Why WD-40 Is Called WD-40

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We celebrate the big inventions all the time, but what about the little ones that make getting along in the tech-heavy world a little easier? Take WD-40. Its manufacturer claims you can use it for 2,000 tasks from repelling pigeons to untangling jewelry chains. I would also note (but not recommend) that paired with a long-handled lighter, it makes a hell of a DIY flamethrower. A product like WD-40 is basically a flexible app for the material world and it makes everything else run a little better.

The product's origin story is fantastic, too. WD-40 was created by three engineers at a fledgling aerospace outfit in San Diego with the awesome name, "Rocket Chemical Company." It took them 40 attempts to perfect the formula, the current head of innovation at WD-40 noted last week, and that's why the product is called WD-40. Water Displacement, number 40.

The first use for the product was sealing Atlas Missile's outer skin from rust and corrosion. It was only after employees snuck out some of the stuff to use at home that they thought about commercializing the formula.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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