The team that invented Post-It notes!

What do you call it when you set out to do one thing and end up with exactly the opposite thing? A failure?

In 1968, Spencer Silver was working on formulating super-strong adhesives over at the 3M company, to stick airplane parts together. What he ended up inventing, quite by accident, was a very weak adhesive which was reusable and didn’t leave behind a residue. He knew he had something, but he didn’t quite know what it was yet.

Silver spent 5 years presenting his unexpected invention to his colleagues without making headway. Enter Geoff Nicholson, who was made products laboratory manager in 1973. Silver stepped into his office with samples of the adhesive and a plan for a product. His idea was to create a sticky notice board which could temporarily hold any paper. The problem: people didn’t buy too many notice boards regularly. So Silver’s low-tack adhesive remained an unsolved enigma.

Art Fry, a product development engineer would be the one to solve this problem, not through his chemical engineering expertise at work, but rather during his off hours as part of a church choir. Fry commonly lost songs in his hymn book because his page markers wouldn’t stay where he put them. He applied Silver’s adhesive to the bookmarks and that was the answer. The adhesive needed to go on the paper, which could then stick to anything. That was the turning point.

512px Fry lightbulb on forehead1
Arthur Fry, Co – Creator, Post – It Notes.
Image Courtesy – Wikimedia Commons

Now this growing informal 3M crew had a solution and a problem to solve, but some details were still, no pun intended, a little sticky. The sprayed-on glue allowed the paper to be peeled off, but the glue sometimes peeled off the paper in the process. The adhesive needed to adhere to the paper better.

This was solved by Roger Merrill and Henry Courtney, who were brought in to create a coating for the paper which would hold the adhesive in place. They did that and a working model of the sticky note was born. Unfortunately, no one thought it was a viable product and it languished for 3 years.

In 1977, 3M ran a sales test in a few cities, calling the product “Press‘n Peel”. It was a failure because no one seemed to want to buy it. No one knew what it was for.

Thankfully, Geoff Nicholson and his boss Joe Ramey didn’t want to give up just yet. The sticky note was a hit within 3M. They realised people didn’t know how good it was because it was new and not marketed well. They launched a flood of free samples in offices in Boise, Idaho and the order numbers that followed were staggering.

post it notes 1284667 1280
Image Courtesy – Pixabay

Two years later Post-It was released all over the US, and sticky notes continue to be one of the most loved and bestselling office supplies across the World.

Post it 2020.svg
Image Courtesy – Wikimedia Commons

Spencer Silver retired in 1996, holding 22 patents to his name. One of them was for “low-tack, reusable, pressure sensitive adhesive” which makes Post-It notes stick to it, but not too much.

  1. We test the popular Fevicol MR Adhesive Glue in this video –
  2. Learn how to make recycled paper at home in this video –
Share your stationery love