The Great American Inventor of Self – Adhesive Labels

R. Stanton Avery was a quiet rebel. Born in 1907 into the house of a minister, he chose to study liberal arts in college rather than joining the church like his brother.

In 1929, he took a year off college along with friends, one of whom was from China, and they spent the year travelling through that vast country. 1929 was a tumultuous year in Chinese history. Avery witnessed a revolution, civil war, the sorry state of civil liberties in a state in flux, and a depth of poverty which he hadn’t seen before. This year would leave a lasting impact on him.

Back in California and in the midst of the Great Depression, Avery paid for his last year of tuition by working at the Midnight Mission, a non-profit which provided aid to the people living on the streets of Los Angeles. After college, he collected statistics on poverty for the Los Angeles County Department of Charities. While his life was about to take a more commercial turn, this concern for his fellow-human would be a continuing feature of this remarkable inventor’s life.

From Printing Church Posters to Labels and Stickers

In 1933, through a friend’s father, he took up a job in a company which manufactured stickers. As a young boy, he’d made pocket money by helping his father, the minister, run the small church printing press to make pamphlets and notices. Printing technology is also something which would become a central feature of Avery’s life.

Coming from generations of farmers and clockmakers, Avery learnt the new business and knew there had to be a better way to make stickers than the fairly manual process of the time. He tinkered with these ideas and along the way was engaged to Dorothy Durfee, a teacher. By 1935, he’d rigged up used parts and a sabre saw to invent the first ever automated die-cut, self-adhesive sticker machine. Dorothy took a $50 loan out using her Model A Ford car as collateral and the two went into the sticker business as partners. The company would change names and structures but it still exists today, still carrying the Avery name.

US2220071 drawings page 3
Image Courtesy –

Avery and Durfee were an inseparable pair, in business and in life. They grew their small company and would talk into the night about all their ideas and plans for their burgeoning business. But this isn’t just a business story. Avery now had a partner in his quiet rebellion.

During World War II, at the height of the discrimination and segregation against Japanese-Americans, the two of them took a Japanese couple into their home when they heard they were not getting any houses to rent. They stayed with them for a year. An ultimate act of bravery and defiance in the atmosphere of the time.

Stan and Dorothy paid all their employees the same salary and only took a little more than that as the owners of the company. They continued to support good causes and charities with their work and their money. After the unfortunate passing of Dorothy in 1964, a charitable foundation was set up in her name and the Durfee Foundation continues its good works to this day.

Stan Avery lived to the ripe old age of 90, passing  a month before his 91st birthday in December 1997. He continued to tinker and create new things till the very end and was ever the quiet rebel.

Hackover 2023 Sticker Box
Image Courtesy – Wikimedia Commons

So when you see those stickers on walls and protest signs, questioning the powers that be; When you see those bright pithy remarks standing up to the status quo on any taggable surface, or even when you just see a sticker of Bart Simpson saying “Eat My Shorts!”, know that the inventor of the self-adhesive sticker and his original partner in all things would be quietly pleased.

  1. Did you know that the rubber stamp was invented due to the fortuitous timing of the invention of anesthesia and the development of cheaper false teeth? Read the story here –
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