Mental Floss

The Stories Behind Curiously Named Products

Kara Kovalchik
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John Barry, the CEO of WD-40 Company, Inc., passed away recently at the age of 84. He didn't invent the degreaser/rust preventative, but he turned it into a household name. When Barry joined Rocket Chemical Company in 1969, one of his first orders of business was to change the name of the company. "We don't sell rockets, we sell WD-40." At the time, employees were selling the product out of the trunks of their cars; Barry's name change finally identified the company with the product, and within one year sales increased to $2 million. The company posted $317 million in sales in the most recent fiscal year.

About that name"¦Norm Larsen, the man who concocted the formula, was trying to create a spray that repelled water and prevented corrosion. The "WD" stands for Water Displacement "“ the basic purpose of the product. It took Larsen many experiments and trial runs before he found the perfect formulation on the 40th attempt. So that name makes perfect sense in retrospect, and it made us wonder if other similarly-named products also had logical explanations behind their monikers"¦

Heinz 57 Varieties

HEINZ
HEINZ /

Preparation H

Prep-H
Prep-H /

Stand-up comedians and Austin Powers would have us believe that, much like WD-40, Preparations A through G were failures and H was the winning formula. However, that's not the case. In fact, this case is far more complex, while the name is ultimately simple.

Once upon a time, there was an over-the-counter "cure-all" in a tube called Sperti Ointment. (If you're old enough, you may remember Grandma always treating your cuts, scrapes and burns with Sperti Ointment.) George Sperti patented several inventions while still an undergrad at the University of Cincinnati, and despite tempting offers from large corporations, he remained at UC after graduation and founded a research laboratory on campus. While researching cancer treatments, Sperti discovered a cell derivative to stimulate healthy-cell growth and used it in the healing ointment that eventually bore his name. One of the main active ingredients in his formula was live yeast cell derivative, which the FDA eventually banned due to clinical testing irregularities. The ointment minus the LYCD was re-packaged as a hemorrhoid treatment called Preparation H. The H stands for hemorrhoid, supposedly a reminder for old-school consumers not to spread the gel on their chapped lips. (By the way, Canadian and European tubes of Preparation H still contain LYCD, and is the stuff that fashion models spread on their faces to avoid wrinkles and under-eye bags.)

Product 19

product-19
product-19 /

This toasted corn, oat, wheat and rice Kellogg's cereal has always been promoted as being packed with multiple vitamins and minerals "“ perhaps a total of 19 such supplements? Nope. It was the 19th new product the company introduced to the market that year.

Absorbine Jr.

absorbine
absorbine /

Formula 409

409
409 /
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