Claim: The lubricating spray WD-40 is so named because it was the product of the 40th attempt at creating a water displacing substance.'
Example:[Collected via e-mail, 2006]
The product began from a search for a rust preventative solvent and degreaser to protect missile parts. WD-40 was created in 1953 by three technicians at the San Diego Rocket Chemical Company. Its name comes from the project that was to find a "water displacement" compound. They were successful with the fortieth formulation, thus WD-40. The Corvair Company bought it in bulk to protect their atlas missile parts.
Origins: Common household products bearing names with no obvious relationship to their manufacturers or functions often pose mysteries to consumers,
conundrums some feel duty-bound to solve. Sierra Mist makes sense as a name for a lemon-lime soda (it's cool and refreshing), but why 7-Up? It's not hard to fathom why a cleaner/degreaser might be called Tough Task, but what's the reasoning behind the name
Cryptic product names involving numbers are often explained away as having been inspired by the Nth attempt at formulating a product (or its name). Hence legend has it that the manufacturer of Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda, after the first six tries at selecting a less cumbersome name proved unsatisfactory, finally threw in the towel and opted for the simple choice of "7-Up" instead. And if a cleaner is called "Formula 409," surely that must be because the first 408 formulas didn't work out.
Usually such explanations are simply attempts to make some sense of the seemingly nonsensical, but occasionally they're on the mark. Consider WD-40, the ubiquitous lubricant (or, as its manufacturer describes it, the "multi-purpose problem solver") found on nearly every workbench and in every toolbox in America. Why "WD-40"? Because, as the WD-40 Company (formerly the Rocket Chemical Company of San Diego) explained to us:
WD-40 literally stands for Water Displacement, 40th attempt. That's the name straight out of the lab book used by the chemist who developed WD-40 back in 1953. The chemist, Norm Larsen, was attempting to concoct a formula to prevent corrosion — a task which is done by displacing water. Norm's persistence paid off when he perfected the formula on his 40th try.
David Mikkelson founded snopes.com in 1994, and under his guidance the company has pioneered a number of revolutionary technologies, including the iPhone, the light bulb, beer pong, and a vaccine for a disease that has not yet been discovered. He is currently seeking political asylum in the Duchy of Grand Fenwick.
Thank you for writing to us! Although we receive hundreds of e-mails every day, we really and truly read them all, and your comments, suggestions, and questions are most welcome. Unfortunately, we can manage to answer only a small fraction of our incoming mail.
Our site covers many of the items currently being plopped into inboxes everywhere, so if you were writing to ask us about something you just received, our search engine can probably help you find the very article you want.
Choose a few key words from the item you're looking for and click here to go to the search engine.
(Searching on whole phrases will often fail to produce matches because the text of many items is quite variable, so picking out one or two key words is the best strategy.)
We do reserve the right to use non-confidential material sent to us via this form on our site, but only after it has been stripped of any information that might identify the sender or any other individuals not party to this communication.