A sticky business

THE MATERIAL WORLD The Post-It is that rare thing: a genuine invention. In marketing terms, the Post-It met an 'unperceived need' - no one could see the point of it

It is a Sunday in 1974 in St Paul, Minnesota, and Arthur Fry, a chemical engineer who sings for the choir at his local Presbyterian church, is once again annoyed with his hymn book. There are two Sunday services and Fry marks the pages in his hymnal in the time-honoured way, with scraps of paper. But they fall out. Why, he wonders, has no one ever invented a sticky bookmark? Eureka!

All glued up and nowhere to go

During the week, Fry worked in the product development division of the American company 3M. On the Monday following his brainstorm, he dug out the formula for an unusual adhesive developed by another 3M scientist, Dr Spencer Silver. This glue had "low tack", which means that it stuck but didn't bond tightly. Its outstanding feature was that it could be peeled off without leaving any trace. Dr Silver had thought his "unglue" was interesting enough to demonstrate it to his colleagues, but none of them could think of a use for it.

Taking advantage of a policy called "bootlegging", which allowed researchers to spend 15 per cent of their time on their own projects (the theory being that this fostered inventiveness), Fry began to experiment. After many hymn book pages had been glued inseparably together, he came up with a "repositionable" note that we would recognise as a Post-It, but which the marketing department at 3M saw as an unsaleable curiosity.

The Post-It is that rare thing: a genuine invention. New products constantly appear, but nearly all of them are refinements of earlier versions of the same thing. In marketing terms, the Post-It met an "unperceived need" - no one could see the point of it.

But 3M, as a company, embraces innovation. Its boast is that at any time, 30 per cent of its sales derive from products that are less than four years old. Founded in 1902 as the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, it built a fortune making different kinds of sandpaper, and developed a reputation for being good at coating things with adhesive. It was a 3M lab assistant, Richard Drew, who invented first masking tape and then Scotch tape in the Twenties. The company now produces 900 different kinds of sticky tape (along with 60,000 other products) so sticky notes weren't a completely alien idea.

They went ahead with test-marketing, but the results were disappointing. Then someone noticed that, where free samples had been handed out, sales had been very good. This observation probably saved the yellow sticker from obscurity.

Message magic

Post-It notes - so called because of the American use of the term "post", meaning to stick up a notice - were launched in the US in 1979 and in Europe in 1981. They are now available in most of the 61 countries where 3M operates. Manufactured in giant rolls which are gummed, then trimmed to size, they sell by the millions. There are dozens of different shapes and sizes, 18 colours and 20 fragrances (fragrance encapsulation, which enables you to peel and sniff perfume advertisements, being another 3M technology). Post-It notes are now among the five top selling 3M products.

Art Fry, now retired, has made no money from Post-Its, but he has become a minor celebrity, featuring in Gap advertisements, that sort of thing. His brainchild must take its place alongside the fax machine, the mobile phone and the Internet as one of the great tools of the communications revolution. The technology - that strip of unglue - may be simple, but Post-It notes have altered the way we exchange messages. And they can't break down, or get lost in cyberspace

Suggested Topics
News
people Biographer says cinema’s enduring sex symbol led a secret troubled life
News
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
News
people

Kirstie Allsopp has waded into the female fertility debate again

News
In 2006, Pluto was reclassified as a 'dwarf planet'
scienceBut will it be reinstated?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
people
News
Researchers say a diet of fatty foods could impede smell abilities
scienceMeasuring the sense may predict a person's lifespan
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
News
Gillian Anderson was paid less than her male co-star David Duchovny for three years while she was in the The X-Files until she protested and was given the same salary
people

Gillian Anderson lays into gender disparity in Hollywood

Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Life and Style
fashionThe Secret Angels all take home huge sums - but who earns the most?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsA Welsh town has changed its name - and a prize if you can notice how
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    KS1 and KS2 Primary NQT Job in Lancaster Area

    £85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

    DT Teacher - Resistant Materials

    £33000 - £34000 per annum: Randstad Education Group: Technology Teacher (Resis...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission, 1st yr OTE £30-£40k : SThree:...

    Middleware Support Analyst

    £45000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

    Day In a Page

    Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

    Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

    A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
    An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

    An app for the amorous

    Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

    Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
    She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

    She's having a laugh

    Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

    Let there be light

    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
    Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

    Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

    Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
    Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

    A look to the future

    It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
    The 10 best bedspreads

    The 10 best bedspreads

    Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
    Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

    Arsenal vs Galatasaray

    Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
    Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?