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monthlies OnOffice July9

03 Dec 2019

The history of... the Post-it Note®

Words by  Photo by Laura Olsen on Unsplash

OnOffice charts the history of the stationery staple

The Post-it® Note has graced the desks of millions for the past 35 years, but how was the product invented? 

 Photo by Jan Piatkowski on UnsplashPhoto by Jan Piatkowski on Unsplash

While researching, and attempting to develop, stronger adhesives in the laboratory a 3M scientist, Dr. Spencer Silver, accidentally discovered an adhesive that sticks lightly to surfaces.

Silver had discovered microspheres - adhesives which have a ‘removability characteristic’ that allows it to be applied, peeled off then re-applied to surfaces.

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Photo by Alesia Kazantceva on UnsplashPhoto by Alesia Kazantceva on Unsplash

Despite this ground-breaking discovery, Silver struggled to find a use for his invention until one day a colleague of his, Art Fry, came to him with a problem that only his microspheres could solve.

Each time Fry would have choir practice he would use scraps of paper to mark which hymns his group would be singing at the upcoming Sunday service. Each and every Sunday, without fail he would open his hymn book to find that the paper had fallen out.

Photo by Noémi Macavei Katócz on UnsplashPhoto by Noémi Macavei Katócz on Unsplash

Fry recalled a seminar Silver had given on microspheres and had a eureka moment. Silver’s microspheres could act as a bookmark that would stick to the paper without damaging it.

Fry partnered with Silver to start developing a product but once they started using their innovative product to write messages and pass them around the office, they realised the untapped potential of their invention.

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash 2Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

 The two scientists decided to make their workplace a testing ground. Fry supplied all the employees at 3M with the new adhesive notes. Everybody loved them.

Despite the fact that Post-it® Notes are now available in a wide variety of colours the iconic canary yellow hue the brand is best known for came about by happenstance – the lab next door only had scrap yellow paper.

Photo by David Travis on UnsplashPhoto by David Travis on Unsplash

Initially dubbed Press ‘n’ Peel, 3M launched the product in four cities. Following this, the product was put directly into consumers’ hands and it became a runaway hit. Ninety percent of people who tried Press ‘n’ Peel would buy it again.

Eventually, Fry and Silver renamed their product Post-it® Notes and the rest is history. 

Post-it® Notes are now sold in more than 100 countries and used in offices the world over.

Click here to discover a recent exhibition in Brooklyn that explored the evolution of the office and its furniture

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