WD-40, The History & Growth of an American Branding & Manufacturing Icon With List of Uses

From the industrial sized can to the convenient purse-sized pen, for more than fifty years WD-40's familiar blue and gold trademark and red top have been the American household name for in all purpose products.
From the industrial sized can to the convenient purse-sized pen, for more than fifty years WD-40's familiar blue and gold trademark and red top have been the American household name for in all purpose products. | Source

Aerospace Giant Convair is Among First To Use WD-40

The Rocket Chemical Company, Inc. was founded in 1952 by chemist Norm Larsen and three investors.
The Rocket Chemical Company, Inc. was founded in 1952 by chemist Norm Larsen and three investors. | Source
Rocket Chemical Company, Inc.'s New Water Displacement Perfected on the 40th attempt, more commonly known as WD-40, is so popular among Convair employees that they are known to sneak cans of it out of the plant for use at home.
Rocket Chemical Company, Inc.'s New Water Displacement Perfected on the 40th attempt, more commonly known as WD-40, is so popular among Convair employees that they are known to sneak cans of it out of the plant for use at home. | Source
Convair used the Rocket Chemical Company's new WD-40 product to protect the outer skin of their SM-65 Atlas Missile, like this one, seen at Cape Canaveral  launch, 20 February 1958.
Convair used the Rocket Chemical Company's new WD-40 product to protect the outer skin of their SM-65 Atlas Missile, like this one, seen at Cape Canaveral launch, 20 February 1958. | Source

It All Began With The Rocket Chemical Company

In 1952, at the height of the California aerospace industry boom, a little known San Diego based chemist by the name of Norm Larsen, along with three investors, formed a company that they called the Rocket Chemical Company, from which they planned to supply companies like Convair, and General Dynamics, with a line of rust prevention solvents and degreasers. Incorporating the company, whose name made it sound much larger than the reality of its three employees and single room operation in 1953, the Rocket Chemical Company, Inc., introduced a new product to use in the displacement of water and moisture as a way to protect and restore metal parts and tools, whose formula, Norm Larsen had, after a grand total of forty attempts, recently perfected. In honor of those forty tests, they called their new product, WD-40 or Water Displacement perfected on the fortieth try.

San Diego based aerospace company, Convair, a division of the larger, General Dynamics, who was already known for the production of such landmark aircraft as the Convair B-36 Bomber, the F-102 Delta Dagger, and the F-106 Delta Dart, and who had recently tossed their hat into the ring of the fledgling space program with the building of the Air Force designed, SM-65 Atlas Missile, the first American intercontinental ballistic missile, (ICBM), which was capable of boosting a nuclear warhead to any target on earth, was among the very first of the Rocket Chemical Company, Inc.'s customers, first using the new product to protect the outer skin of the Atlas Missile from rust and corrosion. WD-40 worked so well, that Convair employees began to sneak cans out of the plant for use at home

WD-40 made it's commercial debut in 1958, the short, squat-looking aerosol can wore the yellow and brown color scheme familiar to Convair employee.. The iconic blue and gold packaging with the distinct red cap, would not appear until 1960
WD-40 made it's commercial debut in 1958, the short, squat-looking aerosol can wore the yellow and brown color scheme familiar to Convair employee.. The iconic blue and gold packaging with the distinct red cap, would not appear until 1960 | Source

WD-40's Consumer and Industrial Markets

1). Aviation
2). Automotive
3). Manufacturing
4). Sporting Goods
5). Hardware
6). Home Improvememts
7). Construction
8). Farming
In 1993 WD-40 was found to be in four out of every five American Households and to be used in the work place of 81% of all professionals.

WD-40 Goes Commecial

The fact that WD-40 had become so popular with the employees of Convair and General Dynamics, that they were willing to smuggle the cans of the corrosion preventative from the plant for use at home, had not been lost on Norm Larsen.

In the later 1950s, with the new decade looming just over the horizon, the chemist began to wonder about the possibility of marketing his secret recipe to for retail; Surely, he must have reasoned, if the aerospace employees had found uses for it in their own homes, then so too would the average American consumer. Having safely established WD-40 for industrial use in the aerospace industry with companies like Convair and General Dynamics, Norm Larsen turned his sights on the public arena and began to experiment with the idea of putting his product in an aerosol can and marketing it as an all-purpose corrosion preventative and lubricant.

