Sticking With It
Claim: Post-it Notes were invented from a glue no one could find a use for.
Origins: In 1968 Dr. Spence Silver, a research scientist for 3M, came up with an unusual adhesive. It formed itself into tiny spheres with a diameter of a paper fiber. The spheres would not dissolve, could not
be melted, and were very sticky individually. But because they made only intermittent contact, they did not stick very strongly when coated on tape backings.
It was interesting, it was different, and it was useless. Or so this invention was thought at the time.
In 1974 Art Fry, another 3M product development researcher, applied the possibilities of this oddball adhesive that wouldn't stay stuck to the problem he was having with his hymn book. Fry's bookmarks had an odd habit of fluttering out between services, leaving this member of a St. Paul, Minnesota, choir scrambling for his place during the second service. A ray of inspiration struck this frustrated choir member, and once back in the lab he set about testing this theory.
Could the "unglue" be the answer? If a strip of paper were given a light swipe with it up near one of the edges, would it result in a bookmark that would stay in place while it was needed, yet could be easily removed afterwards? And would this bookmark discolor or otherwise harm the pages of what it had been attached
Fry's "temporarily permanent" bookmarks proved an answer to his prayers — they functioned every bit as well as he'd hoped they would. Now a true believer, Fry set about convincing his higher ups at 3M of the value of this new product. They remained skeptical, however, and it took an unusual product trial to get them to see the limitless marketing benefits these new bookmarks offered.
In 1977, a selection of secretaries was provided with blocks of the new notes and left to do with them what they pleased. Which, it turned out, was a lot — the original notion of these little slips' serving as mere hymnal markers was quickly surpassed as necessity proved once again to be the mother of inventiveness. Secretaries came up with more uses for these little yellow notes than anyone dreamed possible. Moreover, they wanted to keep the notes once the trial was over, a sure sign 3M had found a very willing market for these little orphans.
By 1990, Post-it Notes were one of the five top-selling office-supply products in America.
Barbara "hitting a high note" Mikkelson
Last updated: 19 May 2011
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- Library of Curious and Unusual Facts: Inventive Genius.
- Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1991. ISBN 0-8094-7699-1 (p. 73).