John S. Barry, an executive largely responsible for the surge in popularity of WD-40, the lubricant so multipurpose it has at least 2,000 uses, died July 3 after battling pulmonary fibrosis, the NY Times reports. He was 84.
Barry became a part of Rocket Chemical Company after they were commissioned by aerospace companies to develop several degreasers and rust-prevention liquids. Their main project, a water displacement formula, took 40 attempts to perfect, and thus, the most famous lubricant in America was born. WD-40 “" “water displacement, formulation successful on 40th attempt.”
Soon after its invention the lubricant made a huge splash among aerospace companies, so large that employees stole cans from work to use in their own homes. The inventor of the lubricant, Norm Larsen, then had the idea to sell the miracle lubricant to the general public.
Barry became president and chief executive of Rocket Chemical in 1969, 10 years after the product first hit shelves in San Diego. Sales were consistently increasing, with new uses often being discovered by users in their own homes, however it was Barry who made WD-40 synonymous with lubricant.
Barry decided to change the name of Rocket Chemical to the WD-40 Company, dispelling all rumors that the company produced rockets. He works tirelessly to protect the formula, choosing not to patent it in order to keep it secret. He protected the company’s trademarks and the infamous yellow and blue can as signatures of WD-40.
Barry perfected the look and marketing of the product during his tenure as executive, and in a fantastic marketing move, sent 10,000 samples a month to soldiers during the Vietnam War to help keep their weapons dry. The company was seen as not only the manufacturer of a great product, but also one that values its country’s soldiers.
In less than 15 years, Barry helped to increase sales to wholesalers by almost 1,200 percent. In his first year as president, Rocket Chemical was selling to 1,200 wholesalers. By the early 80’s, the WD-40 Company was selling to more than 14,000.
Barry pushed to get the solvent into supermarkets and foreign markets. WD-40 Company’s annual sales shot up to $91 million by 1990, compared to just $2 million in 1970.‚ In it’s most recent fiscal year, they reported sales of $317 million in 160 countries.
“We may appear to be a manufacturing company, but in fact we are a marketing company” Barry once said to Forbes Magazine.
Barry leaves a lasting legacy not only in the success of WD-40 Company, but in his family as well. He is survived by Marian, his wife of 56 years; his two sons, Randy and Steve; his daughter, Deborah and his four grandchildren.