By Gail Marsh
Chances are you have some in your desk drawer right now. Or perhaps there’s one on your refrigerator reminding you of needed grocery items. Post-it Notes are so common that it’s hard to envision a time without them. But this accidental invention was originally “a solution without a problem,” according to its inventor, Dr. Spenser Silver.
A sticky invention
Dr. Silver, a scientist at 3M laboratories in the late 1960s, was charged with the task of finding a super strong adhesive. “We wanted to develop bigger, stronger, tougher adhesives. This was none of these.” Instead, Silver invented an adhesive that could attach with very little pressure, hold, and then be removed without leaving behind any residue. Dr. Silver tried for years to figure out a use for his sticky invention but was unsuccessful.
Church choir practice?
If you had to guess how Dr. Silver’s adhesive finally gained popularity, you would probably never guess that it was a church choir practice that provided the impetus to bring Dr. Silver’s adhesive to the public. You see, another 3M scientist, Art Fry, sang in his church choir. Each Wednesday, at choir practice, Fry dutifully marked hymns that the choir planned to sing on the following Sunday. He put a scrap of paper at the appropriate places in his hymnal to help him locate the songs to be sung. The problem was that by the time Sunday came, all of Fry’s “bookmarks” had fallen out and the hymns were no longer marked. What Fry needed was a paper that would not fall out. He needed a paper that would stick to the hymn book’s pages, but not leave behind any kind of residue.
A Post-it Notes collaboration
Then Art Fry remembered Dr. Silver’s sticky invention—the solution without a problem. Could it be that Fry had identified a problem for Silver’s invention to solve? Soon Fry and Silver partnered together and developed much more than a paper bookmark! They gave prototypes of their invention to all of the 3M employees, and everybody loved them!
First launched as “Press ‘n Peel” notes, the cheery yellow adhesive notes were eventually marketed as we know them today: Post-it® Notes!
Bonus: Why the canary yellow color? The only scrap paper in the lab at the time was yellow. Now, of course, the famous sticky notes come in a variety of colors.
Do you carry Post-it Notes in your RV as you travel? How do you use them? Tell us in the comments, please.
More from Gail’s How it Happened column
- The history of our favorite fire-preventing Smokey Bear
- The cheerful Life is Good company
- The invention of the potato chip