Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Better living through chemistry

WD-40. An essential item for toolboxes across America. It's perfect for loosening up hinges, lubricating joints, and cleaning off rust and dirt. It also has countless other uses around the house, garage, and workshop. Additionally, small quantities have been shown to cure the rickets. Despite its utility and ubiquity, few would guess that this product owes its existence to the space race.

During the days of the Mercury space missions in the early fifties, the Atlas rockets used in those launches were highly vulnerable to rust.

Norm Larsen, a self-taught chemist from Chicago, was one of many who attempted to fix the problem. After trying out 39 variations of a chemical water displacer, Larsen concocted a successful formula on the 40th try and founded the Rocket Chemical Company to market his product. General Dynamics, the manufacturer of the Atlas rockets, was soon using Larsen's creation. It was called WD-40, for "Water Displacer-40."

Sadly, the Rocket Chemical Company changed it's name to the far more prosaic WD-40 Company in 1969. To this day, the exact composition of WD-40 remains unknown, much like the secret recipe for Coca-Cola.

This may be more than coincidence.

Would you like to know more?
-Listen to this BBC World Service report
-Visit WD-40's homepage and behold the 2000 uses of this fine product.


  1. Plus it kills vampires and varnishes your scuffed floor.

  2. From the person who brought you boris karloff in his kitchen:

    Getting older in america: