July 22, 2009

"It took them 40 attempts to work out the water displacement formula. The name WD-40 stands for..."

"... 'water displacement, formulation successful in 40th attempt.'"



This is the best example I've seen in a long time of why I read the obituaries. The dead person is John S. Barry, whom I'd never heard of. Now, I'd heard of — and, like everyone else — used WD-40, but I'd never thought about its origin. Did you know it was created for the space program?
Convair, a unit of General Dynamics, first used WD-40 to protect the outer skin of the Atlas missile from rust and corrosion. The product worked so well that employees sneaked WD-40 cans out of the plant to use at home. Norm Larsen, the Rocket Chemical technician who invented WD-40, soon came up with the idea of selling it to the general public.

WD-40 hit store shelves in San Diego in 1958. In 1961, employees came in on a Saturday to produce the first truckload shipment to meet disaster needs of victims of Hurricane Carla on the Gulf Coast. WD-40 was used to recondition flood-damaged vehicles.

Sales continued to increase, but it was the arrival of Mr. Barry as president and chief executive in 1969 that jolted the company to dominance in its unusual niche market. He immediately changed the name of Rocket Chemical to the WD-40 Company, on the indisputable theory that it did not make rockets.
Go read the whole thing, written by Douglas Martin. And keep reading the obituaries.

And tell us about your WD-40 stories.

52 comments:

Dale said...

Like so many others, I check the obituaries daily to see if my name is in there. If not, it's going to be a good day.

Leather Daddy said...

WD-40 got me and a pair of chaps through a very tight patch at Southern Decadence in New Orleans in 2005.

PatCA said...

It's only been around since 1958? Amazing...

When I first used it in my rusty door lock, I immediately felt confident that I could maybe take care of the home I had just bought.

LarsPorsena said...

WD-40 and duct tape.
What else do you need?

traditionalguy said...

The WD-40 guys finally have come out with a new can with a trigger and a permanent straw extension. Yes, virginia there is a santa clause.

Sigivald said...

I've used it mostly as a light solvent and temporary lubricant for un-sticking things, which it excels at.

Contrary to popular use, it's a terrible lubricant in the general sense, as it dries with residue and gums that both aren't lubricative and attract more dirt.

Use a light machine oil. (For locks, graphite, or graphite-infused petrochemicals made specially for locks.)

Meade said...

Too bad WD didn't hit the store shelves of West Lafayette, Indiana in, say, 1956 when a certain budding artist baby boomer's two year old bottom might've been spared the sting of a swift spanking thanks to WD's space-aged crayon-removal-from-brand-new-cork floor properties.

Parker Smith said...

And now it comes in marker pen form - very cool!

rhhardin said...

WD-40 takes decorative paint off scythe blades, scythesupply.com warns.

A rusty blade works fine anyway because the peening and stoning, necesary to keep the edge narrow and sharpened, keeps the edge shiny.

My experience is that the rust disappears everywhere from the blade, evidently just from grass friction.

Grass friction also takes off decorative paint.

Bill said...

LarsPorsena: WD-40 and duct tape.
What else do you need?


Expanding,
"A person needs only three tools in life: WD-40, duct tape and a hammer. If it doesn't move and it should, use the WD-40. If it moves and it shouldn't, use the duct tape. If either doesn't work, use the hammer."

Fred4Pres said...

Do you know WD-40 works on spraying baits for bottom fishing? Either it blocks human scent or attacks fish on its own.

Preparation H also works on fishing lures. It has shark oil in it and it attracts some fish.

s1c said...

With the initials WD on my back I proudly wore uniform #40!!!

Chris said...

Cleaning caulk off hands.

Superdad said...

Works as a waterless shop soap for washing your hands, too.

Undertoad said...

WD-40 is incredibly flammable, and if you light it as it's spraying out of the can, you now basically have a flame-thrower.

It's safe, too, because when the flame reaches back to the can, it melts the little straw until the straw closes off and the fire goes out.

My friends used to spray a little into an air balloon, and then pop it with fire. WHOOM

If you're a kid and you live in a state where they don't allow fireworks, well you have to do something dangerous, don't you?

David said...

Another reason to go back to the moon.

save_the_rustbelt said...

In Gran Torino Clint Eastwood gives a good speech on the tools every man needs.

Never buy the cheap imitation spray, it never works as well.


(Leather Daddy - do not be a tease, tell us the whole story)

Ralph L said...

What else do you need?
Vise-grips.

When the shuttle started flying, they discovered the tiles were absorbing moisture and then cracking, so they sprayed them with Scotchgard. Perhaps they should have stuck with WD-40.

When we stayed with my grandfather and his stuffy second wife when I was a baby, my sister outlined the panels in the bedroom door with Mom's lipstick. We weren't invited back, but Mom quietly enjoyed it.

former law student said...

What else do you need?
Vise-grips.

I used to think that till I realized the true answer is Channel-Locks.

But just this weekend I needed some torx screwdriver bits.

In an average week, however, eighty percent of all the small chores I need to do can be accomplished with a Leatherman tool.

Der Hahn said...

