We may appear to be a manufacturing company, but in fact we are a marketing company.
-- John S. Barry, president of the WD-40 Company, Forbes interview
It's been said the only two absolute essentials in any toolkit are duct tape and WD-40. John S. Barry, the man who figured out how to turn a mixture of oil and water into an enterprise worth a third of a billion dollars annually, died last month at age 84. According to his well-earned obituary in the New York Times, his WD-40 can be found "in as many as 80 percent of American homes" and has "at least 2,000 uses."
Mr. Barry joined the San Diego-based Rocket Chemical Company nearly 20 years after the product had been invented by the then three-person staff. It was originally designed as a rust-prevention solvent -- the "WD" stands for "Water Displacement" and the "40" refers to the 40th (and final!) attempt to perfect the formula. Early on, while it was being used to prevent corrosion from damaging the skin of early Atlas rockets, General Dynamics technicians would sneak out cans of WD-40 to use at home.
When he joined the company in 1968, Barry's first astute move, of many, was to change the name from the Rocket Chemical Company to the WD-40 Company. He never patented the product, since that would have meant revealing the formula. And he pushed for greater distribution: Sales of $2 million in 1970 mushroomed; today, WD-40 has annual sales of more than $300 million worldwide.
So about those 2,000 uses -- here's a sample: Getting pythons to uncoil themselves from bus undercarriages. Unsticking tongues stuck to cold metal. Making golf balls fly farther (by cutting down on wind resistance). Repelling mosquitoes. Removing sticky labels from glasses and chinaware. Making dull paint shiny again. Fixing frozen door locks. Alleviating arthritis pain. De-snagging toilet chains. Making light bulbs easy to remove (spray the bases before installing). Removing your kids' Crayola wall paintings. Subbing as cheap aftershave.
And this (from the NYT website): "WD-40 is a proof of God's love and his intricate care in Creation: why else would fish like the taste of WD-40 on fishing lures? Evolution cannot explain this, of course."
Despite dire warnings from bicycle mechanics, Barry Evans has been spraying bike chains with WD-40 for 40 years. He lives in Old Town Eureka.