The 39 Failures

Back in 1953, the Rocket Chemical Company was a three-person shop.

The three – Norman Larsen, Gordon Dawson, and John Gregory – operated out of a small building on Napa Street in San Diego. In that small building, those three were trying to find a way to prevent rust.

(Rust, for those among us who are not chemists, is typically prevented through a water displacement process.)

If they could get it right, it would be of tremendous use to the aerospace industry. The only thing was getting it right.

They tried one formula, then another, another, another. In their lab book, they wrote down the name of each attempt using an abbreviation for water displacement and the attempt number.

The number of attempts grew and grew and grew in that small building on Napa Street.

Until one day, they nailed it. The formula worked. It took 39 failures.

And the name of the attempt they wrote down that day in their lab book? WD-40.

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