For John Pearson, a retired 3M scientist-turned-VP, it isn’t about the accolades. It’s about seeing your vision become real.
He lived just blocks from the then-headquarters and fostered an interest that would last a lifetime.
John, a chemical engineer, started his 3M career in the company’s tape laboratory operating an experimental coating machine to make tape samples. It was 1939, and resources were limited. “If you wanted to use the equipment,” says John, “it might mean coming in at midnight to get it.” He also worked from his shop at home where he built his own equipment as needed.
When the U.S. got involved in World War II, it brought a setback for the tape lab. “When the war started, crude rubber was embargoed and only used for military purposes,” says John. “All of 3M’s adhesives were based on crude rubber. Word came down from [then CEO William L.] McKnight that we should bend all our efforts into finding a substitute.”
Once again, John and his 3M colleagues got resourceful. He developed an adhesive polymer made from castor oil and citric acid. This resin was the basis for the first evolution of transparent tapes made without rubber.
He went on to develop two additional machines to make nonwoven swatches – one that he built in his basement and then moved to 3M.
John pieced another machine together in the garage of a 3M-owned building known as the Products Fabrication Laboratory – or Pro Fab Lab. During the war, they were unable to purchase new equipment. Instead, they ordered parts until they had all the components needed to build the machine.
In 1944, near the end of the war, John was drafted and went through training in Missouri. He was scheduled to go to Camp Pendleton and from there to the Pacific. About 24 hours before his scheduled deployment, John got new shipping orders. He remained in the U.S. and worked on a project where he could use his chemical engineering background.
After being discharged from the military, John returned to a prolific career at 3M. He worked on creating films from polyethylene, cellulose acetate and polyester. In 1957, John developed the technology of extruding films using a solventless process – melting the plastic and flattening it to form the tape backing. Previously, cellulose tape was cast, meaning a thick paste was spread out and the solvent evaporated to form a solid film.
John continued to invent and take on increasing responsibility. In 1951, he helped found the Tech Forum – a 3M grass-roots organization for scientists across all divisions of the company to share their expertise. The Tech Forum still exists today.
In 1973, he was inducted into 3M’s Carlton Society – which honors the very top members of the scientific community – for his contributions to engineering and film manufacturing processes.
John’s advice? “If something goes wrong, pick yourself up and go again. It’s not bad to fail – as long as you learn from it.”