Learn about the stories behind 10 extraordinary inventions. In this video, you'll learn about post-it notes.
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Male Speaker: In 1968, a 3M scientist developed reusable adhesive that didn't really stick. The glue we created could hold paper together; it wasn't strong enough to maintain the bond when pulled on. Unfortunately, the scientist was trying to make it super glue. It would take 12 years and a flash of eureka to turn the glue that wouldn't stick into the posted note. Spencer Silver had a PhD in organic chemistry when he came to 3M to work as a senior chemist in their central research lab. While trying to improve the adhesive that 3M used for tape, Sliver discovered a less sticky glue. Ordinary adhesives are flat with the solid contact area for heison. It is this unbroken contact that makes glue so sticky, what silver found was a glue that well quite sticky could only be formed into individual spheres, the thickness of the piece of paper. This spheres would only adhere to things tangentially. Thus the adhesive's total contact area was very small. The result was a tacky reusable glue that held paper together well. Silver knew he was on to something but wasn't sure how to market it. Early ideas included a sticky bulletin board for temporary messages or as a low powered sprayed adhesive. Amber Roa: It's purely an accident. The guy was looking for something, a stronger adhesive and came up with an extremely weak adhesive and he didn't know what do with it until eventually they started making these bulletin boards and so on. Silver kept plugging the way at the possibilities of this new glue presenting it individually and during seminars. In attendance at one of these seminars was a 3M scientist named Arthur Fry. Fry saying in his church choir and to keep track of the hymns he tore scraps of paper into strips to make bookmarks. Every Sunday a few would fall out of the -- frustrating Fry. In a moment of divine inspiration, Fry realized that Sliver's glue might make the perfect temporary adhesive to hold bookmarks. At work, Fry gathered scraps of paper and Sliver's glue and combined them to make sticky but removable bookmarks. The bookmarks were popular and handy but people did need more than few of them. Shortly there after, Fry send a file to a colleague using one of his bookmarks within a arrow on it to indicate a point of interest. The report came back with the bookmarks still attached and the colleague had used the bookmark as a note. Fry quickly realized that his bookmark had applications as an adhesive note. Fry believes so strongly in his invention that when engineers told him that a machine didn't exist to manufacture the notes, he went home and built just such a machine in his basement. When he couldn't fit it through his basement door he knocked the wall down. Now he had his manufacturing equipment and a great product. The only thing he didn't have was the support of senior management at 3M. To overcome this, Fry sent sample to all the company's executives, who quickly ordered more samples. Management was quickly hooked and their demand soon outstripped developments production capacity. When it became clear that posted notes were available in the commercial atmosphere, 3M's marketing went to work. In 1978, a team of 3M marketers flooded Boise Idaho showing everyone they could find the wondrous new notes. Amber Roa: Many times, in your mail box you will get a little sample of shampoo or deodorant or something in that. All that it is, is an example of the Boise blitz except applied to a something much simpler. Posted notes were freshly officially released to the public in 1980 and in 1981 they were named 3Ms' outstanding new product. Amber Roa: Well, I think the most important idea here is that, if you have clever people and you let them do what they are good at, something good is likely to happen. Today, there are over 600 products based on the posted concept. Arthur Fry somewhere retired from 3M maintaining a part time presence as a mentor. Spencer Silver retired in 1996.