WD-40 went commercial in 1958, when the petroleum based solvent made its retail debut, appearing on the shelves of local San Diego area hardware and sporting goods stores, in short squat-looking aerosol cans of yellow and black. (The now iconic blue and yellow packaging with the bright red cap, would not appear until the early 1960s) The response of the general public was positive and nearly immediate, and by 1960 the demand for WD-40 was so great, that the company employees, all of whom were now selling an average of forty-five cases a week from the trunks of their cars to local retailers who couldn’t keep the product on the shelves.

Time would prove that not only was Norm Larsen the chemist, also had pretty decent marketing instincts. Over the next half century or so, WD-40 become an internationally known phenomena Found in over 80% of homes world-wide and garnering an estimated worth of over billion dollars, in less than fifty years.

Not bad for a company that started out as a one room operation with just three employees!

In September of 1961, Life Magazine covered the devastation  of Hurricane Carla, and the Rocket Chemical Company employees came in on a Saturday to produce additional concentrate to meet the needs of it's victims along the Gulf Coast.
In September of 1961, Life Magazine covered the devastation of Hurricane Carla, and the Rocket Chemical Company employees came in on a Saturday to produce additional concentrate to meet the needs of it's victims along the Gulf Coast.

25 Uses For WD-40 You May Not Have Thought Of

1).
Remove Road Tar From Your Car
 
2).
Remove Rust Stains
 
3).
Remove Grease
 
4).
Remove Ink From Blue Jeans/Hands
 
5).
Removes Playdough From Hair
 
6).
Removes Adhesive Labels
 
7).
Cleans and Polishes Granite Counter Tops
 
8).
Cleans and Polishes Brass Headstones
 
9).
Adds Moisture and Preserves Ivory & Bone Items
 
10).
Spray on Hands Before Using Heavy Adhesives to Prevent Sticking
 
11).
Spray On Fingers To Make Smoother Finger Spinning Freestyle Frisbee Throws
 
12).
Removes Playdough From Hair
 
13).
Soften Stiff Leather Sandals, Baseball Gloves, & Skate Boots
 
14).
Spray Around Bottom Of Garbage Cans To Prevent Animals From Getting In
 
15).
Spray on Bathroom Mirrors to Prevent Fogging
 
16).
Spray Bottom of Chan Link Fence Around Garden To Keep Out Rodents & Rabbits
 
17).
Use a Full Can As A Paperweight
 
18).
Use 2 Full Cans As Bookends
 
19).
Use Bottom Of Can to Draw Pictures of Perfect Circles
 
20).
Use Can To Prop Open Window
 
21).
Spray On Watch Band To Prevent It From Pulling Out Arm Hairs
 
22).
Gives Bowling Balls Less Grab On Lanes
 
23).
Removes Crayons From Walls And Television Screens
 
24.)
Frees Stuck Legos
 
25).
Unclogs Shower Heads
 
John Steven Barry, President and CEO of the WD-40 Company from 1969-1990, under his guidance the company with only one product would become an international branding legend.
John Steven Barry, President and CEO of the WD-40 Company from 1969-1990, under his guidance the company with only one product would become an international branding legend. | Source

Hurricane Carla, John S. Barry, A Name Change, & Viet Nam

What do a category four hurricane, marketing legend John Steven Barry,and the Viet Nam War, all have in common? They are all key components in the marketing of WD-40 and each is responsible in their own way for the phenomenal and unprecedented growth in popularity that has resulted in making the little solvent that could an international household name, and in making a single product company into a branding legend.

Hurricane Carla September 11, 1961

In September of 1961, with demand for their solvent growing not only within the aerospace industry, but within the local retail market as well, The Rocket Chemical Company, which had with the hiring of four new employees the previous year, doubled in size to a work force of seven people, was beginning to look toward the future, and then Mother Nature stepped in to give them a helping hand in the form of a category five tropical cyclone, that turned into Hurricane Carla, and made its way toward the U.S. Gulf Coast.

On September 11, 1961, Hurricane Carla, a category four hurricane with sustained winds of between 88 - 115 mph, made land fall in between Port O'Connor and Port Lavaca, Texas. With wind gusts reported as high as 170 mph. The storm surge near the bays was measured as high as twenty-two feet, and in some places penetrated ten miles inland. The storm spawns twenty-six tornadoes, all of which touch down within the hurricane's area of circulation, one of which is an F4, that rips through the city of Galveston killing an estimated half a dozen people. One of the worst storms to ever hit the U.S., and the second most powerful storm to ever strike Texas. The evacuation of over 500,000 Texas residents is the all-time largest peacetime evacuation in history, and the damage, which totals in the billions, is reported all the way to the Mississippi River delta.