Used a lot of WD-40 repairing equipment on Dad's farm. Chickensh*t is corrosive stuff. That's where I learned to rate jobs based on how warm, dry, and odor-free they were.

Sigvald is right. Too many people attempt to use WD-40 for a lubricant, which it is not. If it can displace water it will also displace oil (oil floats).

Joe said...

To be completely pedantic, it wasn't developed for the space program, but for the ballistic missile program. Atlas was a missile, converted to a space launching booster. Atlas rockets were used on four of the Mercury missions.

AllenS said...

WD-40 has its limitations. Use it if you don't want to leave an oily residue behind.

class-factotum said...

What else do you need?

Superglue. When you cut your finger while you are chopping vegetables, superglue is better than a bandaid.

AllenS said...

For all of you garage hobiests, here's a good thing to know: if you need to remove something metal (nuts, bolts, etc.) and you have to use a propane, or acetylene torch to heat the metal (making it swell bigger). Do not use WD-40 or any kind of penetrating oil, these things are flammable. Heat the metal, and then apply bees wax. For some mysterious reason, bees wax will penetrate into the threads better than anything on this earth. It also will not catch on fire.

Leather Daddy said...

I can't do that, Save The Rustbelt. I'm not a "fist and tell" kind of Leather Daddy.

John said...

I have heard that WD-40 really got into the home market from a marketing promotion in 67 or so. They sent tens of thousands of pocketsize WD-40 spray cans to the troops in VN. Hot wet and nasty, it solved a lot of problems.

the vets came home and demanded that their local hardware store carry it.

John Henry

Bruce Hayden said...

Superglue. When you cut your finger while you are chopping vegetables, superglue is better than a bandaid.

A couple of years ago on a skiing trip, one of my friends was cooking, and I had just sharpened the knives. He was used to them being quite dull. So, he cut himself.

Another friend, and ER surgeon, was playing cards next to him. We knew he had a suture kit along, JIC. So we were surprised when he pulled out his superglue and glued the finger back together, without really taking his eyes off the card game. He told us that there were nights in his ER where he used more superglue than sutures.

RLB_IV said...

WD-40 helps preserve ivory and pieces of bone and does wonders on gold faucets in the bathroom. My daughter says that it removes lipstick from carpet. I asked her what it does for rug burns and she changed the subject.

veni vidi vici said...

"I'm not a "fist and tell" kind of Leather Daddy."

God, how I love this place...

Ralph L said...

WD-40 helps preserve ivory and pieces of bone and does wonders on gold faucets
Oh, then it's perfect for my 40 foot statue of Pallas Athena.

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Methadras said...

I carry cartons of WD-40. You just can't have enough. As a native San Diegan I am proud that WD-40 started here. General Dynamics Convair division used to be a huge employer here in San Diego. I remember as a kid going on tour of the facility and we got a special treat to go into the underground tunnels that ran underneath the buildings and freeway. It was cool. Alas, it is no more. The original Darth Vader building that is still there has been changed into some sort of office building and now it's a large hybrid residential/commericial center.

Methadras said...

Sigivald said...

Use a light machine oil. (For locks, graphite, or graphite-infused petrochemicals made specially for locks.)


3-in-1 oil is perfect.

Methadras said...

Bruce, I use superglue for all of my cuts.

Tom Armstrong said...

"A person needs only three tools in life: WD-40, duct tape and a hammer. If it doesn't move and it should, use the WD-40. If it moves and it shouldn't, use the duct tape. If either doesn't work, use the hammer."

Reminds me of my job description, as given to me by my wife and daughter:
1- Bring home my paycheck
2- Lift heavy objects
3- kill spiders

Matt said...

Do not use it to clean your firearms. Reports have been made of it making cartridge primers inoperable.

edaniel said...

" . . . returned to 3M and worked for it and other companies until he succeeded his father-in-law, Cy Irving, as president of what would soon become the WD-40 Company. "

Smart guy all around.

Fat Man said...

There are 2 classes of problems:

1. Things that have come apart, that need to be put back together.

2. Things that have gotten stuck together, that need to be taken apart.

Duct tape is the correct universal solution for class 1 problems.

For class 2 problems, the correct universal solution is WD-40.

Darrell said...

They didn't mention the biggest secret of all, it evaporates (which is why I don't use it) It works so well that people are impressed but when the door hinge etc starts squeaking again it time for another shot, therefore you use ten times more WD-40 than if you had used a proper lubricant, really boosts and sustains sales.
Darrell

B.S. philosopher said...

Do not use it to clean your firearms. Reports have been made of it making cartridge primers inoperable.

Not really true. If you leave a puddle sitting around the primer of a loaded cartridge sitting upside down, in a few weeks it MIGHT deactivate the primer. Someone actually ran tests at the box-o-truth.

It is good for spraying INSIDE OF primed (no bullet, no powder)cartridge cases to deactivate live primers. Which is probably where that particular rumor came from.

I wouldn't use it for lubricating firearms for the same reason Sigivald stated earlier. It lifts oil off and then promptly evaporates, leaving an unprotected surface.

novaculus said...

