable. According to one common version of the myth, the Sherman burned easily due to the fact that it used “high octane” gasoline while its German opponents used diesel (the most famous example of this myth is in the Academy Award winning film “Patton”.) In reality, the vast majority of German tanks and armored vehicles used gasoline engines and the Sherman ran on the same 80 octane fuel as every other US Army vehicle. When a tank is penetrated by an armor piercing shell and brews up, ammunition is the most common culprit, not fuel. The Sherman got a bad reputation in the early stages of the Normandy campaign for catching on fire in part due to improper stowage of ammunition. Once the US introduced the “wet stowage” system of ammo storage into the M4 Sherman, the rate of tanks that burned when hit decreased significantly.
That troops may have called their tanks a derogatory nickname like Ronson seems pretty plausible. The only problem with the Ronson nickname is the explanation that this was due to the slogan “lights first every time.” The issue is that this slogan appears in almost no surviving print ads, and not in any ads from the period right before or during the war. The most common slogan used in print ads for the Ronson is “The World’s Greatest Lighter.” To a leaser extent, the slogan “Flip… It’s Lit… Release… It’s Out” or “Press… It’s Lit… Release… It’s Out” appears regularly. Nowhere does the slogan “lights first every time” appear, except in a single ad from 1929 which states “Lights every time.”
So what does this mean? Not much really. Perhaps the “lights every time” slogan was used in a radio jingle and not in print ads. Or perhaps the troops mistakenly attributed the slogan to the Ronson brand. However, based on the available print ads its probably fair to question the validity of the “lights every time” myth.
For those wanting to examine a large number of Ronson ads arraigned by date, please consult this page.
Below is a sample of Ronson ads