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UA Success Story…by ACCIDENT! Post-it notes.

Leslie Brown

It is said that necessity is the mother of invention. Well, sometimes inventions come about in unusual ways too! Post-it notes came about as a collaboration by several different people, and some of it by accident.

Spencer Silver was working for the 3M corporation to develop a super strong adhesive for use in the aerospace industry. What he initially developed was strong, “not so much”. The implication for a mildly tacky adhesive would be of use in with a bulletin board of similar material. Bulletin board sales were sort of “meh” at the time, so the idea seemed to be a “dud”.

Another 3M employee, Art Fry, (I love this part!) thought to use some of the prototype notes in his church hymnal as he was often losing his place singing in the church choir. A note that left no residue on the paper, and didn’t damage the paper would be perfect! Two other 3M employees helped with the chemical “tweaking” of adhesive qualities that led to the final product.

After a marketing “fail” in 4 large cities, the “Boise Blitz” took place where free samples were distributed across the city so people could get their hands on the product and try it themselves. As they say, the rest is history, but it took TWELVE years of tenacity and “stick-to-it-ness”!

Post-it Note Trivia:

Ever wonder why the standard color for Post-It notes is yellow? It turns out this was kind of an accident as well. The official story from some at 3M is that it was because it created a “good emotional connection with users” and that it would “contrast well stuck to white paper”. However, according to Geoff Nicholson there was no such thought given to the color. The real reason Post-It notes were yellow was simply because the lab next door to where they were working on the Post-It note “had some scrap yellow paper – that’s why they were yellow; and when we went back and said ‘hey guys, you got any more scrap yellow paper?’ they said ‘you want any more go buy it yourself’, and that’s what we did, and that’s why they were yellow. To me it was another one of those incredible accidents. It was not thought out; nobody said they’d better be yellow rather than white because they would blend in – it was a pure accident.”

Another obstacle in the initial launch of Post-It notes was that, because it was a completely new type of product, it required the construction of new machinery to mass produce the Post-It note pads, which was initially prohibitively expensive for a product seen by many within 3M as destined for commercial failure.

While most Post-It notes only have a thin strip of adhesive, you can buy Post-It notes that are completely covered in the back with the adhesive. One example of a place this type of note is used is at the U.S. postal service. These full adhesive backed notes are used there on forwarded mail.
Post-It notes received an upgrade in 2003 when 3M launched a new version of the Post-It note with super sticky glue that has better adhesion to vertical surfaces.

Spencer Silver holds a total of 22 patents, including the patent for the “low-tack, reusable, pressure sensitive adhesive” used in Post-It notes (Patent#: 3,691,140). Silver is still working at 3M today in their special adhesives department. He also has a doctorate in organic chemistry, which he received two years before inventing the adhesive used in Post-It notes. On the side, his favorite past time is painting using pastels and oils, which he apparently is extremely accomplished at.

Post-It notes are occasionally used in art-work. One such famous example was in 2008 when Shay Hovell used 12,000 Post-It notes to create a replica of the Mona Lisa. The most expensive Post-It note art piece was done by R.B. Kitaj and sold for £640 (about $1000) in 2000.Art Fry received his early education in a one room schoolhouse. He studied chemistry at the University of Minnesota and was hired while still in school at the “Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company”, which later was re-named 3M. He retired from 3M in the early 1990s.

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