Re: firearms- Doesn't harm the weapon, excellent for cleaning and displacing water on a weapon that has been exposed to moisture, for example, after spending a rainy or snowy morning in a tree stand. Just don't get it on you ammo, powder or primers. Use a proper gun oil or Gunslick after cleaning.

Re: Necessary tools- (1) Fixed blade knife, weapon and cutting tool, can perform the functions of many other tools, including hammer. (2) Wire- Before there was duct tape, there was baling wire, which is useful in situations where duct tape just won't cut it. For example, when that hanger for your exhaust system breaks, and your muffler is dragging along the asphalt and showering your gas tank and fuel line with sparks. (3)Pliers- Gripping, bending, twisting, rotating, handling hot materials, etc.

WD-40 is useful, but it would certainly come in behind these three.

Other odd use- If you carry a tire pump and a repair kit, you can fix flats just about anywhere. But if the tire bead has come off the rim, getting it back on can be a nearly impossible task unless you have sufficient wire, rope, etc. to tighten around the circumference of the tire. If you have no wire, rope, etc., but do have WD-40, spraying a liberal amount around the bead and inside the tire and igniting will cause a minor explosion the force of which will re-seat the bead on the rim and permit re-inflation. Potentially dangerous, but possibly a better option than being stranded in the middle of nowhere.

Chango said...

Maybe I'm just splitting hairs but there is one small detail to note: The Atlas missile was not designed or built for the space program. It was an ICBM that at the last minute was converted to lift Glenn into orbit, because the Redstone wouldn't give them enough lift and the Titan was behind schedule. So it is a bit misleading to say that WD-40 was made for the space program... when in reality WD-40 as well as the entire space program were just small happy side effects of the nuclear weapons developed for the cold war.

smacklin said...

I can see the NYT headline if this had happened last year:

"Let Them Eat Steak"

smacklin said...

Don't know how that happened - I typed something completely different and relevant. Sorry.

Chango said...

Bruce Hayden and Methadras:
Regular old Super Glue can be used to close just about any cut but be careful. There are some people that react badly to the chemical byproducts when standard Ethyl Cyanoacrylate polymerizes. The medical superglue has a slightly different formula (Octyl Cyanoacrylate) that is much less harsh. You can buy that as "Liquid Band Aids" or some such products but can be pretty expensive. So use the cheap normal superglue if you can handle it, but don't use it on someone else if you don't know if they can or not.

Chango said...

Funny story about cleaning guns. I knew a cop that would shoot every day at the range. To clean it he would dissemble his stainless steal 1911 once a week and put it in the dishwasher. After it dried he would dab a bit of 10W30 motor oil on the stuff that moved and off he went.

Steven said...

Do not use WD-40 on a car door lock/latch. It will work once -- displacing all the proper lubricant. Then it evaporates. The next time you go to use the mechanism, it will seize up, and you'll be looking at some serious repairs.

Instructor said...

I live in Estonia (in the former Soviet Union), in a Soviet-era constructed apartment.
The back door to our complex seems like it's built to protect against atomic explosions; a big, brown metal contraption. It recently stopped opening (the lock is built into the door, not replaceable) so the complex would have to bill every tenant a decently substantial sum for the new door. And a lot of pensioners live here, so I could see that it could a half-month's salary for some of them.
I had shipped a small can of WD-40 with my belongs when I moved here from the States.
I went down one afternoon, frustrated by being locked out and having to take a 5-minute walk around the complex (because of fences and gates) to carry my groceries to my flat.
I sprayed WD-40 into the lock and latch mechanisms, and now the door parties like it's 1917 all over again.
You see - WD-40 is so awesome that it can even bail out commie-made products.
The only sign of my sabotage is the WD-40 stain from the lock halfway down the face of the door.

TOF said...

The Atlas ICBM had a skin made of stainless steel. It also had no internal bracing; it was essentially a stainless steel balloon. http://www.warrenmuseum.com/atlas.htm

Without fuel it was held in shape by inert pressurized gas. When fueled the fuel and LOX supported its shape.

rickl said...

I knew that about WD-40, but then again I'm an Atlas buff.

Jamie said...

WD-40, duct tape, and a rock hammer (hard-rock preferably). The rock hammer not only hammers, but makes a dandy garlic press, fire-stirrer-upper, and prybar, and the pointy end (if it's a hard-rock type) can be a can opener in a pinch.

VinceP1974 said...

I had trapped a baby mouse that was defiling my apartment and penned it in a corner , but the stupid thing wouldn't get into any type of container i set on teh ground to try to scoop it up (and have absolutely no chance that it might contact with my hand,,, so i was not very deft at trying to trap it , other than keeping it trapped in the corner)

So since I was sick of dealing with it, I thought hosing it down with WD40 would kill it fast... well it took about 30 minutes of occasional spraying.. adn teh floor was very very slippery after the poor thing finally suffocated to death and i expelled the corpse from my domain.

I wanted to hang the body near the front door to warn off any other of his friends, but it looked too gross.. like Madeline Albright after making out all night.