On the following Saturday, September 16, 1961, the first ever fully loaded truck of WD-40 departs San Diego, California. It is filled floor to ceiling with the concentrate that Rocket Chemical Company employees had sacrificed their weekend to produce, and was sent to the hurricane victims of the Gulf Coast region to help them recondition rain and flood damaged equipment and automobiles, giving the small San Diego company and it's one of a kind single product, its first taste of national recognition.

John Steven Barry,

WD-40 President & Chief Executive Officer

1969 - 1990

Following the death of its chief executive officer, Cy Irving, in 1969, The Rocket Chemical Company, replaces him by hiring his son-in-law, John Steven Barry.

John S. Barry was born in Minneapolis in 1924, and had earned a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Minnesota before enlisting in the United States Navy Officer Candidate Program, which allowed him to study at both Harvard and Columbia University. He eventually earned a master’s degree in business from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and shortly thereafter, went to work for 3M. He was later recalled by the Navy to serve during the Korean Conflict, but returned to 3M afterward, before replacing his father-in-law as the president and chief executive officer of the Rocket Chemical Company.

John Barry, who once said in an interview, (about WD-40), "we appear to be a manufacturer, but we are really a marketing company," was a marketing guy with great instincts, and under his leadership, the small San Diego company would flourish.

At the end of 1970, Barry's first full fiscal year, the company had a net worth of approximately $2 million dollars, and was being distributed to 1,200 wholesalers. Ten years later, in 1980, John Barry had increased its distribution to 14,000 wholesalers, and in 1990, the company's net worth was estimated to be at about $91 million. At the time of John S. Barry's death in July of 2009, nearly nineteen years after stepping down as the company's chief executive office, and nearly nine years after leaving his role as Chairman of the Board, WD-40 was reported to be on a shelf or in the garage of four out of every five American homes, and to be used in the work place by an astounding eighty-one percent of all professionals world-wide. The company, now known as the WD-40 Company, had risen to what is most likely far above the 1953 expectations of Norm Larsen and the three original investors of the Rocket Chemical Company, and was worth an estimated $317 billion.


How Did He Do It?

John Barry brought with him to the Rocket Chemical Company, not only his education and experience, but his incredible instinct for marketing. His expertise and vision for the future brought the small local company to the national and international level with a cohesive and stable marketing plan.

Citing the fact that the Rocket Chemical Company didn't actually make rockets, one of the very first actions taken by John Barry upon assuming the position of chief executive officer of the Rocket Chemical Company, was to change its name to reflect upon the company's only product. Next he cleaned up and changed the packaging, resulting in the iconic blue and yellow can with the little red cap that is now familiar all over the world. He increased the advertising budget, and began the push for an increase in distribution, including the push to get WD-40 into the supermarket aisles where he knew that people have a strong tendency to impulse buy, and an aggressive program of marketing in the foreign markets.

Knowing that word of mouth was the best kind of free advertising, John Barry was a believer in the power of the free sample, and used them often as a promotion tool. During the early 1970s, the newly christened WD-40 Company sent 10,000 free samples a month to soldiers entrenched in the jungles of Viet Nam to help maintain their weapons in the tropical climate.

Although John Barry was not with the company at the time of WD-40's creation, he was almost obsessively protective of not only the secret formula, but the trademark and packaging as well, and to that end, John Barry refused offers from big chain retailers such as Sears Roebuck, who had approached him about the possibility of private label distribution. In what was probably the riskiest and yet the smartest of all of the company's marketing maneuvers, the formula for WD-40 was never registered with the United States Patent Office. This meant that they would never have to publicly divulge the ingredients of the formula, allowing the secret recipe to remain a secret. This resulted in making WD-40, just like Kleenex or Band-Aid, synonymous with the product. So, even though companies like Dupont, and Mr. Barry's own former employer 3M were making comparable products, it was WD-40 that would claim the market share; something that John Barry would acknowledge in a statement given in both 1980 and 1988 interviews with Forbes Magazine in which he said (in reference to similar products being manufactured by competing companies; " what they don't have is the name."

WD-40 Goes Public, Becomes an Icon, Gains a Fan Club

Three years after John S. Barry took the helm at the Rocket Chemical Company, the company name had been changed, the packaging had been updated, and the first part of John Barry's marketing and distribution plan had been completed. Sales had grown to more than one million cans a week and it was time to take the company public. The WD-40 Company, Inc., listed as an Over the Counter, went public in 1973, and the stock price increased by sixty-one percent on the first day of listing.

