Norman Bernard Larsen (1923 1970) was an industrial chemist whose most famous invention is WD-40, a penetrating oil. Born in Chicago in the 1920s, he had an insatiable desire to create things that would help make life easier for people. In his later years, his love of history inspired him to seek techniques to preserve antiquities, saving many treasures.
He invented WD-40 while attempting to concoct a formula to displace water, which was causing major problems in Atlas Rockets. Larsen's persistence paid off when he perfected the formula for the water displacer on his 40th try, hence the product name: WD-40.
A self-taught chemist with a background in the paint business, Larsen was just a high school graduate - everything he knew he learned by reading books. Much of his collection of antique chemistry books from the 18th and 19th centuries still survives today. When he died he had over a thousand books in his personal library.
When Larsen sold WD-40 and Rocket Chemical in the early-fifties for a mere $20,000 (no royalties, no residuals, as he believed he would always be able to invent something better), to Sam Crivello, Gene DeFalco, and two others, Larsen went to work for CRC Industries (not General Dynamics) as their head chemist (which is why their 5.56 formula is similar to WD-40).
He started his own manufacturing company and consulting firm a few years later outside Philadelphia, and created metal and wood preservation techniques for treasure hunter Mel Fisher, explorer Fred Dickinson of the Santa Maria Foundation, the Smithsonian Institution, the Marine Corps, where he came up with a pellet pack that was very useful in helping solve the gun jamming problem during the Vietnam War, and he was a consultant on the recovery of the 17th century Swedish ship the "Vasa".
Larsen also invented a very successful formula for hand cream, a hair restorer, and "Green Giant Udder Ointment", a petroleum jelly based ointment that was used to heal cow udders from the chafing of milking machines, but turned out to be an excellent healer for burns and all wounds.
He died in December 1970 at the age of 47, never realizing his dream of creating a product better than WD-40 for worldwide distribution. He did create a product called Free N' Kleen which actually was better than WD-40 or CRC , but a few years after his death the company went out of business, and the formula was lost.