Post It Notes

When was the ball point pen invented? What about paper clips, or fax machines? Vic Hollefruend, our Retail Furniture Manager, is on the case, researching and compiling everything you would want to know about who, where, why, when, and how of office supplies. We are pleased to present Vic’s History of Office Stuff.

So Many Notes

It has been said that this was a solution to a problem that people didn’t have a hot clue existed.

However the simple Post-it Note has gone from non-status to becoming a staple fixture of office workers around the globe. We are told that 3M manufactures about 50 billion of them every year. It’s no secret that the offices of the world would not be the same without them.

Faithless Beginnings

It seems, however, that the birth of Post It notes got off to a rather shaky start. Nobody and I mean NOBODY, would have given it a snowball’s chance of making an impact in the office supply business. In fact, it took 12 years from when the technology that made the product possible, to when it found its way into the hands of office people.

The story of that little patch of self-sticking paper begins in 1968. You see, there was a chemist named Spencer Silver who worked for the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (…hence the name 3M).

Part of Silver’s job as a researcher was to develop new adhesives; and at that time he was expected to develop a bigger, stronger, tougher adhesive than 3M currently had. But, in his own words, “This was none of those.”

What Silver actually came up with were microspheres, (microscopic hollow spheres of synthetic polymer) which retained their stickiness and had a “removability characteristic,” allowing attached surfaces to be peeled apart easily. (Ok, that’s as scientific as I intend to get).

For several years he struggled to find a use for his invention, extolling the merits of his creation to unreceptive coworkers.

“I got to be known as ‘Mr. Persistent,’ because I wouldn’t give up,” he says.

Faithful Next Steps

Then one day, six years later in 1974, along came the break Silver needed. He was approached by a 3M colleague, Art Fry, who had heard him talk about his microspheres at a company seminar.

Fry sung in a church choir and one time during practice as he wrestled with a regularly occurring problem with his hymnbook, he suddenly remembered Silver’s microspheres and thought about a way they could potentially help.

The problem was that during his Wednesday night choir practice, Fry would bookmark his hymnbook with pieces of paper — but by Sunday morning they had all fallen out.

Recalling later, Fry said “I thought, what I need is a bookmark that would stick to the paper without falling off but not damage the sheets.”

When the team at 3M started writing messages on the notes to communicate around the office, they realized the full potential of the idea and that it was a whole new way to communicate.

Finally, the Light of Day

However, “not everybody saw the value in his idea,” says Fry, but the team continued to lobby for the possibilities. Eventually in 1980, after 12 years and extensive market testing, 3M released the product on to the market. From then onwards, the Post-it was unstoppable.

In fact, Post-It notes took off so rapidly that it left a lot of people in marketing and sales wondering why they hadn’t twigged to it sooner.

It spread “like a virus,” said Fry. “It was always a self-advertising product,” he said, “because customers would put the notes on documents they sent to others, arousing the recipient’s curiosity. They would look at it, peel it off and play with it and then go out and buy a pad for themselves.”

Like many winning innovations, the Post-it was a product nobody thought they needed until they had it in hand.

By the way, have you ever wondered why the standard color for the Post-It note is yellow?  Apparently the reason Post-It notes are yellow is simply because the lab next door to where they were working on the Post-It note had some scrap yellow paper so they used that; and that’s why they are yellow. It was another one of those incredible accidents. It was not thought out; nobody said they’d better be yellow rather than white because they would blend in – it was pure happenstance.

So, now you know……………..Vic

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