Share |

Willard's Water

Editor's Note: Bill Willard passed away in 2009, and John Willard Jr. has retired from CAW industries. John Willard III is now president of the family business. This story is revised from the May/June 1994 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call 800-456-5117. 

Dr. Willard in his classroom at the South Dakota School of Mines. Photos courtesy of CAW Industries.

The absent-minded professor who invented Willard Water has been gone for years, but perhaps the best testimonial to his most famous invention is the fact that it is still being used on plants and animals and humans all over the world.

When Dr. John "Doc" Willard died in November of 1991 at age 84, friends and customers wondered what might become of the "super water" he developed in the 1930s as a cleaning agent. "Doc" Willard was not a shrewd businessman. He was too busy studying his product. He had a knack for showmanship, but plenty of scientific diplomas to keep people from calling him a snake oil salesman. His biggest public relations coup came in 1980 when Harry Reasoner of CBS' "60 Minutes" came to Rapid City and did a feature on Willard Water. Although the cynical Reasoner poked a little fun at the water's reputation, his report was basically positive and sales skyrocketed. Doc Willard became an overnight celebrity. 

But "Doc's" biggest asset — his scientific background — may have also been a limitation. Because he was a scientist, he hesitated to let anyone else test his product. He went about the research in his own methodical way — slowly and painstakingly and without credibility because he had an obvious vested interest.

After Willard’s death, the business known as CAW Industries was operated by the old scientist's two sons. John Jr. handled sales and marketing and Bill oversaw production. "Dad was a brilliant scientist and one of the world's worst businessmen," laughed John when we spoke with him in 1994. "He caused me a lot of grief over the years." John said his dad wanted the business to stay small so he could have total control over research, production and marketing. "He was proud to have it as a family business. This kind of enterprise attracts every kind of con man in the United States and dad hated that part of it.  Dad was an inventor first, and that was all he had on his mind. He just wanted to help people in South Dakota but he never did get it off the ground. You had to know him to understand. He never did have a lot of tact."

In fact, it wasn't until the "60 Minutes" show was televised that John and Bill became active in the business. "When that aired, it was total chaos,” John said. “The only thing that saved us was that my wife comes from a large family and they all helped us. Dad didn't even have an office back then. He didn't have any employees. Then in the next year he did over $900,000 in sales." 

Dr. Willard with Harry Reasoner in 1980.

The Willard brothers moved the business into the Rushmore Industrial Park in the early 1990s. Their shiny, clean lab looks like a modern cheese plant. Large water tanks are used to blend the chemicals. It takes a day to do a batch of 300 gallons, and they have the capability of producing up to 1,000 gallons a day. Annually, CAW Industries produce up to 14,000 gallons of Willard Water.

The water is composed of sodium silicate, calcium chloride, magnesium sulfate and sulfated castor oil. The ingredients are combined in a process which makes a caloric particle. The particle has an electrical field surrounding it which polarizes the water, creating an arrangement of water molecules to each other in space that makes it more reactive.

Actually, there are two versions — Dr. Willard's Water Clear and Dr. Willard's Water XXX (Dark). The dark version contains activated carbon, amino acid, organic trace minerals and other ingredients from lignite coal deposits in North Dakota. In layman's terms, said John, Willard's Water is wetter than normal. It does the same thing water normally does, like cleaning or fertilizing, but does it quicker. They market the water in everything from gallon jugs to four-ounce bottles. Customers are instructed to mix one ounce of Dr. Willard's Water with one gallon of regular water to form a working solution they call Catalyst Altered Water (CAW). CAW can be drank, mixed with your shampoo, poured over burns, sprayed on the body, used as a cleaner, sprayed on plants or used "in just about any way you might normally use water," explained John.

Although the sons were more aggressive in business than their father — with the exception of the Reasoner report which he handled masterfully — they shared his belief in the product. "Dad used to refer to his water as 'serendipity' and I've tried to understand what he meant by that. To him it meant 'something that happens out of the ordinary that's good.'"

John overcame an occasional stutter and performed the speaking engagements his father once handled. He enjoyed telling people about the water. But he watched his words carefully, in print and in person. "We are very careful about what we claim the water will do, mainly so we don't get afoul of the FDA or USDA or any other agency of government. Our business is mostly word of mouth." 

And that's working pretty well. When we visited the Willards in 1994, Earl and Sara Murray of Sturgis stopped by the plant to buy a pint of Willard's Water. They immediately began praising its benefits. If we hadn't been an hour early for the interview, it would have looked like a set-up. But the Murrays, conservative ranch folks who skip the nonsense, didn't look like they'd be part of any such scheme anyway. And neither do the Willards. But they would have made a good advertisement.

The packaging has changed since Dr. Willard's days, but the product has not.

When Willard Water users made claims about the product’s benefits, John often thought back to the day when his father first had an inkling there might be something more to the water than its cleansing properties. "He was working in his home lab and burned himself. He put his hand in a bucket of the CAW water and immediately the pain was gone.” Dr. Willard originally came upon the water as an answer to removing pollutants from coal-fired smokestacks. "Dad's dream was to do something for the environment," John says. Nobody knows for certain, but his compulsion to help people and the environment may have been heightened due to the ill effects which resulted from some of his early scientific works, namely the deadly Manhattan Project which resulted in nuclear weaponry.

Dr. Willard was born in Iowa and grew up in Madison, where he attended Eastern State Teachers College. In 1928, he married Gwennethe Drake, a nurse, and became a research chemist for DuPont. Among other things, he invented safety glass. He organized his own chemical company before returning to school and receiving a Ph.D. from Purdue in 1940.

