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Who Invented the Post-it Note?

Sticky notes are faithful friends who give us a nudge for errands we want to buy, tasks we need to do at the office and homework we must not forget. Because they are used so often, you might be surprised to learn that these little pieces of yellow paper were invented by accident!

Yellow Post-It note

In 1968, Spencer Silver, a scientist at Minnesota-based 3M Company’s headquarters in Maplewood, was working on a strong adhesive. By accident, he developed a new material that was light enough to be easily removed and taken apart. Silver felt he had invented something unique and useful, but struggled with the question of what that usefulness could be. He spent five years meeting with others at 3M, trying to find someone who could recognize the unique potential of his invention and create a new product with it.

Spencer Silver, scientist at 3M
   Spencer Silver

At the time, Art Fry, another 3M employee, was frustrated when his scrap paper bookmarks fell out of the hymn book he used when singing in his church choir. As he thought about ways to make a better bookmark, Silver's "not-so-sticky" glue came to mind as a way to make pieces of paper a little sticky without sticking permanently.

Fry realized that the sticky paper would work better as note pads, and the product idea was solidified. Henry Courtney and Roger Merrill - two other members of the research team - found a way to attach the glue to one piece of paper. Their changes allowed the bill to stick to and be removed from other paper and other objects. The product was originally called Press n' Peel.

After varying success in market tests in several major cities, 3M almost decided to stop producing the Post-it Note. In a final attempt to test the product's potential, marketers decided to give it directly to consumers in Boise, Idaho. They wanted to see if giving free samples would increase sales. This marketing test became known as the Boise Blitz and was a great success. About 90 percent of the people who tried the product said they would buy it.

One Yellow Post-It note

In 1980, the Post-it Note was made available to customers in American stores. It became enormously popular. The Post-it Note team received the internal 3M Golden Step Award in 1981 and 1982 for their development of a profitable product that generated significant new sales. In 1981, they also received 3M's Outstanding New Product Award.

Since their debut in 1980, Post-it Notes have become staples of offices and have entered pop culture. By 2000, they were available in twenty-seven sizes, eighteen colors, twenty scents and could be used in a variety of dispensers. In 1991, fans of the Minnesota Twins wrote Post-it bills of encouragement that contributed to a large mural in support of the team in the World Series. Post-its have also been used to create artwork and have been featured in museums such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

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