Just like many other things (artificial sweetener, water balloons, tea bags), Post-it notes were invented by accident. Back in the 1960s, researchers working at 3M’s R&D department, wanted to create super strong adhesives in order to be used by plane manufacturing companies. Instead, they created an incredibly weak adhesive agent which had a very interesting feature though: it was re-usable and when stuck to any surface, you could peel it off without leaving any residue.
The product hit the shelves a few years later, it became a success and in 1977, Post-It notes were released throughout the US. But have you ever wondered why the standard Post-it notes’ color is yellow?
Well, as it turns out, the color was kind of an accident as well! Here’s the story. (the article continues after the ad)
According to Geoff Nicholson, the former VP of Technicial Operation, the reason why Post-it notes are yellow is because the next-door lab “had some scrap yellow paper”. In 2010, Dan Zambonini from The Januarist asked 3M via Twitter and received this wonderful response which included an interview between Hugh Murphy and Geoff Nicholson:
TRANSCRIPT OF DISCUSSION BETWEEN HUGH MURPHY (BUSINESS MANAGER, E-CHANNELS) AND DR GEOFF NICHOLSON (RETIRED, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT TECHNICAL OPERATIONS), 3M RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT
HM: Why were Post-it Notes originally yellow?
GN: “Great question – fantastic question.“
“Guess what – we were in the labs and if you imagine, this is my lab here, and then there’s a corridor, and then there’s another lab. They happened to have some scrap yellow paper – laughs – it’s absolutely true. “
“Now afterwards we had a lot of people who said well it’s got a good emotional connection or…” (pauses) “that’s a load of … whatever.”
“They had some scrap yellow paper – that’s why they were yellow; and when we went back and said ‘hey guys, you got any more scrap yellow paper?’ they said ‘you want any more go buy it yourself’, and that’s what we did, and that’s why they were yellow.”
“To me 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 a pure accident.”
“Just like the adhesive was a pure accident. They are the best kinds of accidents to have, but you have to recognise it – which we did.”
HM: “So who actually invented the Post-it note?”
GN: “There were three people. Spence Silver invented the adhesive by accident. He was trying to make – he was in the business of trying to make stronger better adhesives to stick aeroplanes together – and we do stick aeroplanes together.”
“He came to my office about 48 hours after I joined the commercial tapes division from the overhead projectors part of the business.”
“I’d been made the new products laboratory manager, and they hadn’t had any new products in about 15 years. They hadn’t had a new product since magic tape, and magic tape was about 15 years old.”
“So he knocked on my door. There were two guys – Spence Silver and another guy called Bob Oliveira. They had discovered this adhesive in 1968 – that’s when the patent was filed – and here we are five years later in 1973.”
“He’s saying ‘Geoff would you be interested in this adhesive?’ And I said yes. Why? Because I’m naïve – I’m naïve about adhesives. I don’t know much about it. And I also believe a certain naivety is important. He asked me if I was interested.”
“He had been trying for 5 years to get any business unit interested in this adhesive so he gave me samples and we started playing with things and we started making bulletin boards.“
“As we were making bulletin boards, and tapes and things like that, another guy who worked for me was Art Fry. He was making tapes for skis – ski tape – things like book arranging tape- Things that you’d put on a bookshelf and it would hold books in place”.
“And he said ‘why are you putting the adhesive on a bulletin board. Why don’t you put it on a piece of paper and then we can stick it to anything.’”
“You know – and that was the three of us that came good. And I was in a management role primarily to defend and go fighting for it”.
“When you get down to it with innovation – a lot of people are required to make it successful. Marketing sales, even the accountants.”
“But you sometimes have to fight for it – and that’s inevitable in something that changes the basis of competition. People resist change.”
So now you know!