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.
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
The product began from a search for a rust preventative solvent and degreaser to protect missile parts.
WD-40was 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.
Usually such explanations are simply attempts to make some sense of the seemingly nonsensical, but occasionally they’re on the mark. Consider
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-40back in 1953. The chemist, Norm Larsen, was attempting to concoct a formula to prevent corrosion — atask which is done by displacing water. Norm’s persistence paid off when he perfected the formula on his 40th try.
Berg, Jim and Tim Nyberg. The WD-40 Book.
Bad Dog Press, 1997. ISBN 1-887-31715-5.