Did you know? 40 years of post-it notes


From failed experiment to landmark innovation thanks to inspiration and coincidence


I was looking for an idea for a new Facebook post and discovered that the post-it note was celebrating its 40th anniversary. Actually, I was just going to check whether that information was really correct and thus I discovered by coincidence the interesting story of the invention of this popular office item, and I find it so exciting that I will summarize it here:

A note with a special adhesive that can be removed easily and without leaving traces – nobody needs such nonsense! That was one of many misconceptions at the beginning of the success story of the post-it notes in Minnesota, US.

In 1968, scientist Dr. Spencer Silver attempted to develop a special adhesive at the central lab of 3M Company. His adhesive was supposed to be stronger than any other. The result of his work, however, was an adhesive material that stuck on all surfaces but could be removed just as easily. The only product derived therefrom was a kind of pinboard that was supposed to work without pins. It was a failure that was soon withdrawn from sale and the invention of Spencer Silver was forgotten.

It was by coincidence that a colleague of Dr. Silver remembered the idea about ten years later during church service. Arthur Fry, an enthusiastic singer at church choir had been repeatedly irritated by the fact that his bookmarks slipped from his hymn book while standing and he remembered his friend’s adhesive.

So Arthur Fry got to work. He got strips of paper and samples of Spencer Silver’s adhesive and about 18 months later he had created the first adhesive bookmark. In order to draw his boss’s attention to his invention, he wrote short messages on the notes and he soon realized that he had not invented a new bookmark but self-adhesive notepads. An awesome idea, Arthur Fry thought.

The management did not share his opinion. Nobody needs such nonsense! And the invention was once again discarded.

According to the rumours, Artur Fry’s secretary stepped in at that point. She saved the prototypes from the bin and used them to label things. Arthur Fry was thrilled and told her to distribute such notes everywhere in the company in a kind of guerilla campaign. Their colleagues liked them and finally the management could be convinced as well.

When testing the product on local markets, they realized that potential buyers had to be convinced of the product. Therefore, they launched the so-called Boise Blitz, where they intended to flood the town of Boise, Idaho, with representatives in order to present and distribute the product in banks, offices and shops. Thanks to this strategy, the desired success was achieved and in 1980, 3M Corporation launched the small yellow sticky notes on the US market.

Nowadays, the company generates turnover of about USD300m per year with the stupid idea of Arthur Fry. By now, there are more than 400 product types by various producers, the name post-it has become an eponym for sticky notes of all kinds.

Globally, the sticky notes are part of the standard equipment of nearly every desk. They even rank among the group of the five most successful and most often used stationery products.

Together with the fridge, the Boeing 707 and the Compact Disc, US magazine Fortune has declared the post-it notes one of the most important inventions of the 20th century.


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