Despite creating security concerns for IT departments around the world as the password manager of choice for baby boomers, the Post-it Note is one of the smartest and most ubiquitous office accessories. never created, and this past weekend the world, unfortunately, say goodbye-to their creator, Spencer Silver, died at the age of 80.
Most don’t think about the tiny sheets of yellow paper as they have a hard time squeezing out another important thing to remember their cluttered computer screens, but like many technologies that change the world, the Post-it Note is a product born out of failure that has been more successful than its creator was originally trying to perfect.
Born in 1941 in San Antonio, Texas, Spencer Ferguson Silver III first graduated with a bachelor’s degree from science to chemistry from Arizona State University in 1962, followed in 1966 by a doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of Colorado at Boulder. After graduation, he was hired by 3M’s central research laboratory as a senior chemist and began his career working on the development of pressure sensors. adhesives – the glue on which most tapes rest.
In 1969, Silver began to develop a strong adhesive that could be used in the aviation industry for the construction of airplanes, a breakthrough that could potentially reduce weight, reduce costs and reduce stress points, thus making airplanes more secure. This never happened, but in the process of testing various new formulations, Silver discovered that one, in particular, exhibited low tack properties and could be easily removed from surfaces to which it had adhered, including paper, without any tearing.
At the microscopic level, the adhesive was made up of tiny acrylic spheres that would retain their tackiness even after being repeatedly applied and removed from a surface. Officially called acrylate copolymer microspheres, they were patented by 3M in 1972 but initially, it was a product that solved a problem that no one actually had, so the company didn’t immediately bring it to market. Even Silver wasn’t sure what the new adhesive was used for, so he promoted it and its unique properties at 3M internal seminars for years, until one day a fellow engineer named Art Fry attended. one of Silver’s presentations.
Fry had his own problem, but it wasn’t work related. Every Wednesday evening he attended practices with his church choir and despite his best attempts to mark hymn books with paper bookmarks so that he knew which songs would be sung during a Sunday service, they would inevitably all fall off.
During the presentation of Silver, Fry had a eureka moment, and together the two created sticky bookmarks that wouldn’t damage a hymn’s pages when deleted. But it was when they started using the sticky sheets to share notes and messages, the couple realized the potential of their creation.
Originally sold as Post ‘n Peel when it was introduced to four U.S. cities in 1977, the nationwide rollout took place on April 6, 1980, with a new name: Post-it Notes. As for the iconic choice of Canary Yellow for the product that makes the notes very visible? It appears to be the product of intense focus group comments, but in reality, the color was simply chosen due to excess yellow paper in another of 3M’s adhesive labs. In 1993, Fry finally officially patented the product as a “repositionable pressure-sensitive adhesive sheet material” that simply does not have the same ring.
Silver continued to work for 3M for 28 years, and when he retired in 1996, his name appeared on over 22 US patents and he received several awards, including the American Chemical Society for Creative Invention Award in 1998. In 2011, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. On May 8, 2021, Silver died of ventricular tachycardia at his home in St. Paul, Minnesota. The product he helped create may not have put Mars rovers or smartphones directly into people’s hands, but somewhere in the world, there’s an office or lab with at least a few tiny yellow squares containing the secrets of the next big thing.