In less than fifty years, a local small business with three employees, has risen to the top of the national and international heap, making history with the sales and marketing of its only product; a simple solvent with a top secret formula that is still packaged today in its iconic blue and yellow can with the bright red straw and cap. It may be the only product of its type whose customers devotion has spawned an international fan club that in 2006 was an astonishing 100,000 members strong, and thanks to the WD-40 Fan Club, what started out as a rust prevention solvent and degreaser to be used in the aerospace industry, now has a list of uses that is two-thousand plus and growing, and is featured in at least five books;The WD-40 Book, (featuring many user testimonialsand the wacky humor of the Duct Tape Guys) was published in 1997, The Big Damn Book of Sheer Manliness (1997, General Publishing), Polish Your Furniture With Panty Hose (1995, Hyperion), WD-40 For the Soul; The Guide to Fixing Everything (1999, TV Books), and Talking Dirty With the Queen of Clean.

All of which lends credence to WD-40's title as one of the all-time American Branding Legends.



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Comments 26 comments

delmer47 profile image

delmer47 5 years ago from Nebraska

The 25 suggested uses for WD-40 were priceless....thanks for sharing this! I love this type of stuff.....


K. Burns Darling profile image

K. Burns Darling 5 years ago from Orange County, California Author

@ delmer47 - Glad that you enjoyed it, and if you really like this type of stuff, stay tuned....My oldest and closest friends call me the Queen of Useless Information, (I don't think its useless, but what can you do?) I tend to get intrigued by something small, and then have to know all about it....The WD-40 piece, started because someone on Web Answers asked what WD-40 stood for, and of course, I had to find out, and in the process of finding out, I found out all this other stuff that I didn't know about WD-40, so I had to write a hub about it. LOL... Don't know what the next one will be, or when it will strike my fancy, but I guarantee it will! Thanks so much for the generosity of your time, and for your comments, they are always welcomed and deeply appreciated.

Thanks Again,

Kristen


Sylvia's Thoughts profile image

Sylvia's Thoughts 5 years ago from Southern California

I love this stuff! The purse size is great. It seems like I'm always finding ways to use it. Thanks K!


K. Burns Darling profile image

K. Burns Darling 5 years ago from Orange County, California Author

@ Sylvia's Thoughts - Thanks you for the generosity of your time and your comments, they are always welcome and appreciated!

Kristen


North Wind profile image

North Wind 5 years ago from The World (for now)

I am laughing out loud here, K! We use WD-40 in our household like that family in the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding used Windex!

It may sound bogus but whenever someone pulls a muscle or there is a creak in the knee, spraying and rubbing in a little WD-40 makes it all better!!! You are probably thinking that's crazy right? I know but it works!


Sharyn's Slant profile image

Sharyn's Slant 5 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

K,

What a great hub you created here. So much research - it's awesome. Just wondering if your next hub will be about duct tape? ha - maybe I'll do one? Seriously, great work!

Sharyn


K. Burns Darling profile image

K. Burns Darling 5 years ago from Orange County, California Author

@ North Wind -Both my dad and my grandfather were engineers at North American in the late 1950's (my grandfather), and my dad in the late 1960's (my father), they were part of the contingent of employees that were liberating cans of WD-40 and so from my earliest memories, there was always at least one can in the house.....The smell of WD-40 takes me back to following my dad around the garage on a Saturday afternoon....Glad that you enjoyed it! Thank you so much for the generosity of your time and your comment, they are always welcome and appreciated!

Kristen


K. Burns Darling profile image

K. Burns Darling 5 years ago from Orange County, California Author

@ Sharyn's Slant - So glad that you enjoyed it! Due to my dad's illness, I have been writing it for six weeks in five minute intervals....not very productive, thought I'd never finish it. Duct tape would be a good one! Thanks again for the generosity of your time and your comments, they are always welcome and appreciated!

Kristen


b. Malin profile image

b. Malin 5 years ago

Those 25 reason for the use of WD-40 will be Book Marked by Me, K.Burns and I Loved the Humor of #17, use as a paper weight! A Wonderful History Lesson, I truly Enjoyed this Hub. Thanks so much for sharing your research!


K. Burns Darling profile image

K. Burns Darling 5 years ago from Orange County, California Author

@b. Malin - There were over 2,000 uses listed on the WD-40 Fan Club page, I just tried to choose the ones that I thought were most unique. Glad to hear that you enjoyed it. Thanks so much for the generosity of your time and for your comments, they are deeply appreciated!

Thanks Again

Kristen


Truckstop Sally profile image

Truckstop Sally 5 years ago

Very interesting! Like bMalin, I loved your 25 uses. I did not know about the Hurricane Carla connection. I live near Galveston, and that event is quite a benchmark. Thanks for sharing!


K. Burns Darling profile image

K. Burns Darling 5 years ago from Orange County, California Author

@Truckstop Sally - I am always glad to be of service! Really happy that you enjoyed it! Thanks so much for the generosity of your time and your comments, they are both welcomed and deeply appreciated!

Thanks Again,

Kristen


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

So very interesting and thanks for sharing. As well as publishing our own work we gain so much by reading other salso, like I have done from this one.

Take care

Eiddwen.


pozycjonowanie 5 years ago from Wroclaw

in europe is very good brand, too


K. Burns Darling profile image

K. Burns Darling 5 years ago from Orange County, California Author

@Eiddewen - I am very glad that you enjoyed and learned something new from this, I learned a lot about it too! Thank you, as always for the generosity of your time, and for your comments, they are always welcomed and very apprecitated!

Thanks Again

Kristen


K. Burns Darling profile image

K. Burns Darling 5 years ago from Orange County, California Author

@pozycjonowanie - Thank you so much for the generosity of your time, and for your comments, they are always both welcomed and appreciated!

Kristen


Chatkath profile image

Chatkath 5 years ago from California

Wonderful information KBD - I have learned quite a bit from this outstanding Hub of yours! Being that my WD-40 can is about the only thing I can locate right now after moving it just might be used for even more things! Recipes anyone? lol Voted up and useful!


K. Burns Darling profile image

K. Burns Darling 5 years ago from Orange County, California Author

@ Charkath - They don't recommend eating it, but there are over 2000 uses listed on their website, and there is a rumor, that the company can't quite squash, but that they do not endorse, that WD-40 can be used to treat arthritis. Thank you as always for the generosity of your time, and for your comments, they are always welcomed and appreciated!

Kristen


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

This is positively fascinating! I had no idea the brand had such an interesting background. Thanks for sharing it!


K. Burns Darling profile image

K. Burns Darling 5 years ago from Orange County, California Author

@ Simone Smith - I didn't either, but someone asked if I knew what WD-40 stood for, (which I didn't), and I looked at my husband and said; "You know I am going to have to find out..." which of course led to all sorts of things I didn't know about WD-40, which I am pleased to be able to share here on Hub Pages...Thanks ever so much for the generosity of your time and your comments, they are always both welcomed and appreciated!

Kristen


Naomi's Banner profile image

Naomi's Banner 5 years ago from United States

Very uniquely interesting Hub! Thanks for sharing


K. Burns Darling profile image

K. Burns Darling 5 years ago from Orange County, California Author

@Naomi's Banner - Sometimes hubs come from the most innocent sounding questions....After being asked by a friend if I knew what WD-40 meant, I went looking for the answer, and was amazed all the stuff I found out. Glad that you enjoyed this. Thank you for the generosity of your time and your comments, they are both welcomed and appreciated!

Kristen


cathylynn99 profile image

cathylynn99 5 years ago from northeastern US

fascinating article, enjoyed it from start to finish, but it has some sentence structure problems. for example, check out the sentence that starts "the response of the general public."


K. Burns Darling profile image

K. Burns Darling 5 years ago from Orange County, California Author

@cathylynn99 - I went back and looked, and I see it. Sometimes when I am editing, I will miss things, and sometimes I will not catch them for quite a while. It always amazes me when I go back and look at something that I've read over and over and over again, and find something blatant just staring me in the face that I had never seen before. Thanks so much for the heads-up! Thank you also for the generosity of your time and for your comment, they are both welcomed and appreciated!

Kristen


epigramman profile image

epigramman 5 years ago

...I'm sure this could even improve epi-man's love life - lol lol and this is such an essential definitive hub on WD-40 - quite frankly there is not another one like it - that I will post this most beautiful and informative tribute on my Facebook page with a direct link back here - in one epi word, hubbravo!

lake erie time ontario canada 5:54am


K. Burns Darling profile image

K. Burns Darling 5 years ago from Orange County, California Author

@epigramman - Such lavish praise of someone that I so admire and respect is making me blush! Thank you!

Kristen

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