Wednesday, July 22, 2009
You probably never wondered where the name WD-40 came from, as it's one of those ubiquitous products, found in 80 percent of American homes, invisible until you need it for one of its 2000 uses.
As you might guess, it wasn't named by a copywriter. In 1953, scientists working for the Rocket Chemical Company (shades of George Jetson) were looking for a formula to prevent corrosion in missiles sent into space. They'd tried 39 formulas for water displacement until hitting paydirt on the 40th try. Apparently, having used up all their powers of invention on R&D, they named it using a code from their lab notes.
The stuff worked so well, employees began sneaking it home and soon they were selling 45 cases a day out of their car trunks to hardware and sporting goods stores. In 1969, a marketer took over the company and turned the brand into a household name. John S. Barry convinced the scientist management team to allow for an ad budget and free sampling: he sent 10,000 cans every month to soldiers in Viet Nam, grooming an army of loyal lifetime users. Annual sales increased from $2 million in 1970 to $91 million in 1990.
Mr. Barry passed away recently, taking the formula for WD-40 to his grave. He insisted that the company never patent the product in order to avoid having to disclose the ingredients publicly. But rumors that it's fish oil are apparently unfounded.