A chemical engineer and the invention of the Post-it Note (Day 170)

Our stationary supplies would not be the same without the Post-it note. Imagine if we couldn’t bookmark our pages as easily, or write reminders to ourselves and co-workers – life would be less organised, and perhaps less colourful.

Post-it notes are available nowadays in a range of sizes, colours, and even fragrances with sales of the product estimated to be US$ 1 billion per year.

Post-it NotesAt IChemE, we even use jigsaw shaped Post-it notes as a method of engaging with our members through our technical strategy, Chemical Engineering Matters. I even flew to the other side of the world to attend the Chemeca 2014 conference in Perth, Australia, with a supply of Post-it notes safely packed in my luggage.

The company that invented Post-it notes was 3M, and in fact, it was a chemical engineer called Arthur Fry who thought up the genius idea of the sticky notes we know and love.

It took over a decade for Post-it notes to be released to the market from its inception. The invention of the Post-it started in the 1968 when Spencer Silver, a senior chemist at 3M, was conducting experiments in order to develop a strong acrylate copolymer-based adhesive for the aerospace industry.

What he did create was not suitable for the aerospace industry as he had developed a high tack adhesive with low peel adhesion i.e. the adhesive could be easily removed from the surface it had stuck to.

Unfortunately, Spencer did not find a suitable use or product for the new adhesive, so instead he spread the message about the unusual glue amongst his colleagues in the hope that someone would find an application for it.

And this is where Arthur Fry came in. As a product engineer within 3M’s new product development team, Arthur had attended a seminar on the new adhesive, which was of course run by Spencer.

It was during choir practice at his local church that Arthur came up with the perfect application of the glue. To mark the pages in his work book, Arthur would use bookmarks, but they would often fall out or move around and so inevitably, Arthur would lose his place during practice.

Arthur identified that the high tack, low adhesive glue could be used to mark his place in his choir book without damaging the pages. And after some experimentation by Arthur and Spencer, the Post-it note was invented.

Post it - single3M didn’t initially think that the product would sell according to their market research, so Arthur distributed the Post-it notes internally within the company to dispel any doubts that management had at that time. Post-it notes were used extensively within 3M and soon managers were sold on the idea.

It took another few years for the product to come to market because of technical problems within the manufacturing process, but when it did in April 1980, it became an overnight success and was consequently found in most offices across the US, and then the world.

So it just goes to show that an idea from a chemical engineer trying to solve a small problem can have significant uses for all of us, and without that ‘eureka’ moment at Arthur’s choir practice, the way we remind ourselves or scribble down notes would be completely different.

One thought on “A chemical engineer and the invention of the Post-it Note (Day 170)

  1. The best Eureka moments come when you are somewhere else. Getting out of the office and going for a walk, to choir practice etc. is always a good idea.

    This is why lunch breaks are so important. Lunch is not for wimps but for people to be more creative. In my opinion engineers who do not take a lunch break should be asked to find alternative employment.

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