From fridge reminder to a protest tool, Post-it® Notes have been the world’s go-to removable memo media for over 40 years. The inventor of the paper notes’ ground-breaking sticky substance passed away this spring. But his tacky discovery will likely hang around for years to come.
Today, Post-its are a global marvel. Parents use them as grocery reminders. Students tag textbooks with them. In Hong Kong, the notes became a tool for protesters, who demanded change by plastering thousands of “flowers blossoming everywhere.”
But the memos’ beginnings were hardly note-able. According to company 3M’s website, the Post-it is a reminder that “persistence can be just as important as inspiration.”
Spencer Silver was a 3M scientist. In 1968, he discovered the formula that would become the Post-it paste.
“It was part of my job as a researcher to develop new adhesives, and at that time we wanted to develop bigger, stronger, tougher adhesives,” he said. “This was none of those.”
Silver had stumbled upon microspheres. These tiny, hollow particles attach lightly to surfaces. They allow paper to be removed easily and re-posted elsewhere—without destroying the note or leaving residue.
Patience, persistence, and hard work are virtues that God commends. Silver knew his invention was extraordinary. However, he couldn’t find a use for his sticky-but-not-too-sticky substance. He said, “I came to be known as Mr. Persistent because I wouldn’t give up,” calling his invention a “solution waiting for a problem to solve.”
In 1974, 3M scientist Art Fry found himself frustrated during church choir. Each week, he bookmarked songs with paper scraps in his hymnal. But the slips fell out. He needed paper that would stick without harming the pages.
Fry knew about his coworker’s microspheres. He had hit upon a use for Silver’s sticky substance!
Silver and Fry worked together on a new product. They left messages on their notes around the office.
“I thought, what we have here isn’t just a bookmark,” Fry says, according to 3M’s website. “It’s a whole new way to communicate.”
And the iconic yellow? It was the color of the only office scrap paper available!
In 1977, Silver and Fry’s product hit the market under the name Press ’n Peel. It wasn’t until 1980 that the product got the name “Post-it Note.”
Like so many inventions, nobody knew they needed Post-its . . . until they did. Today, they are one of 3M’s top-selling products.
Silver retired as a corporate scientist in 1996. During his time at 3M, he earned 37 patents and won several important awards.
There have been changes to the original Post-it: water-resistance, lines, super-stickiness, even an app for virtual Post-its. But the good ol’ yellow square with the gummy stripe hits just the right note.