While teaching at the Virginia Military Institute, he consulted on the Manhattan Project. He was commissioned in the U.S. Army Chemical Warfare Division. Following the war, he returned to South Dakota and became a chemistry professor at SDSMT in Rapid City.

One of his colleagues, the late Jack Gaines, remembered Willard’s devotion to education by saying, “He was very well respected. He taught nearly all the freshmen and he was just a beloved teacher. Nothing fancy. But a good teacher and a fine gentleman. Sometimes he had 100 to 150 students in class, and fortunately he had one of the biggest offices because it was often full of students.”

Dr. Willard retired from the School of Mines in 1973 to devote all his energies to development of his "super water." His wife died in 1969. Dr. Willard’s grandson, John Willard III, has been running the company since John Jr. retired and Bill’s death in 2009. Despite all the changes, CAW Industries will probably always be affected by the spirit of Dr. Willard. "After dad died I made a lot of changes," admitted John Jr. "And I often wondered if he approved of the way I was doing things. I think he did because deep down, we wanted to help the people of South Dakota and the world just like he did."

One thing that won't change at CAW Industries is the water. Their loyal customers say it's working just fine.


07:51 pm - Wed, March 21 2012
Dan Wallbaum said:
I enjoyed your story on Doc Willard. He was my advisor when I was a freshman at the Mines in 1956. He was like a father to many kids. I remember having many talks with him as I tried to figure out "his Chemistry". He wrote the book we used and it was something else. Great memories...
04:06 pm - Mon, August 20 2012
Dar Brandon said:
Great story on Dr. Willard. In the mid seventies got a case of shingles. A big patch of horrid, itchy bumps under the arm, then it would move to the waist, then to another place. I tried every ointment, lotion imaginable to no avail until I happened on a bottle of Willard's Water which I had no idea what it was. As it turned out it was the only thing that gave about 75% relief to the agonizing itch until it finished its course.
10:15 pm - Sat, July 9 2016
Dawn Mitchell said:
I first read about Willard Water in a Dog Journal newsletter I get. My Mother had a heart attack in 2008 and I told her about Willard Water, she ordered a bottle and has been drinking Willard Water ever since. She is 91 years young and in Good Physical shape. She will say, she believes Willard Water is what's keeping her alive, she Tells everybody about it, that it's the Only Thing She Drinks.
Thank you so much, I'm happy I came across that article.
04:25 am - Thu, May 17 2018
m lieber said:
how is willard/willard's water packaged? not in plastic I hope. Plastic is toxic.
10:53 am - Sat, July 11 2020
I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis at 30 yrs of age, tried different naturopathic remedies, chiropractic, cranial-sacral work, even moved to AZ a warmer climate. At 42 I was taking 2 aspirin every 4 hrs, I was introduced to Willard water, and it was the only medication for arthritis that I ever used from then on.!!!
I never took any prescription drugs and still don't. I am now 80 yrs and have the use of all my muscles and joints and in better health than any 60 yr old.
03:41 am - Tue, November 16 2021
Robert Milian said:
On a Friday, my dentist removed a molar and because of of small hole in that area, he filed a bit of the bone area there and added more bone matter to fill up the hole and then sutured it. Running late, he went to his next patient and didn't tell me about the pain medication and and antibiotics he prescribed, his nurse told me the dos and dont's for the next few days and I went home, my mouth being numb and all. Fortunately I had mixed a batch of Willard's Water and when I got home I drank some, keeping it in my mouth for about 10 seconds and swallowing. I repeated this twice Friday night (don't know why) but I did it again on Saturday and then on Sunday. On Monday, I didn't take any Willard's Water and went to work. By the afternoon my mouth was aching so much (about an 8 on a scale of 10) that I called my dentist's office and began chastising them for not giving me the meds I needed. Upon checking they did sent the prescriptions to the pharmacy but no one had bothered to tell me.
Anyway just to tell that for that entire weekend Without Meds, I was pain free thanks to Willard's Water.
06:56 pm - Wed, November 2 2022
“be drank” → “be drunk”

01:17 pm - Sun, January 14 2024
John Fry said:
I have been using Doc's water since around 1990 and have gifted it to friends ever since. I have had outstanding experiences with Willard Water and burns. A friend preheated a cast-iron skillet in her oven to 400-degrees. She took it out and put it on the stovetop and a few seconds later she forgot to use a potholder. She lifted, then dropped it, and was in burn-shock immediately. My wife called out to the backyard where I was hanging out with her husband, asking if I had any Willard Water in the truck. I always carry it and was in the kitchen within a minute to spray it on our friend’s palm. She was trembling and her hand was turning red. Within a few sprays, she looked at me like I had landed from Mars, as her pain had almost immediately subsided. She continued spraying intermittently as they went about preparing our meal, and within a couple of hours after the meal, she was A-OK. A gallon of Willard Water Concentrate made a nice gift for her a few months later. Then one day I pressed my forearm on the exhaust stack of a dump truck. I heard the sizzle and tasted metal. It was likely an 800-degree burn. Spraying it got me through the unloading of limestone but I had to go into the house and soak it in a pan for total pain relief. I did two-hour sessions six times in the next three days. Almost zero pain, no blister, and ultimately no scarring. I think Doc called that "Healing by First Intention," one cell layer at a time. It was a three-inch wound, just under my elbow. After a few weeks the skin on the surface flaked away to reveal rosy pink new skin below. There are many less-intense stories like a potato exploding on a friend, the steam burning the web between her fingers, or those serious sunburns with blistering greatly relieved by spraying Doc's water on them. And for gardening, it is the cat's meow. I have a hundred stories there. Thanks Doc, we love you.

Share your thoughts, post a comment to this story:

Your Name:
Your Email Address:  
Your Website:
2000 characters remaining
Web Design by Buildable