1. A noteworthy discovery leads to an iconic invention
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  • A noteworthy discovery leads to an iconic invention

    By Eliot Popko, 3M Videographer and Sue Casement, 3M Storyteller

    Art Fry shows an original stack of Post-it® Notes
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    A serendipitous discovery in the lab, paired with a need from a church choir member, led to what is today a cultural phenomenon.

    • Spencer Silver was studying adhesives in his 3M lab in 1968 when he made a discovery that would have an enduring impact on how people share and organize their ideas.

      “I was doing an experiment that was kind of off-the-cuff,” he says. “What my wife calls improv chemistry.” He detected an adhesive that turned into spheres rather than the usual film.

    • Historic photo of Art Fry and Spencer Silver

      “I knew this was absolutely unique,” he says. He shared his findings with the 3M technical community, but didn’t hit upon an immediate need.

      About five years later, another 3M scientist, Art Fry, was a singing in a church choir. He was using scraps of paper as bookmarks and got frustrated when the pieces kept falling to the floor. Art knew he needed to create a bookmark that would stick, but not too much. Every adhesive he tried in his lab tore the paper and removed the print from books. But he remembered a useful piece of information he had learned about on the golf course with some colleagues – Spence Silver had a microspherical adhesive that just might fit the bill.

      Put to the test

      Art contacted Spence and got a sample of the adhesive. He starting tinkering with the spacing of the spheres that he coated on the paper. He even built his own paper-coating system in his lab and developed a primer formulation to bond the adhesive particles to the paper. At last – success. “Spence’s adhesive was most useful for making paper adhere to paper and a whole lot of other surfaces,” said Art. “Yet, it wasn’t so sticky that it would damage those surfaces when it pulled off.”

      As he was testing the notes, he started adding messages on the paper and realized something. “This isn’t just a bookmark,” he said. “This is a whole new way to communicate.”

    “There is no such thing as an accident in science.” – Spencer Silver, Post-it® Note co-inventor

    • Stacks of Post-it® Brand products in Art Fry’s home, including one of the bookmarks he was inspired to create

      Art and the marketing team stuck close to home for their first trial. They gave samples to 3M executives and their administrative assistants. The popularity and number of times they used the notes predicted huge sales. So, the team used the same methodology – handing out free samples – in five cities and saw impressive results. In 1980, the team introduced Post-it® Notes nationally.

      My, how you’ve grown

      Almost 40 years later, the Post-it® Note has evolved and become ingrained in our culture. Today, they are so much more than a clever bookmark or useful communication tool. People around the world use these multi-colored pieces of sticky paper as a tool for brainstorming, studying, or getting themselves organized. Some have even used them to create ornate pieces of art or to play an elaborate prank.

    Get some tips for sparking creativity, breaking down tough projects, making studying more productive and more.